What is Arduino and Where to Start?

What is Arduino? It’s a THE tool to use if you want to make your own flame-throwing pony-robot, Gmail LED notifier or something like this spider robot:

Back in 2005, Massimo Banzi was a teacher at a school for interaction design in a small beautiful town in Italy called Ivrea. His students needed a way to control things automatically. Like turning on and off lights depending on the amount of light in a room. Or to play a sound when someone stepped on a certain tile.

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Electronic Kits

Arduino Shield LED Matrix kitA few years ago, I found myself at a Christmas party building electronic kits with the other guests.

We were all really focused. And believe it or not, we weren’t only a bunch of geeky guys. Oh no, it was actually more girls in that group than guys! Beautiful girls. With no earlier experience of electronics. And they loved it! All the guests loved it!

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Getting Started In Electronics

It’s not that hard to get started in electronics as a hobby, you know. For some reason, some people like to tell beginners that it’s hard. They tell you that “You have to go to university to make electronics”. And you see those crazy schematics with lots of strange components, so you start believing that it really is hard.

Well, I’m here to tell you that getting started in electronics is easy!

Getting started in electronics: Stripboard circuit with components

For me, the whole thing started with curiosity. I was curious how you could make a light blink. And I was really curious about what people meant when they said computers were made of 1′s and 0′s.

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Binary Number System And Working With Ones And Zeroes

The binary number system is an important system in digital electronics. Because in digital electronics we are using only 1′s and 0′s. But what does this mean?

That’s something I was wondering about for a long time. I thought it was something really difficult and abstract. But when I one day asked my dad about it, it really surprised me how easy it was!

Binary number system - ones and zeroes

It turns out that a “1″ is just a wire with voltage and a “0″ is a wire without a voltage. It’s that simple! The reason for this system is to make the electronics easier. A circuit which only needs to check if there is a voltage or not on the wire is really easy. Just have a look at how the transistor works and you’ll get an idea.

In order to make any sense out of the ones and zeroes, we use a binary number system.

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Circuit Diagram Basics

When you start learning about electronics, you might see a circuit diagram drawn with realistic looking drawings of the different components. But this method is not very effective. To make circuit diagrams more effective, all electronic components have been assigned much simpler symbols.

It’s not always easy to understand a circuit diagram. But with practice and experience you will learn to understand more and more circuit diagrams.

What is a circuit diagram?

A circuit diagram, or a schematic diagram, is a technical drawing of how to connect electronic components to get a certain function.

Each electronic component has a symbol. After seeing a few circuit diagrams, you’ll quickly learn how to distinguish the different symbols.

A Resistor

A resistor

Resistor symbol

The symbol for a resistor

How do you read circuits diagrams?

Reading a circuit diagram is actually pretty easy.

Each of the lines are wires. These show how the components are connected. If you want to build the circuit, you only need to get the components specified, then connect them as shown in the circuit diagram. This can be done either on a breadboard, a stripboard or you can design your own printed circuit board (PCB) if you like.

A circuit diagram should be specific enough so that anyone can make the circuit just by following it. You don’t actually need to understand a circuit diagram in order to build it.

LDR Circuit Diagram

For example, look at the circuit diagram above. I can buy a light-dependent resistor (LDR), a potentiometer, a resistor, an LED and a transistor. Then I can connect these on a breadboard by following the lines on the circuit diagram.

Light dependent resistor on a bradboard

I would then have a circuit that has the specific function that this diagram was made for – without necessarily understanding why or how it works.

How do you understand how it works?

Understanding how a circuit diagram works can be a bit tricky. It comes from experience. You recognize the way some components are connected and identify known pieces of the schematic.

In the circuit above for example, I would see the LDR together with the potentiometer in the middle. I know from experience that two resistors setup like this makes a voltage divider. And I know that the voltage out from a voltage divider is a result of the values of those resistors.

I also know that the resistance of an LDR varies with the amount of light it receives. This means that the voltage out, i.e. the voltage on the base of the transistor, will vary with the amount of light detected by the LDR.

Then I look at the transistor. I know that the transistor can be turned on and off by applying a voltage at the base. So from this information, I would have an idea that this circuit will turn on and off the LED connected to the transistor, based on the amount of light the LDR receives.

BUT, if you are a beginner and you don’t know what an LDR is, what a transistor is or what a voltage divider is, then you won’t have the foundation to understand the circuit. So you need to start by learning those parts first before you can understand the circuit diagram.

To Sum It Up

Understanding comes with experience. You start by understanding small circuit chunks and later you’ll learn to identify those chunks in a bigger circuit diagram so that you can make sense of the big circuit diagram.

But you don’t have to understand a circuit diagram to be able to build it. That’s the cool thing! You can build things beyond your understanding and as you progress you will learn and understand more and more.

Return to from Circuit Diagram to Electronic Schematics

Electronics Books For the Enthusiast

Sometimes I really enjoy diving into electronics books with a freshly brewed coffee by my side. Just immersing into some interesting subject. But it is really important to not get stuck in the books. You need to get your soldering iron out and practice what you learn. Otherwise it’s no use learning it, right?

There are many electronics books available today. And they can differ quite a bit in how they are written. And I love that! People like to learn in different ways. Some like the extremely detailed and heavy theory book, while other like to get practical and learn by doing.

In this article I’m going to cover a few electronics books that will help you learn electronics from scratch or expand on the knowledge that you have already gained.

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Can you believe it? I actually forgot!

Can you believe it? I actually forgot to post that my new book was released on my blog! I was just so busy getting everything ready, and now three weeks later I realized it. Well actually, I didn’t realize it – a friend pointed it out =)

Getting Started With Electronics eBook

Anyway, it’s a book to help complete beginners getting started with electronics. It’s a straight-to-the point and practical book that doesn’t take ages to read. The focus is on doing and to help people get started BUILDING circuits.

Click here and find out more.

Capacitor Values – Prefixes, Standards and Calculations

There are some standard capacitor values that have developed over time. To find the value you need for your circuit you need to know how to deal with prefixes. And you need to know how to calculate capacitor values.

Electrolytic capacitor

If you have looked for capacitors, you have probably seen many different letters and weird values. Like 0.47 \mu F or 22 pF. It is a bit confusing, but it’s easy to learn what it means.

In this article you will learn the most standard capacitor values, the prefixes used and how to calculate a capacitor value for your circuit.

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What happened to my new book? (BIG announcement!)

I have an announcement to make =) But first, I wanted to share
with you the story behind the book I was writing back in January
on how to get started with electronics.

First I wrote one version and planned to launch it in the
beginning of February. But then I got some feedback on it and
realized I had written a purely theoretical book…

Well, that’s not what I wanted!

So I started over. This time I added lots of practical stuff and
also a lot of material on everything from resistors to
microcontrollers, programming and digital communication. I tried
to cover it all!

With the feedback from my trusted reviewers I realized once again
that I had missed. I had tried to put ALL my knowledge into a
small book. And I was moving too fast. It was impossible for a
beginner to follow my pace.

So I started from scratch yet another time and asked myself this
question: “What do I want to achieve with this book?”

The answer came right away: “I want to help people GET STARTED
with electronics”.

So the third revision of the book suddenly started to make more
sense. I wasn’t going to try to teach ALL the aspects of
electronics in this book. I just wanted to help people get started
building circuits.

I wanted to take people from NO experience building circuits to a
place where they would feel confident in putting together circuits
and be able to continue building circuits on their own.

Now I am making the final changes and I am happy to announce that:

My new book will be launched on Tuesday the 17th of June! Only 4
days from now =)

Stay tuned! More information will come in the following days.