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2013

Introduction

Amongst the stuff available from Farnell/Newark I noticed an interesting Arduino kit. I wanted to share my impression of it, in case it is useful for others in the same predicament – what to get for a beginner interested in engineering with a focus on electronics and computing.

(I didn’t want to open the insides too much since it is intended as a gift. Also, apologies for the slightly blurry pics – I was in a rush sadly).

 

This kit is off-the-radar because it doesn’t appear on the main Farnell Arduino page, so you have to search for it.

The direct link to the kit is here (kit K000007) from Farnell or for Newark this is the link. Note that there are some higher-priced kits but to be honest this one seems more than good enough for a beginner, as will be seen below. The kit contains everything including instructions, components, Arduino and a USB cable. Nothing additional should be required to make instant use of it.

kit-opened.jpg

The overall immediate impression of the kit is that it is of a high standard and it is beautifully packaged. The only packaging change I’d suggest is that the box ought to be of thicker card so that it lasts a long while. Perhaps people can store all the bits in a slightly larger box file during breaks between experimentation however.

 

The highlight reason that the kit looks to be a suitable choice for learning is that it contains a book – about 170 pages of information. The manufactured book quality is really very high, nice thick paper and it is in color throughout as will be seen further below.

book-thickness.jpg

Underneath the book are more boxes, all nicely tessellated.

kit-smaller-boxes2.jpg

More information on the book and the kit is below.

 

The book

The book is extremely impressive. It has good quality diagrams and very good explanations and instructions. There is a glossary at the end too and some graph paper pages (looks like 5mm) for personal notes.

The exercises begin with a brief overview and an indication of the skill level and how long it will take to complete. Notice that the experiments look like a lot of fun – more than just blinking LED type experiments. The first few experiments are simpler. All look suitable for beginners – I think anyone from age 12 upward should have no problem assembling these experiments since a physical topology is shown (see further below), with older students naturally learning more from the text.

book-content-experiment-title.jpg

For each exercise you get an indication of what parts you will use:

book-content-experiment-parts.jpg

The physical topology diagram is very clear to follow and looks like it has been drawn with care with no ambiguity with overlapping wires for example:

book-content-physical-diag.jpg

The logical topology (schematic/circuit diagram) is also shown for students who know how to follow this:

book-content-schematic.jpg

The step-by-step text explanations that I read look well written, informative and appear easy to follow.

book-content-explanations.jpg

Part of the fun of Arduino is the programming of course. The code is well laid out in color and the explanations look detailed here too. It really is a well thought out book.

book-content-code.jpg

 

Kit Hardware Contents

I didn’t want to open the boxes too much, but I was interested in the breadboard wiring and component detail so I opened those.

These are the wire links that are supplied for the breadboard.

kit-wires.jpg

The wire links are good but are never enough (and some people like additional flexible wires too) so to pre-empt this it would be a good idea to simultaneously purchase a couple (one pack of each maybe) of these (Farnell/Newark part codes 2213351 and 2213352):

extra-wires.jpg

The jumper wires shown above are flexible.

 

The actual components are in a slide-drawer box. The selection looks to be reasonably comprehensive and of good quality, i.e. not cost-reduced like some kits. Note that a servo and an LCD display is also supplied in separate boxes. There is a DC motor somewhere too, according to the kit list on the Farnell product page (I didn’t see it in but I’m assuming it is there). The kit list (PDF document) reveals that interesting parts like a temperature sensor, piezo element, light dependant resistor and tilt sensor are also included.

kit-components.jpg

There was another nice touch; as well as the Arduino, the kit also contains a baseboard which is highly useful for working neatly. It has laser-cut holes for mounting the supplied Arduino and some additional features I didn’t explore.

kit-baseboard.jpg

 

Summary

This kit looks to be a fantastic choice for someone interested in electronics and computing. The extremely well-written book is one major reason I’m hopefully confident that beginners will gain from this kit. The good mix of components will encourage further experimentation beyond the book, so the kit should provide many years of good service.

Although the kit runs from USB or batteries, you may also want a separate power supply for when the user feels confident to run things standalone for long periods of time. I think the following supply looks suitable:

Farnell part code 1279527 (or Newark code 12T2179) – 7V 2A power supply with 2.1mm DC connector (you will need a country-specific mains lead separately, you may already have one – it is the 3-pin style lead aka C13 plug).

Written in Java, Arduino software can be downloaded for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X for free.
Arduino makes things easier by releasing the environment with full Arduino support for writing code and uploading the code into the board memory. Software available is compatible with Linux, Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. There are many software versions released in time with new and new features aiming to create a friendly environment to develop from simple to advanced Arduino applications. Written in Java, Arduino software can be downloaded free on many operating systems platforms.

