If you haven't yet heard about the Arduino single board computer (SBC) experimenter's platform, then either you have been in a coma or you are just now entering the tech world. Think of Arduino as the electronic version of the famous mechanical Erector Set (yes, it is still manufactured) that was popular beginning in the early 20th century. Or, consider it the "grown-up" version of Lego's computerized Mindstorms building sets. Per the official website, "Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments."
In order for the Arduino to be useful, it needs to interface with input and output (I/O) devices such as keyboards, switches, microphones, photosensors, accelerometers, software interrupts, temperature and vibration sensors; and LEDs, LCDs, stepper motors, servos, valve actuators, process controllers, and the like, respectively. Providing those I/O commands usually takes at least a set of buffers and drivers to protect the Arduino board from overvoltage and overcurrent conditions. You can certainly use the old standby plastic-bodied solderless breadboard or point-to-point wiring using solder or wirewrap, but your final cut will ideally be a professionally designed and built printed circuit board (PCB). The former options are often the least expensive, especially during the initial design and test phase. Laying out and procuring a PCB can be prohibitively expensive.
Fortunately, Autodesk, the makers of AutoCAD software, has made the process of designing and laying out boards that interface with Arduino easy and, very importantly, free. Their 123D Circuits application (formerly circuits.io) is an online feature that "can design in a familiar breadboard view and the app will guide you to make professional printed circuit boards with built-in layout tools. When you’re done just click to have your boards professionally manufactured and shipped for free worldwide." To be completely accurate, 123D Circuits does exact a price from your efforts in that whatever you produce using the app appears to be in the public domain. So, if you have a super-secret project that you don't want anyone else to find out about, you'll need to find another venue. The video below gives you a taste of what 123D Circuits can do.
Many crowd-funded projects have been launched with success based on these kinds of resources. Drones, personal wearable tech items, medical devices, entertainment and industrial products - many controlled via smartphones or tablets - are now on the market or well into productization stage thanks to Kickstarter and similar schemes. There has never been a better time to start experimenting with microcontroller-based product design.
The Official Arduino Starter Kit is here! This kit walks you through the basics of using the Arduino in a hands-on way. You'll learn through building several creative projects. The kit includes a selection of the most common and useful electronic components with a 170-page book of 15 projects. Starting the basics of electronics, to more complex projects, the kit will help you control the physical world with sensor and actuators.
The projects in the kit are:
- 01 : GET TO KNOW YOUR TOOLS an introduction to the concepts you'll need to use this kit
- 02 : SPACESHIP INTERFACE design to control panel for your startship
- 03 : LOVE-O-METER measure how hot-blooded you are
- 04 : COLOR MIXING LAMP produce any color with a lamp that uses light as an input
- 05 : MOOD CUE clue people in to how you're doing
- 06 : LIGHT THEREMIN create a musical instrument you play by waving your hands
- 07 : KEYBOARD INSTRUMENT play music and make some noise with this keyboard
- 08 : DIGITAL HOURGLASS a light-up hourglass that can stop you from working too much
- 09 : MOTORIZED PINWHEEL a color wheel that will have your head spinning
- 10 : ZOETROPE create a mechanical animation you can play forward or reverse
- 11 : CRYSTAL BALL a mystical tour to answer all your tough question
- 12 : KNOCK LOCK tap out the secret code to open the door
- 13 : TOUCHY-FEEL LAMP a lamp that responds to your touch
- 14 : TWEAK THE ARDUINO LOGO control your personal computer from your Arduino
- 15 : HACKING BUTTONS create a master control for all your devices!
Once you've mastered this knowledge, you'll have a palette of software and circuits that you can use to create something beautiful, and make someone smile with what you invent. Then build it, hack it and share it. Because Arduino is you!
123CD Circuits Demonstration Video, by Autodesk
Autodesk actually has a large selection of 123D applications available for use, not only for developing Arduino circuits. Many of them have been created to introduce and promote the rapidly flourishing 3D printing technology. Providing an opportunity to explore the realm with little or no financial risk is the key to engagement. Efforts like this one by Autodesk help assure that a plethora of new products never before even dreamed of continue to hit the shelves every day - usually at very low prices.
Posted April 17, 2014