December 29, 2016

Meet The Mighty Arduino.

Ever saved a few bob by using a free or “Open Source” version of Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop? Software engineers have been making quality alternatives for years, but what about hardware. Well, engineers and hobbyists are now building easy to use platforms for you to experiment with and to create. With these new tools everyone will be able to make their own interactive art projects, security systems, toys that interact or even killer robots.

So instead of mumbling about the generic blah’nee’blahs of the open source hardware scene we’ll dive on in and talk about the proverbial darling of the open source hardware movement – The Arduino.

Arduino, according to their own propaganda, is a prototyping platform. All this means is that it’s a very clever electronic blank canvas just waiting for your ideas to be plugged into it. At its heart is a fairly simple micro-controller or brain, if you like the anatomical vernacular. Its nervous system consists of a number of digital (on or off) plugs that can be configured to accept an input or act as a digital output (like a switch). And for some real world usability the Arduino also has a number of analogue inputs that will let you connect all manner of sensors.

To control the comings and goings of your latest invention you’ll need to program the little board using the USB port on you PC. To get you started there’s free software that comes ready to go with a multitude of free examples to both whet your creative whistle and to help you learn the ins and outs of the simple programing environment.

So let’s nutshell it up:

  • The Arduino is an Open Source prototyping platform.
  • Thinks of it as an easy to program mini-computer.
  • It uses the sensors you’ve attached to react to the world around it.
  • They’ve been used as interactive art projects, to make toys, and to help the disabled.
  • Anyone can use them and they are super cheap.
  • Their designs are freely available for you to make your own.
For most of the uninitiated this may still sound like a confusing mess, so let’s set out an example of what you could achieve with the mighty little Arduino.
One of the most applicable scenarios amongst those with a green bent would be the automatic watering system. Instead of spending $500 plus on a controller you could buy an Arduino compatible board from local company Freetronics. They design and test all of their boards in house, in Australia. Their base board will set you back a couple of twenties and you’ll have your basis for a flexible watering system.

From here you’ll connect the outputs to some relays (electronic switches) and these will let you open the electronic valves that send your water to the vegie patch. Plug in a rain sensor or a soil moisture sensor and the system will hold off watering when it’s damp.

To power the system you could set up a cheap 10 watt solar panel and 12 volt battery – there’ll be no need to muck around with big, dangerous voltages. The Arduino you could also tell some low voltage lights to switch on when it gets dark. And for a little added mischief you could add a movement sensor that turns on the sprinklers when the balaclava clad man breaks into your greenhouse to steal your carrots. Open source revenge.

So there you have it. Your creativity is only limited by your imagination. Before you know it you’ll have designed an Arduino based robot the tends your vegie patch, cooks you dinner and shines your shoes – all powered by the sun and the fumes from your compost heap.

If you’ve used the Arduino for your green projects we’d love to hear about them. Enjoy. Make.

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