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What Are Arduino Products and Why Do I Need Them?

image DIY arduino boards (Mega. Uno. Nano) flat layout on wooden backg
Table of Contents

Even if you haven’t specifically sought it out, you’ve probably heard of the brand known as Arduino at some point in the last few years. Originally, Arduino was released in 2005 as a simple-to-use programmable device for interactive art design projects. It made its debut at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy.

However, Arduino has come a long way since then and is now a popular open-source platform used to build electronic projects. Arduino consists of two integral parts. The first is a piece of software called an integrated development environment (IDE). An IDE is something creators use to write and upload code.

The second part is the actual physical programmable circuit board. You’ll often see this referred to as a microcontroller. Once the code is uploaded, the physical board uses it to do all sorts of exciting and innovative things.

People new to working with electronics often gravitate to Arduino as a platform. There is an excellent reason for that. Many of the programmable circuit boards that pre-date Arduino needed the use of an additional piece of hardware known as a programmer. This programmer hardware was (and sometimes still is) how engineers load the code onto the board.

With Arduino, there’s no need for that extra component. Instead, all you need in hand is a USB cable. And let’s be honest, most of us have one (or several) around the house. On top of that, the IDE for Arduino uses a simple type of C++ so that people can learn the basics of programming more easily.

Arduino moves away from past circuit board design to a standardized form factor that offers the updated functionality of a microcontroller into a package that is far more accessible. Keep reading to learn more about what Arduino is all about and how you can use it to meet your needs.

Digging Deeper into What Arduino Is

Some people need clarification about what Arduino is. For instance, is a circuit board? Is it software? Is it a company? The truth is that Arduino can refer to any of these three things. However, in most cases, people who refer to Arduino are talking about the open-source board that hobbyists, makers, and tinkerers can use to interact with the world.

It also applies to the board design and the company that manufactures various types of boards. Arduino’s name may also refer to the product category, a collection of boards made by other companies and people offering the same benefits. Many things are “Arduino,” so extra details may be helpful when discussing it.

Keep in mind that the hardware for Arduino is helpful for designers, artists, hackers, and anyone who wants to build interactive environments or objects. Creators can use it with buttons, motors, GPS units, the Internet, a television, LEDs, speakers, cameras, and even smartphones.

The Arduino Community

Why has Arduino seen such a massive amount of growth over the years? There are several reasons. It’s very flexible. The software is free, and the boards are mostly inexpensive. Plus, the hardware and software are easy to learn and understand. A vast community of diverse users has provided code and instructions for many projects based on Arduino.

Image of Young asian child creates robotic device by programming arduino device and connecting it to moving parts and power sources
Education is another component of the Arduino community, the Arduino platform is so intuitive, it can be packaged into accessible learning experiences for schoolchildren.

People have made robots, fortune-telling machines, hand-warming blankets, and even dice-throwing gauntlets through the power of Arduino. If you want to get an idea of what Arduino is capable of, consider visiting some of the websites below:

Of course, a quick search of Google (or any other search engine) will give you endless opportunities to learn more about what you can do with Arduino.

What Are the Parts of an Arduino Board?

An Arduino is a single circuit board, which seems simple enough. However, this circuit board has several interfaces and components attached to it. The design of the Arduino has changed over the years, as have the parts used for one. But, in general, you can expect the following components to be a part of the board:

