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Getting to Know Arduino : Part 2 : Hello, Again!

Getting to Know Arduino : Part 3 : Taking your Temperature


I recorded a video to introduce the Arduino UnoArduino Uno and how to get started with it. The premise was that you didn't need to add anything extra, except for an A to B USB cableA to B USB cable (always check the type you need for the Arduino you have) because although you can connect an external power supply it can be powered purely from the USB, and you could get code running with a few simple steps on Microsoft Windows to make an LED (Light Emitting Diode) start to flash on your board.


The Arduino I showed in the video was a revision 3 board, there have been a few versions so far, in the image (from you can see an earlier version, but it nicely maps out the connectors on the board. I think in the recent version the reset button has moved, but that makes little difference overall. What it doesn't note on the image is that any socket with the ~ (tilde) symbol next to it can be used as a Pulse Width Modulation output. This is a way of having a digital signal pretend that it's analogue but typically you don't need to worry about this until you've got some hardware that you need to output to which needs it.


The first instruction we can make the Arduino perform is to flash an LED, which is often considered the "Hello, World!" of getting started. The example code 'Blink' will do this for you, it flashes the LED marked 'L' on the board. This LED is also linked up with the breakout pin '13' like many connections on the board, some go through components and others do not, but they ultimately connect to the ATMega328 micro-controller processor on the board, which is the brains of it all.


We'll need to tell the Arduino what we want it to do and for that we can use the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE), this environment contains a text editor and a console window which shows you any error messages and how successful the software has been when communicating with the Arduino. You can get the IDE for more than just Microsoft Windows, there are Mac OS and Linux variants. You might want to check your package manager and software repository for whether or not there is a version pre-packaged for your version of Linux. For example you can use apt-get on Ubuntu to "apt-get install arduino" from a terminal.


It's often best to get the latest non-beta version of the Arduino IDE, but if you have a board that is newer then usually this isn't supported in the 'stable' builds and a beta or nightly build is required.


After installing the Arduino IDE in Microsoft Windows, you'll need to connect your Arduino Uno if you haven't already. It may help to reconnect it so that it re-detects the device and installs the driver. Then you can run the IDE. To be able to upload code to the device you will need to know what COM port it is running on.


To do this, open your Start menu, navigate to Control Panel, once the window appears, open System and then navigate around the tabs/options until you find Device Manager. With this window open, click the + symbol next to "Ports (COM & LPT)" and the Arduino should be listed along with its COM and a number.


In the IDE, go to the Tools menu and then expand Board and choose your Arduino, then do the same, but go to Serial Port and choose the one that it stated in Device Manager.


Now to get the LED flashing, choose the File menu, go to Examples and then 01.Basics, under this menu navigate to Blink. To get this running on your Arduino you can now either click on the arrow next to the tick icon or choose the Sketch menu and click Verify/Compile. Now the 'L' LED on your board should be blinking!


Feel free to change the code, copy and paste bits to see what works and what doesn't.


This will open a new window with the following code in it:


  Turns on an LED on for one second, then off for one second, repeatedly.

  This example code is in the public domain.

// Pin 13 has an LED connected on most Arduino boards.
// give it a name:
int led = 13;

// the setup routine runs once when you press reset:
void setup() {        
  // initialize the digital pin as an output.
  pinMode(led, OUTPUT);

// the loop routine runs over and over again forever:
void loop() {
  digitalWrite(led, HIGH);   // turn the LED on (HIGH is the voltage level)
  delay(1000);               // wait for a second
  digitalWrite(led, LOW);    // turn the LED off by making the voltage LOW
  delay(1000);               // wait for a second


This is what is referred to as a 'sketch' in IDE terms, however it is actually using a low level programming language called C++ which has been around for a notable amount of time, most of the software you use is written with C++ including Microsoft Windows and parts of Linux.


Line 01 and 06 in the code uses text that the IDE recognises as a special arrangement so that it knows to ignore anything typed between them (it denotes that whatever is between them is a comment. On line 08 it shows the line starting with a similar arrangement that means to ignore that entire line as a comment.


int led = 13;


This line is literally mathematical, it could be said that programming is inherently mathematical because processors are just doing calculations and moving numbers around. So this line in particular is declaring that the english word, led is a certain type of variable (kinda like a bucket that can only contain something of a particular thing and its contents can vary) and that is called an integer, which means a whole number. As opposed to a number with a decimal (or a real number). We're then making the contents of the variable (or bucket) equal to the number 13. What then terminates the line is a semicolon and this is required by the IDE to know that we're finished putting commands on the line.


The IDE, or specifically the part of it that changes our near-english (sketch/programming) into a language that the Arduino can understand typically operates on a line by line basis, which is like how old typewriters used to work where by you normally couldn't go back and change what you had just created/read and had to continue (probably a bad analogy).


void setup() { }


The setup declaration is called a function, anything within { } is processed by the IDE, 'setup' is a reserved name for the function and it means that it is ran before anything else within the sketch. Like the variable led is of a type int, the setup function is of a type void. We don't have to worry about that for now. pinMode() is another function that is referred to and you can read up about it.


void loop() { }


The loop function is another reserved name that means anything within { } is ran again from the first { when it reaches the last line or instruction before the final }. The speed of this is governed by how fast the microprocessor, for example the ATMega328 can get through the instructions per second. The digitalWrite() and delay() functions can also be read up about on the Reference section of the Arduino site.


Hopefully you have found this useful to get started with your Arduino and it has introduced you to some new concepts for programming for micro-controllers. The best way to learn is trial and error, so don't be afraid to mess around with the code or read up about it.


If you have any questions, problems or otherwise please leave a comment! You can also find more information in Arduino community group!