Huxley and I like to make Arduino projects. If you know what that means, your geek cred is good. If not, I’ll explain briefly.
Arduino is an Italian based project that produces circuit boards that are controllers.
A controller is a small highly specialized computer thingie that can be programmed to have various inputs and outputs. You can connect devices (sensors) to the inputs and other devices (actuators of some kind, or lights or whatever) to the outputs. The programming can be fairly sophisticated. If you hook up enough of the right stuff to an Arduino board (of which there are several models, the most common being theUNO) you can have a robot, a fancy wether station, an alarm clock, or a small device that randomly turns a light on and off.
So far we’ve done very well with turning lights on and off, measuring basic environmental conditions, and so on. Lately, we’ve had to put the Arduino project matériel away because we are about to move and had to pack some stuff up. But we have plans. Big plans.
Our first project after the move may be a lightning detector. Not so much to tell if lightning has gone off. That’s kind of obvious. Big flash of light, bang, etc. Rather, we’ll be counting the frequency of lightning events in storms that pass by. Why? No reason.
We will also be building other weather related sensors and displays. And, we intend to replace the really annoying Trouble game dice roller with a digital roller. We might even program that device to produce more number 6s than random, to make that game even less annoying!
I’m also looking forward to making an UNO board from scratch, just for fun, a device to tell us when to water the plants, and a device that decodes a secret door knock. And, of course, we will build a device that detects the cat and deploys a cat toy when she is near and moving.
We will find the instructions and code to deploy most of these projects, or at least, versions that we can modify, in Arduino Project Handbook: 25 Practical Projects to Get You Started, which just came out, but, as I understand it, is selling so fast that they are running out. (Don’t worry, they are printing more.)
I’ve read quiet a few Arduino project books. There are two kinds. The intro book, such as the one being reviewed here, that provides a large number of projects that illustrate how the system works, while at the same time, providing a number of practical projects mixed in with some that are just for fun but that show important physical and programming principles. the other kind are more specialized, and cover how to use this system to build, say, environmental sensors, or robots, or to work with Lego Technic, or whatever.
All the intro books that don’t suck (some suck) are similar, give you similar tools, similar information, etc. But this new book, Arduino Project Handbook: 25 Practical Projects to Get You Started, is better than the other intro books for two simple reasons.
First, the instructions themselves are VERY clear and have EXCELLENT illustrations to show the wiring.
When you build an Arduino project, generally, you use hookup wires to connect the controller to various sensors, lights, etc., via breadboard. A breadboard is a plastic thingie with a lot of holes in it, and the holes are, in turn, hooked up to each other in a specified pattern. So you can hook up the “electricity in” wire to one hole and all the other holes in a particular lines will now have electricity in them. (I oversimplify.) Then you stick lights or motors or whatever into the various holes so they are now hooked up properly to the controller (which supplies both input and output logic and power).
The problem is that it doesn’t take a very complicated project to require a lot of connections, a lot of wires, various resistors, etc. The projects are visually complex and confusing.
These projects are illustrated with a combination of photographs of a properly assembled board and controller and parts, and a diagram that is very seeable and readable and folowable.
Other project books have good diagrams as well, but this book is a notch above the best and a few notches above the average.
The second reason this book is good is that it is current, new, up to date. This is the most current project book available, so if you are looking to get started with Arduino, this is the one you want today. In six months or a year, maybe not.
Another nice thing about this book is that the author, Mark Geddes, is pretty straight forward and helpful in specifying parts and equipment needed. There is a list of parts right at the beginning of the book that you will need for all of the projects, and a list of ideal tools and other items. He suggests alternatives, and provides enough added information with the project instructions that you can know where to vary the specifications. There is a detailed well illustrated appendix that shows and describes the parts, so you will not be confused or stymied when searching for parts on line, or, for that matter, trying to figure out which part is which in that box you threw all the parts in last time you were messing around with your Arduino.
Naturally, the code for each project, which you upload to the device via your computer using a USB connectors, is available at the book’s web site for download.
If you are going to start messing around with Arduino projects, this is the book to start with, and it will get you quite far.