  • Several pins – Use these to connect different components for use with the Arduino. These can be analog or digital pins. Analog pins can read many values and give better control, so that most Arduino microcontrollers will have six analog-type pins. On the other hand, digital pins read and write one state either off or on. The majority of Arduinos has 14 digital pins or more. Arduino designed the pin placement in a particular pattern, which makes it essential to choose an add-on board that will fit them. Often called a shield, they are made to fit Arduino-compatible devices easily.
  • Power connector – This component offers power to the device. It also has a low voltage that creators can use with extra items like sensors, LEDs, and other objects with small power requirements. Power connectors can be used with a small battery or an AC adapter.
  • Microcontroller – This is the primary chip that lets you program the Arduino. It makes it possible to make decisions and execute comments based on different input types. These chips come in various types depending on the Arduino you choose. However, most of them are Atmel controllers. These include the ATmega2560, ATmega1280, ATmega328, ATmega168, and ATmega8. Each of these chips is different, but the unique aspects tend to be quite subtle. However, for a beginner, one main thing to remember is when choosing between several options. All of the chips will have a different amount of onboard memory.
  • Serial connector – The serial connector will be a standard USB port, assuming you use a modern Arduino board. The connector’s purpose is to let you communicate with the board using a computer. You can also use it to add programs to your device. Many Arduinos can also gain power through a USB port, so you may not need a separate power connection.
  • Reset button – Similar to many older video game systems, the Arduino includes a reset button that can be useful in certain situations. When you push the button, the reset pin will temporarily connect to the ground, and the code loaded into the Arduino will be restarted. This reset button is a very efficient way to test nonrepeating code several times.
  • Power indicator LED – You’ll see the word “UNO” or a similar phrase on the Arduino circuit board and can look to the right and underneath the word to see an LED light. It’s minimal and sits next to the word “on.” This LED light should come on whenever the Arduino is plugged into a power source. If that doesn’t occur, there may be a problem afoot. You’ll need to double-check the circuit.
  • TX & RX LEDs – RX means receiving, while TX means transmitting. You’ll often see these marks on electronics. They’re used to show which pins allow serial communication. These are found on some digital pins and near the indicator LEDs. These can be useful to watch as they let you know when the Arduino is transmitting or receiving data.
  • Voltage regulator – The voltage regulator is part of the Arduino, but it isn’t something you will do much with on your own. However, knowing what it is and why it is there can be helpful. As you might guess from the name, this component controls how much voltage is allowed into the board. If excessive voltage were to get through, this could damage the circuit. However, there are limits to the regulator, so don’t hook up the board to anything over 20 volts.

Types of Arduino Boards Available

As we mentioned, there are many different Arduino boards, and each of them has unique functionality. And remember the fact that the hardware is open source. That means you can alter or make other boards with the form factor and features you need. While there are far too many Arduino boards to go over them all, the ones below are some of the most popular options.

image DIY arduino boards (Mega. Uno. Nano) flat layout on wooden backg
Choosing a board to work with from the Arduino platform is almost entirely based on the needs and demands of your project.

Arduino Uno

For anyone looking to get their first Arduino, the Uno is a great place to start your search. It has all the mandatory items you will need without adding many extras that your project may not require.

Regarding what the Uno offers, it has 14 input and output pins. Six of the 14 can be used as PWM outputs. There are also six analog inputs, a power jack, a USB connection, a reset button, and other parts.

All of the items you need to support the microcontroller are provided. It’s also simple to use for the first time. Use a USB cable to connect it to a computer, battery, and/or an AC to DC adapter to get the ball rolling.

Arduino Leonardo

Next, we come to the Arduino Leonardo, the first board from the brand to include a single microcontroller with a built-in USB. This simplicity makes for cost-savings and more straightforward prototypes. 

Since the board handles the USB independently, prototypers can use code libraries to go even further with the technology. For instance, you can make the board emulate a mouse, keyboard, and many more.

Arduino Mega

The Arduino Mega is like the Uno, only all grown up. It has 54 digital pins, with 14 that can be used as PWM outputs. It also offers a reset button, power jack, USB connection, and 16 analog inputs.

Everything needed to support the microcontroller is included. Use a battery, AC to DC adapter, or a USB cable to pair it with a computer and get started. What makes Mega stand out is the significant number of pins it offers. It can accommodate major projects with many buttons, LEDs, or other inputs.

Mega-board for the implementation of school laboratory work on
The Arduino Mega is an option built for more complex projects requiring more connectivity than a traditional board, most may not require the additional pins.

Arduino Zero

Arduino made the Arduino Zero into a more powerful version of the Uno. As a result, it performs better and lets you find new project opportunities. In addition, Zero is an excellent tool for learning more about 32-bit development. Prototypers can use it to make robotics, automation, IoT devices, wearable tech, and more.

