Hardware Hands-On

You have little chance today to get your hands dirty with electronics or computer hardware, either we deal with small devices like mobile phones, tablet and notebooks which are not made to be opened and tinkered with or our hardware is virtual only and sits in the cloud (no screwdriver required). Few people now still own a desktop size PC where one can add or change hardware (major hardware companies claiming massive loss due to dropping sales in this market).
During my studies in the 90’s we still dealt with CPU’s at a very low level which helped to ‘see’ and understand what’s going on.

If time allows I am doing some DIY  projects with Arduino or Raspberry Pi, 2 electronic platforms which seam to be similar at the first glance, but operating very differently.

The Arduino is a progammable microcontroller, designed to work with sensors or to control external components like relays or motors. Is a very hardware oriented device, no OS or whatsoever included. It does basically what you program it to do. More info and getting started at http://arduino.cc

Arduino

Arduino

The Raspberry Pi on the opposite end is rather a miniature computer, running an OS from a SD card and equipped with ethernet, HDMI and USB plugs. It is clearly more a software platform which can be used for more powerful applications than the Arduino. More info and getting started at http://www.raspberrypi.org

You have the option to combine both, to have processing power of a computer and the myriad of inputs and outputs to the real physcial world.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi

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OpenSource Hardware

OSS is nothing really new anymore, even Microsoft announced 60% of their software (they use!) is OSS. But OpenSource Hardware is still fairly new, at least on a broader market. Over the years I read about various initiatives to launch this kind of products. I believe only geeks and hackers are attracted by hardware they can build, program and configure to their needs and ideas. Many years back I did some electronics (during my studies), but often started from the scratch with simple stuff to control household devices, as simple as dimming the light with a remote, etc.

I came across the Arduino board which gives you a micro-controller platform that you can connect to your Windows, Mac or Linux desktop to program it and let it run independently. It is all open and documented, you can control something simple like a LED but can go to the extend of reading acceleration, temperature, controlling cameras, an almost infinitive field of appliances. Google for Arduino projects and you find amazing stuff, built on top of a 29$ device.

I recommend at least some basic knowledge of electronics, but even without any clue, you can get started, there are plenty of books and websites with tutorials.

Get started here: www.arduino.cc and buy the device from here, and if you live in Singapore from SGBotics.

Arduino Platform