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Mike Riley

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Arduino: A Quick-Start Guide Book Review

January 13, 2011

Have you been hearing the buzz about the Arduino board and want to dip your digital toe in the embedded electronic enthusiast scene, but don't know where to get started? Arduino enthusiast Maik Schmidt has written a guide to get you on the fast track to learning, leveraging and innovating with the Arduino. Read on for my review of his book.The Arduino is the lightning hot tech hobbyist electronic design board; I like to think of it as the digital reinvention of the erector set. Early adopters and alpha geek enthusiasts have been building nifty little Arduino-based projects for years, but 2011 looks to be the break-out year for this little board that could. And a new book by Maik Schmidt could help accelerate this trajectory. Arduino: A Quick-Start Guide is a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in diving into the Arduino pool and enjoying the swim.

Starting with 'The Parts You Need', Maik details the essential hardware and software to get going, a brief overview of the Arduino hardware. Once the basics are out of the way, he then walks through a simple binary dice LED generator that shows how to write an Arduino program and hook up the wiring to bring the code to life. This is followed by several other projects of increasing complexity that demonstrate the versatility this little hobbyist embedded system provides. Readers willing to invest the time (and money in the parts) will learn how to build a Morse code generator, build a proximity and motion sensor, interpreting spacial position with the Wii Nunchuck, hooking up the Arduino to a network via an Ethernet shield and creating a universal infrared remote. The book concludes with a project on controlling servo motors to build a device the author calls a 'Blaminatr' (a geeky paper arrow attached to a servo arm that moves to the pie wedge listing the name of a developer responsible for breaking a software build).

Each project begins a description and a parts list followed by the construction activity and a troubleshooting section. The projects conclude with additional ideas to build on the starting foundation. Three appendixes on Basics of Electronics, Advanced Arduino Programming and Advanced Serial Programming as well as a Bibliography listing seven additional references readers can pursue help round out the book.

I had hoped to see a discussion of using Xbee's in the networking section. Getting these to work with the Arduino isn't hard, but there are a lot of steps to take and plenty of spots to get stuck on. However, once they're working, they make low power wireless data communication with the Arduino a reality and can be used in a variety of novel ways. Perhaps this information gap will be filled by O'Reilly's recently published Building Wireless Sensor Networks with ZigBee, XBee, Arduino, and Processing. Look for a review of this book soon.

Other than the innocuous Xbee omission (which to be fair, may be a topic more within intermediate territory than the introductory audience this book has been tailored for), Arduino: A Quick-Start Guide is similar to Pragmatic Bookshelf's Hello, Android in that it delivers just enough information to gain confidence in taking your development journeys to the next level.

Incidentally, I have a quick Arduino story to tell. About a month ago, I showed off some of my Arduino projects to fellow Dr Dobbs Jolt judge Jon Kurz, who at the time was teaching a robotics course using Lego Mindstorms. After demonstrating how easy and versatile the Arduino hardware was to work with, Jon was inspired to try using the Arduino as a less expensive Mindstorm brick replacement. A few days after he received the Arduino along with a couple additional parts (servo motors, chassis, etc.), he built Nojbot 1.0. Now that Arduino: A Quick-Start Guide is available, I can simply recommend the book to other friends and tech professionals interested in catching the fever and having fun riding the Arduino wave.

Title: Arduino: A Quick-Start Guide Author: Maik Schmidt Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf ISBN: 978-1-93435-666-1 Pages: 275 Price: $22 (eBook), $35 (Paper Book)

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