by Jim Hannon
Ralph Coppolaâ€™s July Wanderings has a collection of links to articles about the Arduino boards which I have just recently gotten somewhat acquainted with. I had purchased a Radio Shack wireless weather station as a start to my environmental observatory. It was on close out so it was inexpensive.Â It turns out it was not a good deal. The specifications say the wireless range should be up to 300 feet. I could only get about 20 feet. So I went to the web and found someone who was selling a much better receiver. The receiver is designed as an Arduino shield. I purchased the receiver and an Arduino Uno to go with it. It turns out that the receiver came with an Arduino Uno also. So now I have an extra Uno.
The Arduino boards are designed by a group in Italy as part of the open hardware movement. This is a bit like the open software movement. The schematics parts lists and board drawings are freely available. Basically hardware wise the Arduino board is an Atmel AVR series microcontroller mounted on a board with the required support circuitry. There are a number of â€œflavorsâ€ of boards available. The board is designed with connectors so that other boards (shields) can be plugged together with the Arduino to allow all sorts of different functions to be implemented. Lots of people have gotten on the bandwagon and designed shields for the Arduino. Not having to design, layout and make a circuit board for a project really helps make it easier to do projects with a microcontroller. The Uno has a USB connector that can be used to program the microcontroller and communicate with when an application is running. For my weather station the Uno and weather receiver plugged into a USB port on my PC which receives and logs the weather data. I have gotten this partially working and you can see the results here http://www.fmtcs.com/web/jmhannon/wxlocal1.html
Along with the hardware the Arduino folks came up with a programming language, software development environment and simple program loader for the microcontroller. Versions of this will run on Windows, Linux and Mac. The programming language is C like but with a number of Arduino specific functions built in. Programs written in this language are called sketches.
For me I already know C and Atmel has a C compiler, development environment and programmer for their microcontrollers so I will skip the software part of the Arduino.