Arduino, Arduino, Arduino!

Arduino UNO Microcontroller Development Board

Arduino cc (or the Arduino company) is an open source computer hardware and software company that designs and manufactures single-board microcontrollers called ‘Arduinos’.

Arduinos are also the name given to the Arduino company‘s Arduino microcontroller development boards (or simply called Arduinos). They are used for building digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical and digital world. Although the word Arduino is often used synonymously used for the Arduino Uno board, other boards include the Arduino Nano, the Arduino Micro and many more.

What is a microcontroller?

The main component of an Arduino board is its microcontroller. A microcontroller is a small computer chip on an integrated circuit and consists of a processor core, memory and programmable input/output peripherals.

Amtel ATmega328 microcontroller chip
The Amtel ATmega328 microcontroller chip.

Its function is to take one or more input signals, apply logic to/with it and then give one or more output signals. In the electronics field, these chips are driven by a small amounts of voltages (typically 3.3, 5, 9 and 12V DC).

Input devices include things like buttons, motion sensorsphotoresistors, temperature sensors, humidity sensors and many, many more. Output devices include things like LEDs, fans, electrical motors, and once again, many, many more. Logic is programmed via software and is uploaded to microcontroller’s flash memory.

Arduinos use the megaAVR (ATmega series) microcontrollers. These microcontrollers have built-in flash memory, SRAM and an EEPROM.

The Arduino company also develops and maintain their own logic programmer (open-source Arduino Software or IDE) which can be installed on a personal computer with any of the major operating systems.

What is a microcontroller development board?

The people at Arduino looked at all the important/popular components necessary to make digital devices and incorporated them into one of their 16, commercially available, microcontroller development boards. Components include voltage regulators, clocks and LEDs.

Although development boards are used to help create electronic project prototypes, some (smaller) boards itself are used for actual projects. After prototyping, more advanced users will reproduce the necessary components of the development board into their own completed projects.

Adding programming to the Arduino

In order to know how to function, Arduinos need programming, or code. Arduino code is written and uploaded (or ‘flashed’) onto the Arduino’s microcontroller flash memory where it is stored. Code is written in C or C++ and saved as script files (more specifically called sketch files). Sketches are written, verified and flashed onto the Arduino using the Arduino Software (IDE) and an USB cable.

The Arduino IDE is open source and free of charge. Apart from dozens of build-in example sketches, there are literally thousands of internet tutorials and sketches available from the maker community.

To be able to connect to a PC, Arduinos will either have a Type-A or Mini-B USB port. Having a build-in USB to serial interface translator chip (that acts as a serial to USB converter), Arduinos will be connected as a COM device. Depending on the model, some Arduinos will need Mini-B USB cables, while others will need A-B male/male USB cables.

Arduino USB cables
Different USB 2.0 cables to connect different Arduinos. Left: Mini-B USB cable. Right: A-B USB cable.

Availability

Being an established and popular brand, variations of the Arduino boards are available from many sources in South Africa. If you are willing to wait for delivery and take a chance on the quality, there are also many, cheaper generic Arduino boards available from places like eBay and Chinese electronic stores like BangGood.

Summary

With many microcontroller development boards out there today, the Arduino boards stand out for their quality, availability, variation and its community. Not sure where to start with electronic tinkering? This is it – Arduino!

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About the author
Renier busies himself with improving his English writing, creative web design and his websites, photoshopping, micro-electronics, multiple genres of music, superhero movies and badass series.
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