Hey Guys, Welcome back to RootSaid. This post is for hobbyists and electronics enthusiasts who are getting started with Arduino.
In this post, I’m gonna use plain language to tell you exactly what an Arduino is. You’ll learn why it’s so wildly popular, and most importantly by the end of this lesson you’ll know if Arduino is right for your project.
Have you heard about this thing called Arduino lately? Maybe you’ve seen some projects that use an Arduino? What is this this thing anyway? Sounds like a sub sandwich.
What is Arduino?
Let’s start with our first topic, what is Arduino exactly? I think the best way to explain what Arduino is to start with what you can use it for. Basically it is a tool for controlling electronics.
So think about a pencil. A pencil is a tool to help you write stuff. You need to write something down, you could grab a pencil. Same idea with Arduino. But this is a tool for controlling electronics. You need to control some electronic stuff, grab an Arduino.
But what do I mean by electronic stuff? Well let me define two general groups of electronics stuff. We’ve got inputs, and those would be electronic devices that gather information. And outputs, those would be electronic devices that do things.
1. Inputs and Outputs
So for inputs, you can kind of think of all the types of sensors out there. Like temperature sensors, light sensors, touch sensors, flex sensors, humidity sensors, infrared sensors, distance sensors, all these types of sensors out there. So, you can think of those sensors as input devices, and those types of sensors can be read by this board.
Now outputs would be things like DC motors, stepper motors, servo motors, solenoids, LCD displays, LED indicator lights, speakers, and electrical stuff that have some type of action in the world. It can be used to read inputs and control outputs. So that’s kind of what Arduino can do.
2. How Arduino Works?
How Arduino work? So when we talk about Arduinos we’re really kind of talking about three things.
3. Arduino Board
First, we have the physical component which are Arduino boards. Now there’s a bunch of different types of boards. So when someone says Arduino board, it could mean a number of different boards. A very popular board is called the Arduino UNO. Now all Arduino boards share one thing in common, and that is that they all have a microcontroller on them. And a microcontroller is basically a really small computer.
When you learn to use Arduino, you’re learning to use a microcontroller. And the microcontroller is what enables you to read those different inputs, and control those different outputs. When someone says Arduino board, they’re talking about something physical, it looks like this, it’s a printed circuit board, and it’s got some electrical components on it.
4. Arduino IDE
But it is more than just hardware, it’s also software. There’s this thing called the Arduino IDE. What is Arduino IDE? IDE stands for integrated development environment. And this is a software application that you download onto your computer, and then you use it to program the Arduino boards. Now it’s a completely free software, and it’s pretty easy to use. It looks a lot like a text editor. The Arduino IDE is where you write your code that actually gets loaded onto the Arduino board itself.
5. Arduino Sketch
The third part of this Arduino trifecta is the code. The code that you write inside the Arduino IDE, is what ultimately gets loaded onto the microcontroller that’s on these Arduino boards. And the Arduino code that you write is called a sketch.
Now the Arduino code itself is basically C and C++ programming language, but with some specific functions and structure. If you program Arduino, you’re basically gonna be programming in C, C++ programming languages.
So What is Arduino?
It’s three things. There’s the physical hardware that uses a microcontroller, there’s the Arduino development environment called the Arduino IDE, and then there’s the code itself and that’s called an Arduino Sketch, and it gets loaded onto the Arduino board. Those are the three components that basically make up what “Arduino” is, and kind of roughly what it does.
6. Why is Arduino so popular?
Well here’s the deal. Recall that I said the key component of an Arduino board is the microcontroller. Now traditionally, microcontrollers are pretty complicated to use. The user manual for one is easily over 300 pages long, and it’s filled with tons of technical jargon.
But what the creators did, was make using microcontrollers as easy as possible. So instead of just electrical engineers and computer scientists using microcontrollers, now pretty much anybody can get their hands dirty on them, and start building stuff.
7. How did they make microcontrollers easy to use?
Let’s go back to that trifecta. First, the Arduino board itself is designed for ease of use. You can connect it to your computer with a simple USB cable, not like some specialized cable that it would normally take to connect a microcontroller.
Connecting electrical components to the microcontroller is also very easy with an Arduino board. Because they have these plastic holes around the perimeter of the board. They’re called headers, and to connect an electrical component to the microcontroller, you just stick the component inside the holes it’s literally that easy.
This board also has a built-in external power jack, so when it’s not hooked up to the computer it can still be powered by a battery pack.
That’s like the ease of the hardware side, but the Arduino IDE is also designed for ease of use. There’s a lot of integrated development environments out there, but the Arduino IDE is built with simplicity in mind. There’s no like bells and whistles that kind of get in your way, it’s really just a basic window where you type code. And to upload the code that you’ve written in the Arduino IDE, you simply press a button and it uploads.
Finally, the Arduino code itself has functions specifically for things like reading inputs and controlling outputs. If you were to directly program a microcontroller, you’d find yourself constantly referencing the user manual for highly specific information on controlling different things.
int led = 13;
The Arduino language has significantly reduced that complexity by creating simple programming functions for you to use. In addition there’s many Arduino code libraries that you can install and use, and these libraries simplify the use of all different types of components from interacting with different sensors, to controlling tons of different outputs.
Arduino hardware is easier, the Arduino IDE is simpler, and the Arduino code itself is much easier to comprehend. And that’s a big part of why it is so popular.
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Another reason it is so popular, is because there are many people using it which means there’s a lot of examples out there to work with. Also, the Arduino board itself is open source hardware. That means while there is a company that makes Arduino boards and supports the Arduino IDE, there are also lots of other companies that make compatible boards that can also be programmed in the Arduino IDE. So there’s this huge hardware and code ecosystem for you to work with.
Finally, Arduino hardware is generally pretty inexpensive, and that helps keep it popular as well.
Arduino for my Project?
How do you know if the Arduino is right for your project?
Now here’s the deal, we mentioned that Arduino uses a microcontroller and a microcontroller is like a small computer. So
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