Everything required to support the board is included. All you need to do is connect it with an AC to DC adapter, battery, or a micro-USB cable. It’s compatible with many shields and the 1.0 Arduino pinout.

Arduino Due

The Arduino Due was The first Arduino board based on a 32-bit ARM core microcontroller. It has 52 pins for input and output, 12 used for PWM output, an 84 MHz clock, four hardware serial ports, and 12 analog inputs. In addition, two DAC, 2 TWI, a USB connection, an SPI header, a JTAG header, a power jack, an erase button, and a reset button are all included.

Everything needed to use the board is available. It can be powered with a battery, an AC to DC adapter, or a micro-USB cable.

Arduino Micro

The next board to consider for your projects is the Arduino Micro. This one is similar to the Leonardo since it features built-in USB communication. That means there’s no need for a second processor. It can be used as a keyword or mouse for a computer and offers a virtual serial port.

This board comes with 20 digital input and output pins, seven of which can be used as PWM outputs and 12 as analog inputs. In addition, it has a reset button, ICSP header, micro-USB connection, and a crystal oscillator. Connecting it is simple with a battery, AC to DC adapter, or a micro-USB cable.

Common Arduino Projects 

Arduino microcontrollers like the Raspberry Pi are less complicated than single-board computers. As a result, they offer an affordable method to use computer power on a project. In addition, Arduino works with components optimized for the hardware, like shields and sensors, often used in projects that people build. Below are a few of the most exciting projects using Arduino.

Robotics

Beginner and intermediate robotics projects excel from the use of Arduinos. They have plenty of power to take basic commands to make a robot function. The limited resources ensure the robot focuses on specific tasks. There’s no need to worry about resource drain or interference from other programs running in the background.

Image of Hand made robot working on the arduino platform. White background
Robotics engineers use the Arduino platform as a prototyping tool for a for products slated for future mass production, as premade boards are easier to work with in lower quantities.

Audio

Headphones, Hi-Fi, and more are created to offer excellent sound quality. While Arduinos might not have the most power for audio, they can still add sound to the projects on which you are already working. In addition, practice and experimentation let you add better audio to projects you do in the future.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things has been immense over the last decade. It allows physical devices to get commands using the Internet. As a result, they’re making the world more connected, from commercial agriculture to smart refrigerators. Arduino can help power many of these projects.

Tools

Whether you have an entire print farm or a single 3D printer, these items can get expensive. The same applies to tools like laser etchers and CNC machines. However, innovative people are building these things for less, using their motors and Arduino for all the programming requirements.

Data Logging

Decades ago, recording and computation took up a ton of space. However, things have changed in recent years. Now you can have a portable and inexpensive data tracking kit. Data logging is yet another perk of Arduino, which offers a level of innovation unheard of with other devices.

Networking

There’s little point in having a computer today unless it has a way of connecting with others. Many Arduinos have networking capabilities backed in, often through an Ethernet port. A hardwired connection means creators can use the Arduino for data logging and IoT purposes.

Medical

One of the newest technologies to change the medical industry is 3D printing. However, microcontrollers have the same potential for improving lives and cutting costs. While no machine will take over for a physician, expensive medical equipment only seen in hospitals could be moved into the home with Arduino.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know more about the hardware and IDE of the Arduino, you can see how many projects for which it is helpful. Plus, adding sensors and actuators can make devices more fully featured than they would be.

Image of Final Thoughts Jaycon
The Arduino platform allows creative people to validate their ideas, prove that something is possible, and can be made.

The boards listed above are a great way to get started with this kind of technology to create fun projects with creative ideas. However, once you get into working with Arduino, you should work your way up to the more powerful microprocessors.

Whether you create electronics at work or home, working with Arduino is a good idea to open up more possibilities. Arduino has been around since 2005 and is still unbelievably popular. The technology continues to grow, and the community is full of intelligent and creative people who want to do something new.

Interested in learning more about Arduino with Jaycon? Learn how to Run A Sketch in Arduino IDE in one of our latest blogs!

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