 

For those who do not use Java, I prepared a short list of available alternatives:


1. ArduIDE (Qt-based) - http://www.mupuf.org/project/arduide.html

2. Arduino-CMake - https://github.com/queezythegreat/arduino-cmake

3. gnoduino - http://freecode.com/projects/gnoduino

4. Ino - http://inotool.org/

5. Scons - https://github.com/suapapa/arscons

Check out this cool video demo. The YouTube page has links to the code.

 

Arduino 433 MHz Wireless Communication with DHT11 Temperature and Humidity Sensor - YouTube

This YouTube link contains a video demonstration of this project and has links to the code.

 

Arduino SPI Master & Slave Demo Tutorial - YouTube

This YouTube link demonstrates the project and has links to the code. I hope you like it.

 

Arduino Blackjack w/ SainSmart 16x2 LCD Keypad Shield - YouTube

For the complete resources for this video visit:
http://randomnerdtutorials.com/how-to-use-app-inventor-with-arduino/

 

 

P.S. Visit RandomNerdTutorials.com for Schematics + Source Code + More Projects:
http://randomnerdtutorials.com/how-to-use-app-inventor-with-arduino/

The logistical issues associated with the Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) introduction of iPads must not discourage us from making tablet computers part of education.  The inevitable mistakes are small compared to the potential benefits. 

 

Some of the criticism of the introduction of tablets in Los Angeles focuses on students using them for unapproved activities.  The curriculum of approved activities is much more important than what students do when they're goofing off. 

 

These problems with execution are not evidence that tablet computers should not be part of education.

 

The Benefitsplaylist-teacher_414_276.png

News Corp spinoff Amplify is working on a custom-built Android tablet with software designed to track student progress and customize the activities of each student.  For example, if a student gets a vocabulary word wrong on a test, it could direct more readings containing that word to the student in the future.  There are features for running a quick class poll and randomly calling on students.  The teacher can press a button that locks the tablets and has them generate an “eyes on teacher” symbol.  In the future the tablets could have inputs that track student eye movements and pupil dilation to gauge cognitive response to specific features on the screen. 

 

Here is a video from Amplify promoting these features.

 

I do not trust that their product works as well as advertised, but I am confident that what they are advertising is just the beginning of possible ways to use tablet computers in the classroom.

 

Amplify's CEO, Joel Klein, says education is ripe for disruption.  In this case his buzzword language represents the truth.  US is falling behind other countries in education.  Schools need to prepare students for jobs in the modern economy, which often involve temporary workcells being formed to work together to solve a problem. 

 

According to Arne Duncan, US secretary of education, the US currently spends $7 billion to $8 billion on textbooks.  The value is in the content.  We are needlessly spending money on textbook printing and distribution.  The savings of distributing this content on tablets could offset much of the cost of the tablets.  Duncan calls the six-year hard textbook-adoption cycle “a Neanderthal system”.  He says we must equip our students to compete with their counterparts in other countries, but he warns there are “a lot of hucksters” wanting to exploit the fear of falling behind.

 

15klein6-sfSpan-v2.jpgThe Pitfalls and Downsides

There will be pressure to offset the cost of the hardware and software by selling student data to companies.  Data on individual students' interests, strengths, and weakness could be very valuable.  At first schools will find the notion of selling student data unacceptable, but it will be hard to resist a vendor with a lower price but a laxer privacy policy. 

 

There is concern that tablets may over-stimulate kids' brains, making it hard for them to concentrate.  I share this concern when I read about Amplify's software containing games to make learning fun.  Learning is work, and it may not be possible to make it feel like a video game.  In one Amplify’s promotional video a student says “You definitely need a factor of some fun to learn.”  You really don’t, though, at least not the type of fun associated with a video game.  This is an issue of pedagogical approach, though, not of the technology itself.

 

There is concern that constant availability of stimulation prevents the brain from going into the creative daydreaming state called “default mode network”, which is the mode our brains used to go to when we were waiting in a line and didn't have Kindle and the Internet on our phones. 

 

Screen time for kids is huge problem even without tablets in schools.  It's easy and inexpensive to get on-demand programming geared even to infants.  Screen time has the amazing ability to occupy infants and toddlers, who previously would have required close supervision.  This has only become available recently.  It remains to be seen if it causes problems in these children when they grow up.  We certainly would not want to do anything to increase screen time for small children.  Mr. Klein says he would be cautious about introducing technology into a kindergarten classroom and he wouldn't put fourth graders in a massive open online course (MOOC). 

