Saturday, April 18, 2015

SL REVIEWS: The Arduino Uno Starter Kit

   Ah, Arduino. Where could I begin, my friend? You have such an interesting story. You've quickly evolved into one of the foremost leaders of the Maker movement. And you have generated a massive community in your wake.

By Carter Schaap

   In the maker biz, there are those things which makers can't live without. A screwdriver. A soldering iron. A wallet. (Most of the time, anyway.)
   But then there are some things that, while not required, are essential to (most) any maker's life. One of those is an Arduino board. And what a better way to get started with Arduino than with the Starter Kit?

   Arduino was created by a talented group of students in Italy in 2005.  The Arduino was a lower-power, broken-out microcontroller used to program, run, and control electronics across a large field of options, from sensors to robots to drones.
   Since its unveiling, the Arduino line has gone through multiple iterations. The Arduino Uno, developed in 2010, became the official reference model for the Arduino platform and the poster child for the Arduino Foundation. Because of this, many projects around the web that require the versatility of Arduino use the Uno model.


   The cheapest you'll probably find the kit for is on Amazon. They offer a large selection of other hardware to supplement the kit. Plus, if you're a Prime member, the kit comes with free two-day shipping.

   Unboxing the kit is nice. In fact, just looking at the kit is nice. Blue and yellow with gold accents come together to make a lovely box that wouldn't look bad on a desk or office shelf. But it's what's under the hood that really counts.

   The first thing you'll find when you open the top flap of the kit is the included 171-page Arduino Projects Book. This softcover guide is your Arduino's bible, containing 15 different projects to jumpstart the learning curve. It also includes descriptions of each different piece of your kit, plus a glossary and additional resources pages. Again, the book matches the box, with a cover accented with a gold-chrome finish. 
   This is also one of my first real complaints; I feel that they could have made the guide spiral-bound, and therefore, easier to keep open on a specific page while trying to work on a project.
   Underneath the book is another flap. Flip it open, and you'll be greeted by several cardboard boxes nested together, each listing off a specific group of components.


   Now we're into the meat of the pie. The kit contains a plethora of goodies to get you started, including:

-An Arduino Uno microcontroller and power cable

-An alphanumeric LCD screen

-Dozens of LEDs

-Jumper cables

-A solderless breadboard

-Plus lots more!

Muchos supplies!

   Some stuff that the kit does not supply:

-A power source (You'll need either a computer supply, DC cable or 9V battery.)

-The Arduino IDE (You'll need a computer and internet connection.)

-Some craft materials (Paper, foil, etc.)

-A solder iron and solder (Only necessary in one project.) 

-And a 9V battery

   But most, if not all of these items shouldn't be too hard to obtain. Just remember that without the Arduino IDE (The programming application) your board is a hunk of useless metal.

   The Arduino Uno board itself is a well-built piece of hardware. Dark blue, with pins and sockets covering various parts. It's quite sturdy, and the balsa wood frame included in the package comes with three screws to secure it alongside the solderless breadboard.
   The breadboard is also a greatly-welcomed addition, meaning that tinkerers can set their projects up, prototype, and easily remove components as they see fit.



   Arduino has managed to craft a well-made software side of their company as well, something not everyone has managed to accomplish.

The Arduino IDE
   However, there are several prerequisites you must know of:

-You must have a computer. Windows and OS X work best; you'll have to do some finagling to get the IDE on Linux.

-An internet connection. Don't worry to much about constant speed or connectivity. You only have to download the IDE and some libraries for various projects, and that's it.

-(1) available USB port. This will power and upload sketches to your Arduino.

   With these up, it's a quick job of updating the Arduino's driver and opening the Arduino.exe. There's not even any installing to do.

   Once you're into the IDE, you'll be greeted by your first-ever sketch, pre-made for you: the blink sketch. Click the UPLOAD button (the sideways arrow). It will pause for roughly five seconds, then the on-board LED on your Arduino will begin to flash. Congratulations! You've just programmed your Arduino.
   Of course, you want more than a blinking LED. Check out the projects in your book for more ideas.

   ...This is my second real complaint. The book does a fairly poor job of teaching you how to use the code, (which is C++, a pretty common and basic programming language) and assumes you already have a rudimentary knowledge of coding already.
   The book basically throws the code at you to copy into the IDE.
   Luckily, this is where the IDE's built-in error catcher comes in: You can run an "error check" (the check mark) that parses the document and pulls out all your mistakes, explaining what went wrong and (sometimes) how to fix em'.


   Overall, I'm pretty impressed with how well-crafted Arduino has made their product. I was unable to find any real faults with the hardware or the software, but the book's construction, code examples, and generally layout can be a headache if you don't really know what you're doing. (Which most people probably won't, hence it being a STARTER KIT.



   Did I convince you to buy the kit, or get into Arduino and its community? Comment below and let us know!

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