Ask MAKE: Getting started with physical computing

Ask MAKE is a weekly column where we answer reader questions, like yours. Write them in to mattm@makezine.comor drop us a line on Twitter. We can’t wait to tackle your conundrums!


John writes in:

I am an artist in Santa Fe, NM. Much of my work is assemblage using old salvaged electronic equipment. I would like to start using interactive electronics. I have some electronics knowledge but am a newbie with microcontrollers, etc. I would like to know what is the best way to get started in this area of physical, interactive microcontrollers. Can some one point me in the right direction?

Sure thing! For your first time, I recommend getting a kit that is specifically designed to get you up and going with physical computing. We sell some nice Arduino-based kits in the Maker Shed — take a look at the Getting Started with Arduino Kit and Advanced Arduino Starter Kit. These bundles are useful because they include enough instructions and parts to give you a good feel for what you can accomplish. Another good way to go might be with a BASIC stamp — they seem to have been eclipsed in popularity by Arduino lately, but are still very capable systems.

If you would like to get some hands-on instruction, try looking for a local group that has microcontroller classes. We covered how to find them a while back.

Finally, if you want to read up a bit first, there are bunch of good books on the subject. Here are a few: Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers, Making Things Talk, and Getting Started with Arduino.

Got a great resource that I overlooked? Abhor Arduinos and have a better suggestion? Sound off in the comments!