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The 12 Maker Hacks Challenge - Getting Used to the EnvironmentMarch 23, 2015

A while ago Javier, our Digital Marketing Manager, accepted the challenge of becoming a maker. He committed to following 12 useful practical examples that a newbie starting from scratch could try to become good maker.

After much struggle at the beginning he kind of put it off for the time being, but never truly retired. This time Alejandro, the new guy, has come to the rescue and is here to help him out. So after a few months he has decided to resume the challenge and this time he is determined to succeed.

Alejandro explains to Javier some basic ideas about Arduino

So, where were we?

Back then Alejandro decided that the first thing he should do was to get used to the Arduino IDE and environment, and after that to know the main components in the complete Arduino Starter Kit. The idea is to give him a background so he can get going with his first designs. For this we will need an Arduino compatible board, the Arduino software (IDE) and a USB (A-to-B) cable to plug it to the computer.

But what is Arduino anyway? Javier might think. Arduino is an open-hardware platform based on a microcontroller board and easy-to-use software used to write your code and upload it to the board. It is basically a board you can program to control different actuators (motors, lights, etc) while reading sensors connected to it (temperature, pressure, motion). Practically any sensor can be connected to the board – a photocell, a temperature sensor, a motion sensor – and you can program the microcontroller to perform different actions with the actuators plugged to the digital outputs.

It was developed as an educational tool so students could try out their projects and ideas on a pretty affordable board, making it user-friendly for everybody. To program the board you have to use the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) of Arduino.

Arduino IDE

This IDE makes use of a Processing-based language which is very easy to learn for somebody with a basic C/C++ knowledge. Even if you don't have any programming experience you can learn the basics very quickly.

Your written program in Arduino is called sketch, and you can write it, debug it and upload it on the board with the IDE.

So first thing you have to do is to install the Arduino IDE in order to write your first sketch.

To do so you have to download it from the official website (arduino.cc) choosing the suitable OS you are using (Linux, Windows or Mac OS). Follow up the instructions for setting up the Arduino software and connecting it to the board. Last version is the Arduino 1.6.1 and it works fine with any Arduino board.

Arduino IDE

As you can see it's a very straightforward and clear environment. There is a text editor where you can write your code: the setup function contains the code that runs only once at the beginning and the loop function which contains the program itself that runs over and over. The sketch is saved with the file extension .ino. A message area gives you info when you save and export and displays errors. You can see on the console information about the environment, like error messages when you verify your code. We will be learning more about this when we write our first sketch. The bottom right-hand corner informs you of the board and serial port you are using.

On top of the tab you have five menus available (File, Edit, Sketch, Tools and Help) and several useful icons:

Verify: Checks your code for errors
Upload: Compiles your program and uploads it to your board
New: Opens a new sketch
Open: Opens a menu with every sketch in your sketchbook
Save: Saves your sketch
Serial Monitor: opens the serial monitor.

Starter Kit

Maybe that's enough about the IDE for now. Apart from the board and the IDE you will need something else to carry out any project you have in mind. So we thought Javier might need to know a little bit more about every component in the Arduino Starter Kit.

Arduino Starter Kit

This kit includes an Arduino Board and some basic components for you to set off in the maker world. You can assemble very simple circuitry that will help you to know and handle the IDE and to understand every functionality in the board :

  • Arduino UNO Rev.3: this board should be more than enough to start off. It has 14 digital I/O (6 PWM outputs) and 6 analog inputs, a USB connection, a power jack, an ICSP header and a reset button.
  • A USB cable in the kit to plug your board into the computer so you can upload your code (this cable also powers your board).
  • A clear breadboard: It has 2 power buses, 10 rows and 30 columns. You will put your circuit together on this board very easily.
  • Jumper cables (4 lengths): these wires are perfect for prototyping and very easy to plug into the breadboard.
  • 30 Resistors (470 / 1K / 10k): these components are used to limit the current in your circuit. Their value is color-coded.
  • 4 Variable resistors (1K / 100K): these three terminal resistors are called potentiometers. It has a rotating knob that gives you a variable resistance. Later this will be very helpful to use as an analog input.
  • 5 Push Buttons: a push button allows you to connect two parts of a circuit when you press it.
  • 1 LDR sensor: this is a light dependent resistor. Its resistance changes depending on the amount of light, being very high when it's dark and very low with intense light. It doesn't give you very precise data but it allows you to detect if it's dark or not.
  • 1 NTC Temperature Sensor: it is a resistor whose value decreases significantly when temperature raises.
  • LEDs (10 Red / 10 Green): these are light-emitting diodes. When a suitable voltage is applied to the diode it emits light.
  • 1 6AA Clip Battery: if you don't want your Arduino to be powered via USB, you can use a external power supply through the power jack or in this case connect the leads of the battery clip to the GND and Vin pins. The recommended range for external supply is 7 to 12 Volts.

Now, all this should be plenty for this first challenge. The starter kit contains everything you need to carry out your earliest projects: you will be able to read some magnitude in an input (temperature, light) and then do something depending on its value or use your push buttons to control some LEDs.

We will be talking about all this in the next few weeks when we will try to teach Javier to complete his first full project: he will give it a go to the “Hello World” of Arduino, blink an LED.

We'll keep you posted about his progress.

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