Perhaps one of the primary features of Arduino boards is that the connectors are laid out in a standard configuration. This allows the stacking of other boards, called “Shields”. There are a number of Shields available that permit the expansion of I/O ports, addition of networking options such as Ethernet, Bluetooth or Wi-fi, display interfaces, and motor control to name a few.
The hardware and programming language are based on an open-source project called “Wiring”. According to their website, “Wiring is an open-source programming framework for microcontrollers. Wiring allows writing cross-platform software to control devices attached to a wide range of microcontroller boards to create all kinds of creative coding, interactive objects, spaces or physical experiences. The framework is thoughtfully created with designers and artists in mind to encourage a community where beginners through experts from around the world share ideas, knowledge and their collective experience. There are thousands of students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists who use Wiring for learning, prototyping, and finished professional work production.”
The Wiring platform consists of the hardware, including microcontroller, and the associated prototype board, as well as the Integrated Development Environment.
In 2001, two students from MIT worked to create an open-source programming language and Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that could allow non-programmers to create computer programs through a visual interface. Processing was built on the JAVA language, but uses a simplified approach to writing the code. In keeping with the idea of an open hardware platform that could be developed by non-programmers, Arduino utilizes the processing language for programming the microcontroller. Processing serves as the Arduino Development Environment.
The Arduino project has expanded over the past few years, supporting different microcontroller chip sets, and operating systems. Thanks to the Arduino project, it is easier than ever to create a solution to just about any technical problem.
Because Arduino is open-source, there is a huge amount of information available. There are tutorials that cover everything from getting started if you are new to programming, to designing your own boards and Shields for more advanced applications.
As engineers, we have a natural desire to solve problems. In the past, the solution may have been more complicated than the original problem. Thanks to the Arduino project, there is now a simple, inexpensive, easier and much “cooler” solution to solve pretty much any technical problem in the station. Have fun.
McNamara is president of Applied Wireless, Cape Coral, FL.