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Team Think Labs | My favorite new toy, the Arduino.
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My favorite new toy, the Arduino.

What is an Arduino?

An Arduino is an inexpensive microcontroller board that can be programmed in their simple yet powerful development environment. It can interact with the physical world by receiving inputs from devices like sensors and switches, and can control output devices like motors and lights. From the Arduino website, it 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 and environments.”

 

Why do you want one?

Have you ever had a great idea for a product and wondered “hey, how come THEY don’t already make this?”. Well, now THEY can be YOU. You no longer need to be an electrical engineer to build circuits, or a computer scientist to write code. Arduino makes these technologies simple and accessible. Almost anyone, with very small learning curve, can turn their ideas into reality.

 

What can you do with one?

Use your imagination. Do a quick Google search for Arduino projects and you’ll find everything from the totally practical to the completely fun and useless. A common practical use is an RFID chip scanning dog door that only opens for your pets. A common fun use is a light show that syncs to an audio track. Here are a few uses that I found interesting:

http://hacknmod.com/hack/automatic-head-tracking-with-arduino/

http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-RC-Lawnmower/

http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-Fire-Breathing-Animetronic-Pony-from-FurRea/

 

Where can you buy one or learn more?

Arduino boards are inexpensive and readily available from many sources such as makershed.com, or directly from the Arduino website. The community support for Arduino is plentiful, and one of the main reasons why it is such a popular choice. Arduino software is free and open-source, and can be downloaded from their website:

http://www.arduino.cc/

 

and for the non-programmers…

If writing code and building circuits sounds a bit too daunting, the Makey Makey might be more up your alley. It’s a simple USB input device that can turn anything into a key. Check out the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfQqh7iCcOU