 

Conclusion

The many legitimate issues with tablet computers in school are the same issues our entire society faces with technology.  Using less technology in school will not keep the problems away.  It seems like the LAUSD leaped before it looked with its iPad purchase.  I admire them, however, for attempting to be an early adopter. 

 

Schools in the Netherlands have introduced iPad tablets with good results.  They get the problems too, but they're surprisingly stoic, at least based on the one article I read, in their management of the problems. 

 

Kids using the equipment for all the things kids do in their spare time actually does not matter at all.  What matters is how teachers and students apply them to school-related work.  

 

Futher Reading

News Corp Has a Tablet for Schools (Mar 6, 2013) - Amplify announces it will promote its own Android tablet

Tablets in Dutch Schools Usher in a New Era (Jun 9, 2013)

No Child Left Untableted (Sept 12, 2013) - Detailed article about tablets in schools and experts’ opinions on them

Diavolino.jpgArduino has a pretty good footing as the household name for beginners to get into electronics.  Especially when it comes to that critical first task of blinking an LED, no other manufacturer makes it easier.  Thanks to the power of today's microcontrollers, there is enough functionality in an Arduino to take a beginner and turn him or her into a pretty dangerous designer.

 

But what happens when the newly-accomplished engineer wants to expand beyond the hardware provided by the Arduino?  Most people buy a shield which is a board designed to interface to the I/O pins of the Arduino, and some even design their own shields.  However thanks to the Open Hardware nature of the design, there is a lesser-used method for customization: creating a 'derivative' AKA 'clone'.

 

A derivative/clone is a copy of the board with some design change(s) that still takes advantage of Arduinos development environment.  The Arduino EAGLE design files can be found on the product page on the Arduino site and it is 100% allowed by the Open Hardware License to download them for any use, including commercial products.  Many people have already designed and released their own version of Arduino by making a smaller or more capable board.  These new products add extra functionality while still enjoying the benefits of Arduino's widespread adoption, ease of use, and vibrant community. And since the stock designs weren't optimized for small size, most have plenty of room for additional parts, especially something simple like a switching boost converter, high-power FET, or a high power RGB LED circuit.

 

Derivatives enjoy some significant design benefits over a shield.  First, a single board is less than half the size and more robust than stacking an additional PCB on top of the purchased Arduino via headers.  Second, it will be a cheaper solution than buying a stock Arduino and the custom shield PCB/parts.  Finally, there is a lot to learn from starting with an existing PCB design and tweaking it.  Not to mention the pride one would get from creating their own stand-alone design, even if it is attained by standing on the shoulders of giants.

 

Of course there are some drawbacks relative to designing a shield, starting with the extra hassle of purchasing and soldering the standard Arduino components on the custom PCB.  The layout may also be harder because of the limited space and having to move some of the stock components around.  And if the designer wants to share the functionality with others it is much easier to pop a shield on a stock board than having to build up a custom unit.

 

With all of the benefits, many budding engineers would be well served by chasing a derivative. Who knows?  It could scratch a widely-felt itch and end up turning into a real product!

Arduino Library.jpg

Have you put together an Arduino-based circuit and looking to nicely (but easily) document it?  Or perhaps you're looking to create an Arduino Shield with EAGLE and want to start with the correct dimensions of the headers.  Element14 has come to the rescue with the Arduino library of EAGLE parts for exactly that.  There are two types of components in this library: the standard version with a PCB footprint showing the key connections and the 'EXT version which has no PCB footprint.

 

The Standard version will be great for those looking to create a shield or want to somehow integrate the Arduino somewhere on another PCB.  While the EXT version allows people to create a schematic that doesn't bother with a PCB.  In the EXT case, the user can create a PCB that is intended to connect to an Arduino via cables that are shown on the schematic, but isn't included on the PCB. 

 

Faster documentation, easier creations!

lupi

Arduino beginner

Posted by lupi Nov 3, 2013

I'm a complete beginner when it comes to electronics and programming, so I decided to help educate myself I would buy an Arduino starter kit. This kit arrived yesterday and came with an Arduino Project book which is jam packed with information and tutorials (great for learning and inspiration!!).

 

So far I have read the first few pages of the book and followed along with the first few examples. It's a lot of fun but I'm concerned about the mathematical aspect of electronics and programming (I skipped a few chapters to see what i would be doing and saw a few daunting parts that i could not get my head around). If any one has any advice for the Mathematical side I would be glad to hear from you in the comments section (i did not do very well at maths in school but I don't want to give up) 

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