October 15, 2010

354 words 2 mins read

Getting into Arduino

An Atmel AVR ATMega8-16PU microcontroller By DustyDingo - Public Domain
Recently, I’ve discovered that which is known as Arduino. Basically, it is an open source, open hardware microcontroller. They give you the software and the hardware plans online and you can build your own. Of course, you can always buy a premade kit (which is my preference).

So… what does this “microcontroller” do? Basically it controls simple input and output on a low level. You want to make something turn on and off a light? A microcontroller can do. Sure, you can do that with your computer too, but an Arduino Uno only costs $30 and takes very little power to run.

Arduino in action By Ensign Joe - CC-BY-SA-3.0
So why am I suddenly getting into this microcontroller thing? Well I’ve known about it for a while but never really thought about it. Recently, I’ve been tasked with a few projects at work that would be perfect for something like a microcontroller. One of the first projects I’m going to attempt is the ability to trigger (electronic) door unlocks via a network connection. When I stumbled across Arduino I also discovered that they had Ethernet “shields” (their term for expansion modules). I’m Sold! Better yet, I found out that there are several 802.3af/at

Power-Over-Ethernet options coming out in the near future. That means I’ll be able to power the microcontroller off the single network connection that it will already have (rather than needing a separate power). That combined with a temperature/humidity shield led me to realize I could also build environmental monitors for the server room too. For like $150 I can probably build an Arduino based environmental monitor that has more features than most $500 mass produced units.

The first batch of parts has just been ordered. I won’t have everything I need to complete my projects, but I will have everything necessary to learn the ropes. I ordered an Arduino Uno starter kit along with two books: Getting Started with Arduino and Practical Arduino: Cool Projects for Open Source Hardware. I’m excited, which is why there is now a category just for this.