Before we get our hands on some stuff, first we will get to know a little bit of the basic. Don’t worry, it is pretty simple, just stay with me.
~A Bit of Intro~
What are microcontrollers? How to use one?
Before going to that, let us consider why would one even need a microcontroller? Let’s say, I want to blink some LEDs. Well, I can use some transistors or ICs or maybe just a cell 🙂 to blink them. But what if I want them to blink in different patterns, different timings or as I please (how very innovative!) . Now that’s where microcontrollers come in. You can think of them as “blank” chips where you can add your own information (the program) and they will work as per the instructions. Hence you can blink the LEDs as you please! Not just LEDs,you can connect and control motors, sensors, relays and anything you can think of.
Alright, now that we have had a bite of motivation, lets get started. Below you can see a box of microcontroller chips (and maybe some other ICs as well).
~Boring but necessary theory~
Microcontroller v/s microprocessor
A microprocessor is basically a chip with the functions of a CPU, i.e, it contains the arithmetic logic unit(ALU), the control unit and the register file(to hold memory address) in it.
A microcontroller incorporates the entire microprocessor, memory unit and the input/output peripherals – all on a single chip! It may also contain one or more of the following:
- Analog to digital converter(A/D converter) and vice versa
- Timers and counters (act like clocks for the IC)
Now, there are 3 major microcontroller families (common ones) –
Usually AVR and 8051 are popular with the makers and hobbyists and pic is more popular in the industries.
But you can’t just take an IC and put data in it! It has to be connected to the computer somehow and with the proper configuration also. Plus you need proper software to put your data in the proper form accepted by that particular IC family.
In short the entire process is like this ~
- You choose a microcontroller family.
- You write a program in a specific software on your PC.
- You connect your microcontroller(IC) to a programmer (it is a device that connects your pc to the microcontroller)
- You connect the programmer to your PC.
- You upload the program to the IC.
- You connect the IC to the required hardware(LEDs ,motors, sensors etc).
- The hardware works according to your program.
The major task is choosing/deciding ~
- Which microcontroller to choose.
- Which programmer to choose.
- Which software to choose.
Now, to get started the best thing to choose is what is known as “ARDUINO”. Arduino is basically an open source electronics platform used to build projects. It offers a variety of development boards as well as the software. Don’t be overwhelmed by the terms just used, lets assess the points stated above one by one ~
- Arduino is the name of a platform(or system or just think of it as a company for now). There are multiple boards of the Arduino platform – Arduino UNO, Arduino Mini, Arduino Mega……and lots more.
- These boards are called Development Boards and have both the Microcontroller and the programmer in a single package. So all you have to do is just plug in an Arduino board into your PC and start programming.
- The software of Arduino is also easily available on “arduino.cc” it is called Arduino IDE(Integrated Development Environment) and the programming is pretty simple too!!!!!!!
~So what is it that I should do right now to get my feet wet?~
So the best path to take as a “beginner” would be : buy an Arduino UNO (it’s the simplest one and cheap), download the software, start building projects!
Our website has loads of tutorials and projects from basic ones to complex ones. Just choose a project and do it! You can also share it on our website and put it on display for your friends to see……
To begin right now, check out the following links~