Almost everything you could ever need to get into Arduinos
I like it when I get sent products to review. I like it even more when it’s something as interesting as the Arduino Uno Starter Kit from RS Components.
I’ve wanted to work with an Arduino board for quite some time now, but by the time you research all of the components you’ll need you kind of tend to lose the will to live.
Luckily, RS will provide you with a nice self contained kit that comes with a whole bunch of components to help you get to grips with your Arduino board.
For those of you that don’t know, the Arduino is an open source electronic prototyping board. Essentially it’s a micro-controller strapped to a circuit board, with a whole bunch of inputs and outputs available and a USB interface so that you can program it via a PC or Mac.
The limitations of what you can do with an Arduino are few and far between. I’ve seen them used to create works of art, control household appliances, make high-tech gadgets even cooler, or just to turn a lamp on when it gets a little dark.
Your projects can be as big or small as you like, depending on your skill level and how much time and money you’ve got.
Inside the kit that I received was an Arduino UNO board, a prototyping board, a jumper wire kit and a fair selection of components for various projects.
The components provided are of a decent quality, but it would have been nice to see a few more of each kind included.
Personally, I outgrew the provided components quite quickly, once I’d done a bit of research and come up with a few ideas for projects that I wanted to take on.
That being said, it’s not a small bundle of components, and will be more than adequate to take part in some of the tutorial videos that RS have published on their website and on YouTube.
As mentioned previously, RS are running a series of tutorial projects via YouTube that show you how to put together set projects using the kit, but I’ve never been one to do what I’m told, so I decided to venture out on my own.
The first step is to download the Arduino software from the Arduino site. This is a great app which allows you to write your programming code and then upload it onto the board to make your project.
Not only does it work really well, it also includes a massive library of pre-written code for a whole bunch of things. That’s not to say you’ll be able to find exactly what you need, you’ll need to do some work yourself.
But, for example, if I wanted to write a program that made an LED flash when the temperature reached a certain level, well I can find some code that shows how to read an analogue input from a temperature sensor, and I can find code that will make an LED flash based upon an input. It’s not hard to stitch the two together into a working program.
What’s more, each piece of code in the library is fully commented, so the author has told you exactly what each section of the code does, which makes it incredibly easy to pick up.
There are also thousands of examples of code that other people have developed on numerous sites on the web. Most Arduino developers are more than happy to make their code public so that other people can use it, either in whole or in part.
The Arduino Parking Sensor
Having just had a nasty motorcycle accident where some nice gentleman drove into the back of me while I was waiting at a junction, I thought it would be neat to have a “heads up” should anything like that happen again.
Not only that, but my dad and step-mum both ride huge motorcycles that they manage to squeeze into their garage somehow.
What we both need, is some sort of parking sensor for bikes that gives an indication of how far the rear of the bike is from a wall (or a late breaking Fiat Panda).
Thankfully, I’m not the first person to envisage using the Arduino like this, in fact there’s a company out there that make an ultra-sonic sensor which will work perfectly with the Arduino UNO.
The PING))) Sensor works by emitting an ultrasonic sensor and then waiting for the reflection from whatever object it hits. Since sound moves at a constant rate, it’s a simple bit of maths to work out how far away an object is based upon the time it takes for the signal to return.
Before I did anything else, I needed to make sure I had the design and the programming for the circuit complete, so out came the prototype board and the component kit.
The idea is to use a series of 9 LEDs (3 green, 3 yellow, 3 red) to show how close an object is. The nearer an object gets to the sensor, the more LEDs light up. Simple!
In the example above, each of the LEDs is connected to an output on the Arduino, and the sensor is connected to one of the inputs. The resistors on the board are just there to stop the LEDs from blowing up from too much voltage.
The programming was pretty easy to fathom out. There’s a pre-written block in the library which shows how to connect the sensor to the Arduino and how to convert the time that it takes for the signal to bounce into a distance in inches or cm.
Once I’d tailored that part, it was just a question of turning on the different LEDs depending on the distance that was recorded by the sensor.
The whole thing worked pretty well:
The next step was to solder all of the components into a more permanent solution, and then fit it all inside the case that I’d set aside.
Not only that, but I needed to connect the sensor to the board via a cable of some sort as the two would be at opposite ends of the bike. I also needed to knock up a power adapter lead as I wouldn’t have mains power to hand to power the Arduino via USB.
Thankfully, the Arduino can also accept a DC power input via a battery pack. You can use anything between a 7V and 12V cell, but a 9V PP3 battery works the best.
Once I’d knocked up the circuit onto some prototyping board, I was able to assemble the project into a working package:
Full code for this project can be found via this link
It was certainly a lot fun playing around with the Arduino Uno. It’s been years since I’ve had to do any “proper” programming, but the library of information available to you (plus the helpfullness of others on the Internet) meant that I was quickly able to pick up the basics and create a working product.
If you look online there are literally thousands of projects out there that take advantage of this board, the only limitation in coming up with something is your imagination.
The RS starter kit is a great way to get yourself started with this sort of project work, no matter whether you’re a complete newbie or someone who’s looking to get back into programming and electronics after being out of the field for several years (yo).
What’s more, RS are still rolling out new project videos via their website that make use of the equipment provided in the kit.
The only downside that I can see is that once you’ve caught the bug you’re going to spend every spare bit of cash you’ve got buying components online so that you can try out new and exciting projects.
For example, I’m now off to buy 64 blue LED’s: