I’ve compiled a brief tutorial on getting started with Arduino for the absolute beginner. I’ll cover where to learn, what to buy, and where to go for help. Why should you crafters be interested in Arduino? The Arduino platform, more-so than any other way of incorporating electronics into your projects, is geared towards do-it-yourselfers. It’s open source (both on a hardware and software level), so the community plays a large role in its development and improvement. Crafting is a community endeavor; individuals share tips, tricks, techniques, skills, and materials all the time. Arduino comes out of the same spirit. On a more practical level, you may just want to make your crafts more fun, interesting, and interactive by introducing some lights, motion, sound, or simple sensors. Stuffed toys can become glowing night-lights or cat-chasing robots, fibers can carry currents to make smart clothes, accessories, you name it. There’s also an overlap in materials between crafting and circuit building that can lead to some non-traditional works in either category: threads, fabrics, paints, and glues with conductive properties introduce subtle ways to incorporate electronics in your crafting practice. Read on to start learning about Arduino! Add your Arduino tips and resources in the comments.
Where to learn
First and foremost is the Arduino website. It’s a huge repository of helpful information, but it can be overwhelming at first.
I recommend Massimo Banzi’s “Arduino Booklet” PDF as a contained introduction to the Arduino and physical computing in general Link.
Tod Kurt has run classes about Arduino before, and has put his class presentation PDFs online. They’re very comprehensive and great for beginners. – Link.
What to buy – the absolute basics for learning the platform
The board: I recommend the USB Arduino board, pre-assembled, for first-timers. Make sure it comes with a USB A-B cable. Here’s a list of places to buy in different locations – Link.
A solderless breadboard: for attaching other components to your board; you can pick this up at Radioshack or Sparkfun. It looks like this, but may be a slightly different shape:
Some LEDs (light-emmiting diodes): most of the basic tutorials involve lights. You can pick these up at Radioshack (in the component drawers, one should be clearly labeled “LEDs”); just grab an assorted pack to start with. They come in all shapes and sizes.
Wire: You’ll need some 22 gauge solid (not stranded) hook-up wire to connect your board to your components. Different colors are a matter of preference. This is another Radioshack-available material.
Pushbuttons: any switch will work, but I prefer small “normally open” buttons that can plug directly into your breadboard. – Link.
Needlnose pliers and wire strippers are both available at RadioShack, but check out Techni-Tool for some more options. – Link.
That’s all you’ll need to get started!
What to buy – next steps and general resources
General electronics resources for parts can sometimes be tough to navigate with their poor web interfaces, but you’ll get used to the information overload. Tip: clicking on links to the “datasheet” will often get you a picture or drawing of the component, which helps a lot.
Parts and supplies retailers (besides Radioshack, which may phase out their components division fairly soon):
• Reynolds Electronics
Conductive fabrics, paints, epoxies, threads: Less EMF
If you think you’ll play with electronics more than once, I’d highly recommend purchasing a multimeter. You don’t need a super high-end one.
Where to go for help
The Arduino site: it’s full of guides, tutorials, sample code, circuit diagrams, and more. – Link.
If you can’t find the answer to your question somewhere on there, try the forum. – Link.
Tom Igoe maintains a site about physical computing with lots of explanations and tutorials. – Link.
You can also query the knowledge base of some of the physical computing or Arduino mailing lists.
The NYU Interactive Telecommunications pcomp mailing list helps beginners learn about physical computing. – Link.
Arduino.cc mailing lists are geographically sorted, but feel free to sign up for one even if you don’t live there. – Link.