What's the best 101 Aruduino kit?
January 17, 2013 11:07 AM   Subscribe

It's been a few years (Almost 5!) since I last sat down to monkey with an Arduino. I now need one for a physical computing class and the number of kits has exploded. What's the best kit for no more than $100? More details inside

Poking around the internet, it seems like there are a million kits and books out there: I need help! Arudino-geniuses, what's my best bet?

BONUS Q: I have quite a bit of experience with programming (C#,PHP,C++,JavaScript) so tutorials that are like "This is a FOR loop..." are a little blargh. I really need tutorials that explore electrical engineering and the capabilities of the Arduino, so suggestions in that direction are helpful.
posted by GilloD to Technology (7 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I think we need to know a little bit more about your criteria to decide "best". I'd go to AdaFruit and start clicking "add to cart" 'til I got to a hundred bucks. Something like the "Starter Pack for Arduino (Includes Arduino Uno R3) - 1.0" and the "LCD Shield" is fine if you want "sample some data, do some calculations, display the results".

For "tutorials that explore electrical engineering", two things:
  • First, Ohm's Law, and a package of random resistors will get you a long way. I've built at least one stepper motor controller for commercial use based on little more than that and the knowledge that I needed a diode to make sure that the transistors needed to be protected from the inductive feedback from the motor coils. Really, you can get away with a heck of a lot of that as long as the events you're trying to measure are fairly slow (up to a thousand times a second or so)
  • Second, Arduinos use an Atmel 8 bit AVR processor. Go browse the Atmel web site, find the Application Notes, find one that's close to what you want to build. More commercial products than you could possibly imagine are developed by piecing together two or three app notes.
Okay, three things:
  • Many of us cut our teeth on one or more of the Forrest Mims books back in the day. Hard to say anything wrong about those, if you want dead trees.

posted by straw at 11:30 AM on January 17, 2013

Yeah, are you asking about which of the arduino + breadboard + jumper + assortment of passive and active components kits is the best, or what? There's a wide variety of options, and they all boil down to what you want to get out of it. If the experience of breadboarding is what you're after, I think Adafruit's kits are probably the least hand holding and most "here's a picture, we explain how it's wired, now go for it" which is good experience. And they have a couple of different price points depending on how much stuff you want.

Adafruit's tutorials also seemed like they're fairly decent at explaining programming as it relates to the physical computing part, but I was a C nublet when I started fiddling with it last year. I was experienced in perl and other interpreted languages though, and it didn't feel _too_ condescending.

Otherwise, if you just want to see how the Arduino interfaces with external components like pots and LEDs and such, oomlaut's ARDX kits (also from adafruit) seem nice because they have breadboard overlays. They're more expensive, but they seem comprehensive. I don't know how they are for the coding side of it, though.

Sparkfun also has a kit that's right up against the $100 line. I only know they have a kit, but I can't vouch for any of what's in it or how it teaches.

Ultimately I ended up piecing my arduino training together from ebay finds and the remnants of a 380-in-1 electronics lab I had bought a decade ago and given up on.

The best part of the Arduino environment is that, given enough components and fiddly bits, there's usually enough google-able background that you can use to extend to your current interest to at least a working state before you have to fine tune the code.
posted by Kyol at 11:55 AM on January 17, 2013

"It depends."

What's the scope of the class? Physical computing implies motors or actuators. Are you including those in the $100 limit? And are you taking the class or teaching it?

I'm taking some new members of a High School robotics team through an exercise that involves Arduinos and motors. We started with the Sparkfun Inventor's Kit for Arduino ($100), then added on the parts we needed.

One really helpful aspect of the kit, which you can re-create for less money, is the combination of a breadboard; a plastic base that holds the breadboard; and a handful of breadboard-ready, colored wires. Having a base to hold things steady means no wires come loose as the students push the work back and forth across the table during class (they're working on it as a small teams), or when they store a half-constructed project overnight.

For tutorials, run through the examples that come with the IDE. The code isn't stellar, but it gets across the point that you don't need pristine code to make things happen, and the examples cover much of the API. Then skip the tutorials and get something working. Play around with blinking an LED (using the 'blink' sketch as a starting point), then work up something that varies the blink rate based on some sensor. If you've got some programming under your belt already, it quickly becomes more an issue of logic and electronics, which is where a lot of the weird fun is.
posted by dws at 12:14 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is the "official" Arduino starter kit. (Full disclosure, I wrote the bulk of text in the 160+page book that accompanies the kit and designed the projects). It goes over the basics of programming for the Arduino, has 15 projects that build off one another, and covers the fundamentals of electronics and electricity.

I've used the ARDX kit sold through adafruit to teach physical computing at NYU's ITP for the last 3 years. It's a nice place to start as well.

Haven't had experience with MAKE or Sparkfun kits, but I would imagine they have enough to get you up and running too.
posted by tip120 at 12:51 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you have any idea in advance what the actual platform and applications the course will be based on? The Uno/Nano/Leonardo/Mega are all quite different in the way they interface with USB devices. The Due is a different beast entirely.

If you have time (like ~3 weeks before the course), hit up DealExtreme for sensors. They have things like ultrasonic sensors for $4 (where they're $20+ at Adafruit or Sparkfun), but take a while to ship to you.
posted by scruss at 1:16 PM on January 17, 2013

I did get the ARDX kit from adafruit as the most comprehensive one , check a few on ebay.
If you do decide to go ahead, you might also wait for the newest arduino as its integrating some basic sensors that would normally come with a starter kit.

Otherwise here are good articles that compare a couple.
Makeuseof comparison
Comparison between starter kits
posted by radsqd at 11:14 AM on January 18, 2013

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