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Mike Riley

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March Modness: Arduino Diecimila

March 23, 2009

The Arduino board has grown from its humble open hardware beginnings only a few years ago to one of the most popular introductory embedded systems for students and hobbyists today.  Read on for my opinions of this flexible little design.
Thanks to the Arduino's open hardware stance coupled with its inexpensive design (it is by far the least expensive of all the embedded hardware platforms being reviewed in this March Modness series), combined with the marketing and packaging of the board by the tinkerers at MAKE and specialized electronics retailers like SparkFun, the Arduino is by far the most popular piece of hardware I have reviewed in this series.

The most prevalent Arduino design is the Arduino Diecimila (although this board has very recently been demoted by the Arduino Duemilanove, an updated design that was just released), and one that can be purchased as a stand-alone board for under $40 or purchased as part of a kit.  


While the standalone model is useful if you already have a stash of electronic parts such as breadboards, capacitors, resistors and servos lying around, those developers just getting started in embedded hardware tinkering will want to take a serious look at more comprehensive kit offerings, such as Arduino Starter Kit available for $89.99 from O'Reilly's Maker Shed retail site.  MAKE has posted a number of video examples and user-contributed creations of various simple Arduino projects in action as well.

The Arduino board itself consist of a ATmega168 microcontroller running at 16 MHz, 14 digital I/O pins, 6 analog pins, 16 KB flash memory and 512 byte EEPROM. Detailed schematics of the board's open design can be freely downloaded from the arduino.cc website.

While the standalone board is useful for simple experimentation, things really get interesting when the Arduino is coupled with other small electronics.  While enthusiasts can certainly obtain these electronics components on their own, it is unquestionably cheaper and less time consuming to obtain a bundled kit like MAKE's Arduino Starter Kit.  The kit consists of 

  • 1x Arduino Diecimila
  • 1x Mini Breadboard
  • 1x 3 ft. USB Cable
  • 10x 1K Resistors
  • 2x 10k Resistors
  • 3x Red LEDs
  • 2x Green LEDs
  • 1X Superbright Blue LED
  • 1x Momentary Tactile Switch
  • 2x Interlink Force Sensing Resistors
  • 1x Protoshield Kit (unassembled)
  • Making Things Talk by Tom Igoe
  • 24" each of Red, Blue & Black AWG jumper wire
  • 9V Battery Case w/DC Plug (some assembly required)
  • A 9V battery



Incidentally, the Starter Kit is being replaced in the next month or so with a revised hardware bundle and rebranded as the Arduino Project Kit.  According to Rob Bullington, the Arduino Starter Kit's product manager,

"The new Arduino Project Kit (which replaces the Starter Kit) will have 5 times the parts in it, more resistors, switches, buttons, LEDs, buzzers, motor, sensors. Parts are still being defined as we speak but this kit will have much more for the customer to be able to go in many different directions right away, whereas the last kit had a really limited scope to start with. We found that there were two really defined groups who wanted the last Arduino kit, the people who really didn't know anything about Arduino, and the others who really wanted more components to experiment with right out of the box."

Besides the Diecimila model, other Arduino designs are also available.  Check out SparkFun's comprehensive list of various Arduino incarnations.  SparkFun also has a number of other really neat electronics kits besides the Arduino boards as well.  Additionally, there are a number of various electronic sensors and add-ons that can expand the Arduino's interface to the physical world.  Check these out online at Maker Shed's Arduino Gift Guide.  Lastly, O'Reilly has published a short book called Getting Started with Arduino written by Massimo Banzi, co-founder of Arduino.  


For those interested in the development history of the Arduino, Mr. Banzi was recently interviewed on Leo Laporte and Randal Schwartz's FLOSS Weekly podcast and shared a good background on the genesis of the hardware as well as the project's objectives.

Overall, the Arduino is a terrific little piece of open hardware at a very affordable price.  Any developers wishing to extend their programmatic ideas to controlling the physical world should definitely take a closer look at this remarkable board.

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