Arduino: Getting started

The Diecimila board.
A diagram of the Diecimila board

What is it?

An Arduino is a microcontroller development board – an ATMega chip with all its necessary circuitry, I/Os, power supply and bootloader to program and operate the chip via serial or USB.

These boards are becoming increasingly popular due to their realistic price (expect paying a few hundred rand to get started), their compact size, and ease of use.

Arduino boards are popular with artists and hobbyists because of the ease at which they can be used by people who may not necessarily be very deep into programming or electronics.

You get several flavours: some are big with more ouputs; some have more memory for coding bigger programs; some are small and compact; some are cheap; some are designed to be sown into clothing even.

  • Serial Arduino – ATmega8, serial connection.
  • Arduino Extreme – ATmega8, USB.
  • Arduino Mini – compact, uses a tiny surface mounted ATmega168 chip.
  • Arduino Nano – really tiny, with a surface-mounted ATmega168, USB.
  • LilyPad Arduino – surface-mounted ATmega168, designed for clothing and fashion applications
  • Arduino NG – ATmega8, USB.
  • Arduino NG plus – ATmega168, USB.
  • Arduino Bluetooth – ATmega168, with Bluetooth ability.
  • Arduino Diecimila – Atmega168, USB.
  • Arduino Duemilanove – Atmega168 (Atmega328 for latest version), USB, powered via USB or externally.
  • Arduino Mega – surface-mounted ATmega1280, many I/Os.
  • The Diecimila and Duemilanove are the newest types.

    Where to buy?

    A few months ago, there was very little possibilty to get hold of these in South Africa. Now, you have more options.

    The Aarduino!
    A South African produced Diecimila clone.

    There is a locally produced clone, called the Aarduino (local is lekker). It’s based on the Diecimila design.

    RS Components in Kyalami supply some boards.

    And Netram in Durban have the largest selection. You can order online from them.

    Where to learn?

    To get started, the best place to be run through the setup and basic running is at the Arduino site. You can download the environment, check out the specs on all the different boards, look at all the programming functions, and even see a few examples.

    Another good place is – many projects by Arduino mense and some really hardcore projects too (Arduino…CNC machine?!).

    It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it puts very cool technology at your fingertips for all kinds of possibilities.

    Hackduino - a lowcost homemade Arduino.
    Hackduino - a lowcost homemade Arduino.
    Driving LED matrixes for a Daft Punk helmet.