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You have probably heard the name Arduino, or you may already be using it.

SimonWaldherr / CC BY-SA

YooFab loves Arduino#

YooFab loves Arduino for many reasons including the fact that it is well-designed development environment with hardware, software, firmware (some on-board boot-loading and care-taking software that ships with each Arduino) and an IDE (Integrated development Environment).

YooFab loves Arduino mainly because it is a well thought out and established development platform that allows you to get hands-on experience with microcontrollers quickly.

So what is Arduino?#

Arduino is an open source computer hardware and software company, project, and user community that designs and manufactures single-board micro-controllers and micro-controller kits for building digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical world.

In other words, Arduino is not only a physical thing, its a whole development environment including hardware & software. Arduino has a huge following which means there are Arduino groups, clubs, blogs and support for almost anything. All the project's products are distributed as open-source hardware and software, which are licensed under the GNU Lesser Public Licence (LGPL) or the GNU Public Licence (GPL). This is great because it allows other companies or even individuals to build this design.

Arduino copies#

There are a huge range of derived products from the Arduino design that are now being manufactured. This spectrum ranges from low-cost Chinese produced Arduino look-alike boards to specialised versions of the Arduino that use specific hardware to make it more suitable for a particular environment. So, all Arduino boards and software may be distribution by anyone. Having said that, you cannot put the Arduino Logo on the board or product and neither can you actually call it an Arduino. However, this is not such a big problem. All kinds of Arduino style boards are available commercially in pre-assembled form, or as do-it-yourself kits.

Which Arduino is better?#

There are so many Arduino boards out there, that this is a hard question to answer. Even from the official source in Italy there is everything from the Arduino Uno to full Linux machines all with the Arduino badge and all of them programmable using the Arduino IDE. For most purposes, the chip-set in the Arduino Uno or similar, is perfectly good enough for most projects presented on YooFab.

A list of Arduino compatible boards on Wikipedia

Arduino Nano#

Enirstad / CC BY-SA

The Arduino Nano is compatible with the Arduino Uno.

The Arduino Nano has the same architecture as the Arduino Uno or at least it will perform the same job. Its main advantage over the Uno is that its legs are specifically designed to accommodate bread-boarding on solder-less breadboards, which is great for prototyping. It is also a lot smaller but still has the USB dedicated I/O port that can be used for programming the board and also for many other applications.

Arduino pro mini#

oomlout / CC BY-SA

Picture of the Arduino pro mini which is like the Nano but without the USB port. Pro mini is compatible with the Uno.

This version was not designed for prototyping#

This version was not designed for prototyping but for final products. Although it can be programmed it needs a BASB or other interface to perform this job as it has no USB port of its own on-board. However, the slim - cut-down nature of this product together with the low pricing results in a board that can be integrated into a project or PCB as though it were just another component. Its price is comparable with similar bare chips from the PIC range. It is a great way to get a low production run product onto the market without reinventing the wheel.

Gaining Hands-On Experience with Arduino#

You can carry out this rapidly with Arduino.

The simplest example of gaining Hands-on experience this might be just to plug a Arduino Uno or compatible board into the USB of your computer with the Arduino IDE installed & then just compile and upload a program to the board. Some simple examples come with the IDE. The simplest of these is the blink program which is a bit like a HELLO WORLD C program insofar as its real function is just to prove that the programming tool-path and your board are functioning correctly. Once the blink program is programmed into the micro-controller chip, the Arduino will auto-reset and the on-board LED will start to flash. The whole process can be achieved in less than a minute without much reading.

If you compare this to PIC chips and associated development environment, the story is different. Indeed, at the beginning of the PIC story there were no free compilers so far as we are aware or at at least if there were any they were impossible to find. So right away one had to purchase a cross compiler and then figure out how to get this to connect to your PIC chip. If you are an electronics engineer with a background in embedded design, this would not be a problem and the PIC chips are well-designed. However, for the total Newbie this is not a great start as it does not allow a rapid Hands-on experience.