Here’s some great info that my friend wrote up in response to some beginner questions on the Arduino, the cheap & super-functional microprocessor. Enjoy!
I’ve been getting a bunch of Arduino questions lately so I figured I’d type up a good overview of what you should know to get started and avoid wasting a bunch of time.
So yeah there is a bunch of Arduinos out there and each does something a little different. The main one that everyone should get first is a UNO.
– The UNO is what most tutorials and example code are written for and has a replaceable chip so when you connect things up wrong and fry the chip, it is only a $3 mistake rather than $30.
– The Leonardo is similar to the Uno except it is made cheaper, can do some unique USB things like emulating a keyboard, but has a slightly different pin out and the chip can’t be replaced
– The Mega 2560 has some pin compatibility problems with normal shields but has the advantage of 54 input/output pins rather than 20 so it can be used for bigger projects or when you are running out of code space (8x the memory)
– The Micro, Nano and Pro Mini are all meant for permanently wiring into projects once you are done prototyping things on breadboards. Each of these is slightly different but are basically shrunk down versions of the bigger ones(Micro = Leonardo, Nano = UNO, Pro Mini = UNO – on board USB)
The are some others out there that aren’t as common but worth a mention
– Due Huge 32-bit ARM cpu for faster programs but is only 3.3V compatible (some shields could destroy it)
– Fio Similar to Pro Mini but includes USB port and charging circuit for aLiPo battery for portable wireless projects
Other companies make Arduino Compatible microcontrollers which can be programmed as if they were a Arduino:
– Minuino is a UNO minus the USB so is you can has one USB cable (FTDI Adapter) among multiple boards to make your project cheaper
– ProtoSnap smart idea as a starter board when you have a project in mind since it includes pre wired sensors that can be broken off.
– Sippino has the same connections as a Pro Mini but is set up to connect right to a breadboard for easy wiring out of the box
– Protino is setup to solder on other chips of devices permanently beside your Arduino so it’s all on one board rather than a stack of shields.
The quickest way to create a project is by simply plugging in a pre-designed shield from many companies.
Common ones include
– LCD Shield to give yourself a display and buttons
– Proto Screw Shield for connecting external IO easily to the Arduino
– GPS Shield for accurate position or time and date
– RFID Shield
– Prototyping shield For: Normal Arduinos & Minis to permanently solder up a project after testing it on a breadboard but still have it removable from your Arduino
– Xbee Shield for creating mesh networks of many devices
There is also other Microcontrollers in the same realm as Arduino but each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
– Raspberry Pi – More Powerful, Runs Linux, Bigger learning curve, 3.3V logic, code in many languages, on board HDMI, Audio & Ethernet, SD Card for expandable storage. Developed similar to Arduino with shields, but also has great things like cheap Wi-Fi adapters, VESA mounts for the back of a TV or monitor
– Teensy – Like a Arduino Micro but with a 32-bit ARM chip for more code and very fast USB data throughput for data streaming
– Parallax Propeller – 8 Core Microcontroller for interesting Parallel operations and graphics operations.
– NETduino – .NET programmable microcontroller
– BeagleBone Similar to Raspberry Pi but designed more as a microcontroller then a computer so better hardware connections but less powerful GPU. Does not have as big of a community as the Pi.
– MSP430 Launchpad – Low Power, Really Cheap, Smaller Community, Can be found for $4.30 new including 2 chips and a USB cable
This is just a short selection of the shields, Arduino boards and other development boards out there but the main ones of my focus.(Wiki List)
For project ideas the easiest link is the Arduino category at Hackaday.
A good started kit to get some simple parts to try things out is here
For purchasing locations there is:
– Spikenzie Labs out of Montreal so you don’t have to deal with customs and get quick delivery but not a huge selection. Good Prices (My Primary Source)
– Creatron – Local Toronto storefront, little more expensive.
– Sayal Electronics – Good selection of general electronics, Many Ontario Locations, Poor Arduino stock, Arduino prices are steep.
– Adafruit – Great company out of NY with good selection and some of the best designed products and tutorials.
– Sparkfun – Good Company with largest selection. Shipping from US not perfect.
– Deal Extreme – REALLY CHEAP in quality and price, Non-existent documentation but normally copying a North American product so that documentation can be used with some hiccups. Also good for starter tools, cables and iPhone accessories.
– Tiger Direct – Now stocks a small off brand Arduino line. Good in a pinch.
– A1 Electronics Surplus – Many isles of crap to wander through, has some Arduino stuff and lots of basic electronic parts.
– Digikey – Next Day Delivery by Fedex for $8, Great selection of everything electronic related not a huge Arduino selection, including every type of cheap cable needed(Don’t ever go to Best Buy)
– Newark – Has a good selection of Raspberry Pi Kits from different manufacturers listed above and Canadian based shipping.
Some of the projects I’ve built or help build that run on Arduinos include:
Raspberry Pi based beer vending machine with visa payment (No Video for alcohol licensing reasons)
There is a lot of information here but this gives you a good overview and covers most of what you should know. Arduino is the biggest and probably the best for most beginner projects but depending on your programming experience or specific projects other development boards might be a better choice.