Dominik Honnef

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Electronics: Starting small

This is part two of a series of me describing my new experiences with electronics.

As I said in my last post, I want to start with simple hardware. The reasons for this should be pretty obvious: neither do I have a concrete idea for a project, nor am I certain that I’ll stay interested for long enough. Consequently, I don’t want to spend too much money.

A rough limit I have set for myself is about 60€.

Disregard Females, Acquire Hardware

The first step is to find a platform to work with, where the following aspects are the most important ones to me:

Friends quickly pointed in the direction of Arduino, an open-source platform.

What is Arduino?

Arduino is both a community and a hardware platform. The idea of Arduino is to provide an open platform for average people, especially artists (with a wide meaning of artist).

Open, in this context, means that the circuit design as well as the source code are freely available to anyone. An implication of this is that anyone can design (and sell) his own Arduino. A nice side-effect is that no single entity can control the price and thus Arduinos are very affordable, starting at 20€ for the basic ones.

What Arduino to get?

There’s not “one Arduino” that you can buy, but different designs for different tasks. There are Arduinos especially made for sewing into clothes, extremely small ones for small devices and a variety of palm-sized ones for prototyping (which is what we’re after).

The current “revisions” of the main prototyping boards are called “Arduino Uno” and “Arduino Mega 2560”, where the only difference is that the Mega has more pins, more memory and is more expensive.

The Arduino Uno can be bought for about 20-30€ (depending on where you live) and the Arduino Mega for about 40-60€.

Considering that I want to start small, the Arduino Uno is the perfect choice, especially because I still have to get more components to actually be able to do something with it.

Starter kits

Luckily, a lot of shops sell starter kits consisting of an Arduino Uno and some basic components. The most promising one I found is the “SparkFun Inventor’s Kit”, which comes with an Arduino, a lot of sensors and some actuators, for 65€. For more information on the exact list of parts, click the link.

Unfortunately, shipping to Germany is rather expensive, and even though some German shops sell the very same kit, they sell it for more than 65€, so that exceeds my limit, especially the one imposed by my bank account.

I did, however, find a comparable kit at a German shop called “bausteln” for only 59€. It comes with nearly the exact same components, just lacking two of the sensors and a DC motor. Since I already own multiple DC motors, and the missing sensors can easily be bought separately later, I chose to buy that kit.

Buying in bulk

I never realised how cheap resistors, transistors and diodes can be if bought in bulk, at least if buying at shops that specialise on that kind of selling, like Futurlec does.

Beside all the single components they sell, they also sell bags full of them.

$2.95 for 300 resistors? Bought! $2.95 for ceramic capacitors? Bought! $5.95 for Linear ICs? You guessed it, bought! $4.95 for 100 LEDs? Nope, I already have plenty of LEDs, thanks anyway. And so it goes on for most of the “value packs” Futurlec sells. Those are certainly a great way to get you started. For about $25 plus shipping (which is also extremely affordable) you get bags full of everything you’ll need as a starter.

My shopping list

And this is what I eventually ended up buying:

In total that’s $100.9 or 70.19€, plus shipping. That’s very close to my limit of 60€ so I am satisfied.

More articles coming once I received my packages.