Getting started with Arduino 12/17/14

By Chris Johnson

For years I’ve wanted to try my hand at physical computing. I spend the majority of my waking hours writing code for websites in high-level languages1, and I thought it would be refreshing and educational to get “closer to the metal”. After prodding from my colleague Hart Liddell, I ordered an Arduino Starter Kit and started going through the example projects.

An Arduino kit, at the most basic level, is a simple programmable computer that you can combine with components like lights, speakers, and buttons2. For example, in the first project from the starter kit I purchased, the included book walks you through wiring up an Arduino board to make an LED blink at an interval set with a bit of C code.

void setup() {
  // Set up pin 13 (the one connected to a LED)
  // to be an output
  pinMode(13, OUTPUT);

void loop() {
  digitalWrite(13, HIGH);   // Turn on the LED
  delay(1000);              // Wait for one second
  digitalWrite(13, LOW);    // Turn off the LED
  delay(1000);              // Wait for one second

This is the result:

Blinking LED

Other projects from the kit are a bit more complex. In other lessons you learn how to speed up the blinking LED with a potentiometer, play a tune on a speaker, read the temperature from a temperature sensor, and more. Once you’re comfortable enough, you can start combining the components and code into whatever you’d like.

Arduino is an inexpensive way to learn about electronic circuits and programming, and I wouldn’t hesistate recommending it to anyone that’s interested in physical computing. To get started, all you’ll need is a decent kit, and a computer that can upload programs to the Arduino board through a USB port. No soldering required!

  1. PHP may not always seem like a high-level language. 

  2. Different kits come with different components.