Getting Started with Arduino

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With so many Arduino projects out there its almost overwhelming getting started. Our quick start how-to guide will run you through your very first steps.

 

First up.

What is the Arduino? Well, the Arduino is not just a single product, it’s a whole range of products named after a pub that was named after a king of Italy. The Arduino is a microcontroller – basically a tiny little computer on a chip that can do simple tasks.

Arduinos are an open source piece of hardware and this means that their design and software is all free to everybody and because of this there are dozens of Arduino clones, copies, and variations. This is a GOOD thing! It means that you get a wide range to choose from with a huge range of features – from bluetooth and wifi equipped ones to little wearable ones to teeny tiny little ones.

The most common Arduino for people to start off on is the Arduino Uno. This board is cheap, simple to use and really quite robust. There’s a power connector that can take between 7 and 12v – perfect for a 9v battery, but you can also power it from the USB port here. Along the sides you have rows of connectors, also know as headers which are great because you can just stick jumper wires into them which makes connecting them up to other things super fast.

Resources

So, what do you need to begin? Well, an Arduino board for a start! Then you’ll need the software, you can get this from the Arduino website. You’ll find the latest version for Windows, OSX and Linux as well as a link to all previous versions. Simply click on the operating system name and you will be taken to a donate and/or download screen. You’ll find the option to either ‘just download’ the compressed file or financially contribute and download. The software is around 136 megabytes so time to go make coffee if your connection is slow. The Arduino website has a detailed installation page here.

Once it’s downloaded double click the compressed file to extract it, then drag it into either your Applications (OSX) or Program Files (Windows) folders. Now you’ll need the drivers that let the Arduino talk to the computer. These are called FTDI VCP drivers – or Virtual COM Port drivers (FTDI is the company name that makes the serial chips on the Arduino.). You’ll find the FTDI drivers here. Download these and double click to install.

Now you’re ready to go. Open the Arduino software and connect your Arduino board using a USB cable. You should see the power light come on. At this point Windows may alert you with an Add New Hardware wizard – point this to the FTDI drivers to install if it didn’t recognise properly the first time. Detailed install instructions for this can be found on the Arduino Install page.

Now, go to the Arduino softwares Tools menu and select your board: Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 9.56.19 pm

Remember that Arduino is the trademark for the USA only, Genuino is the name for Arduino for the rest of the world. Next select the serial port that the Arduino is on.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 9.56.34 pm

On Windows this will be a COM port. If you’re not sure which is the right one, simply unplug the Arduino and see which port disappears.

Ok! You’re ready to write some code and do something amazing, but before that, lets run the blinking LED sketch… Go to File>Examples>01.Basics>Blink and load that sketch (a sketch is the name of the file we upload to the Arduino).Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 10.01.54 pm

This will open a new window with the Blink sketch in it. To upload this to the Arduino board, click the Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 10.12.47 pm button to transfer the code, you’ll see a pair of LEDs blinking rapidly as the code uploads and then you’ll see the the LED attached to pin 13 (on the Uno) blinking once a second.

Now that you have installed the software and got up and running it’s time to start doing some fun stuff. Check out our other tutorials for projects, how-to’s and examples. For further reading you can also visit the Arduino Foundations Tutorials and the documentation for the Built in examples.

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