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Arduino Changes the Game

By Robert Cong

Getting Started with Arduino

Behind every successful electronic project, there's a great brain. In this case, we're not just talking about the project engineer, we mean Arduino!

You've likely heard of Arduino by now; it's a project brain that can be used to develop stand-alone interactive objects or means for connecting to a software programs. The fact that it's built on an open source platform means that its flexibility is unlimited and super easy to use. This brain tool comes complete, so you can get started on prototyping right away. In other words, it's awesome.

Here's a quick breakdown of an Arduino microcontroller board:

• Platform used to prototype and design projects
• Completely open-source, which allows users access to shared software code
• Very versatile with wide variety of available Arduino accessories – and growing!

There are plenty of other microcontroller boards, but Arduino Uno R3 is probably the best know today and has turned into a global phenomenon. It has all the vital components to begin prototyping right away: microcontroller memory, power supply, input/output (I/O) ports and a nice compact design that fits in the palm of your hand.

The main reason it has garnered such a big following is its ease-of-use and simplicity. This has sparked the creative bug in flocks of people to begin prototyping with these little brainy boards, and because it is open-source, the electronics community has created an enormous selection of shields that can be added. It's easy to see how the Arduino's popularity has increased so dramatically.

So, what is a "shield"? It is an expansion add-on board that fits directly onto the Arduino and allows added functionality such as motor control, LCD display, joystick control, music playback, even the ability to create your very own shield with the prototyping shield kit. Shields are stacked on top of the Arduino with pins matching up seamlessly, saving precious real estate. New shields are constantly being engineered to provide the Arduino with all the features possible.

The Arduino has become more than just a board for hobbyists to play around on. It has become a tool that has turned many hobbies into companies, such as people who make nothing but shields and sensors then sell them on their websites. The do-it-yourself (DIY) community has embraced the Arduino with open arms and has posted projects on the internet for the world to see and attempt to replicate or improve. There's a sense that the DIY community has been revived, thanks in part to the coming of the Arduino. People are inventing the next great project because they started out with an Arduino board in their garage.

So what kind of projects can you build? Everything from robots and LED cubes, to mp3 players and breathalyzers . You can add LEDs to your clothes or you can create your own security system in your room. There seems to be no shortage of wacky project ideas that are being attempted in the garages all across the world. You can find more ideas with the Arduino project books.

Open source means there are lots of great Arduino resources out there; here are a few of my tops: TronixStuff has tutorials on how everything from how to get started to becoming and expert on Arduino. Freeduino has great tutorial links on just about any sensor you can use for Arduino. ShieldList has pin details for building nearly 300 Arduino shields!
Robert is a graduate from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in Electrical Engineering. His interests include sports, movies, music and playing with cool, new gadgets.