A developer diving into microcontroller world part 1

I always wanted to do play with microcontrollers but I lacked hardware knowledge. Actually the last time I wanted to play with them was at the very early stages of the internet (during my university time that is). So I let it go for the time being because of lack of the available informations and other more important tasks (like going out with friends).

Now, 15 years later, the very same idea kicked in my head again. I was still hardware ignorant – more or less like I was 15 years ago. But this time there was a major factor in my advantage: Internet. So I went surfing for microcontrollers and soon found a priceless site for beginners and advanced users: Society Of Robots. The author has written plenty of tutorials that even a beginner can understand. The tutorials are excellent. There are also tutorials and other content provided by the author and community. But tutorials don't answer every question one can come up with – yes, there is a forum as well. And again, the forum is excellent as tutorials are – many skilled users are ready to answer (even beginner's) questions and many questions are already answered. The author of the site has even created its own MCU (microcontroller unit) Axon (it can be ordered on-line) – an advanced microcontroller worth checking out (I'll buy it, just to support his efforts if not for anything else, but not right now).

Now, armed with new the new knowledge I had to decide which microcontroller I am going to start with. The first choice was Axon, mentioned above, ATmega640 based one with plenty of in/out pins. I went browsing for alternatives. Soon it struck me: [MS] .net microframework might be a perfect choice. The drawbacks? Expensive compared to the Axon. It is much more powerfull in terms of CPU though. The thing is that I wasn't looking for a powerful MCU. Rather I was looking for two features:

  1. Bluetooth connection with PC – as a beginner I really didn't want to fry my workstation PC by a shortcircuit. That means no physical connection between two entities can exist to be on the safe side. (so far I didn't manage a shortcircuit anyway). Most of the MCUs communicate with PC via USB or RS232 port.
  2. It should be cheap – because I am a beginner and I don't want to make too much damage from the start.

After a while I've found Arduino – a cheap MCU and again, great site with a great forum and a huge community. Quote form the web site:

"Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on
flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It's intended for artists,
designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive
objects or environments.

Society of Robots is friendlier to the beginners while this one has definitely a larger community. The base Arudino MCU (based on ATmega168, a chip from the same family as Axon's.) is dirty cheap (Arduino Duemillenova – 22€) and there is even DIY documentation (how to build it from the scratch). There is plenty of Arduino versions and even variations (Roboduino, RainbowDuino, etc.) The bluetooth Arduino BT (built in bluetooth Class I reciever – 100m range) version is cheap as well – 79€ from Smart Projects. Perfect. I went with it. You can buy from various on-line sellers found here.

Arduino BT
Arduino BT

So Arduino BT for the start it is. Next, for bringing it to live I needed an energy source. While it runs perfectly well on batteries (5.5V max for this particular version) I opted for a power supply instead. I bought a Voltcraft VLP 1602pro from Conrad in Slovenia. It is a dual channel thing with short circuit protection, voltage and current limitator – meaning it is very safe to use and can provide two different voltages at the same time. I'll use batteries when I'll need to move around Arduino.

Voltcraft VLP 1602pro
Voltcraft VLP 1602pro

At that point I was able to power up Arduino and open the communication with PC via bluetooth.

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “A developer diving into microcontroller world part 1

  1. Great write up Miha, glad to see you’re enjoying MCUs. I just purchased a Arduino w/ USB/Serial bridge on it, that’s cool to know they come w/ Bluetooth too. Must be using the Bluetooth serial standard, right? Done anything interesting with it yet? Hey, nice power supply too, that’s on my electronic equipment wish list.

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