Ponoko have an epic primer on the Arduino. Unlike most guides that focus on technical ‘what is’ aspects of the venerable microcontroller platform, Ponoko’s guide gives a good amount of context from the history of the design of ‘duino boards to various shields and approaches to programming, to a multitude of project ideas and inspiration (with links provided). And kudos for the mention of Arduino-compatible Adafruit Feathers in the guide 🙂
When most people imagine a computer, they might picture their trusty laptop or maybe a massive cluster of servers whirring and blinking away in a datacenter. The reality is that most of the hardware in the world isn’t being run with bulky CPUs in motherboards that have sticks of memory you can hold in your hand.
For the same reason we all don’t drive around in cargo trucks for our trip to the local market, people need lightweight systems that are efficient, cheap and fast (i.e. bicycles in this analogy) for everyday processing tasks. Enter microcontrollers.
Arduino is a combination of hardware and software that is open source and made to be easily accessible for enthusiasts, who may or may not have any experience with electronics. The founders named their platform after their local bar. What is Arduino? The name itself is just that, an Italian name with no translation.
If an Arduino were controlling your microwave, it could read the input of the buttons, process the information you’ve provided and then control the outputs by sending digital signals to the other electronics via its GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) pins. Every microcontroller has a fixed number of GPIO, so it can only read from, or write to, so many external components at once. (The ways to expand connectivity is discussed later on).