Codebits 2012

Codebits VI

In less than 10 hours, at 9am tomor­row, Portugal’s top hack­ing event, Codeb­its VI, will open its doors at Sala Tejo, Par­que das Nações, Lis­bon.

This year some of the focus will be on Open Hard­ware and Alt­Lab will have its own space, demon­stra­tion and work­shops. So if you are going meet us there! We will be on the “hard­ware dens” on the first level. If won’t be able to be there, just fol­low our Twit­ter account, our Face­book page or this web­site, and we will try to keep you updated on what’s hap­pen­ing there!

The Arduino Starter Kit

Box for Arduino Starter kit

Arduino cre­ators have recently launched the new Arduino Starter Kit, a kit com­pris­ing all the com­po­nents needed for a com­plete intro­duc­tion to the world of elec­tron­ics and the Arduino con­troller board, even if you don’t have any spe­cific knowl­edge of it. Spe­cially if you don’t have any knowl­edge of it.

Since I have been play­ing around with an Arduino tuto­r­ial, try­ing to remem­ber all that I had for­got­ten of my Engi­neer­ing edu­ca­tion and start­ing my own “recon­nec­tion” to elec­tronic tin­ker­ing, I was con­sid­ered the per­fect Alt­Lab mem­ber to be given the oppor­tu­nity to try it out and review it.

What’s in the kit?

A vision of the Arduino Starter kit

  • A book explain­ing elec­tron­ics and the Arduino board, with sev­eral exper­i­ments to do;
  • 1 Arduino Uno (R3) board;
  • A small bread­board;
  • A balsa wooden plat­form designed to serve as a plat­form for your Arduino and bread­board; (great idea! think­ing of build­ing one for myself)
  • A ran­dom set of the usual elec­tron­ics parts (resis­tors, motors, LEDs, sev­eral sen­sors and one LCD screen);

You can get the com­plete and exhaus­tive list of com­po­nents on the kit web­page if you want.

My Experience

The inside of Arduino Starter kit and its boxes

The first thing that caught my atten­tion was the impres­sive looks of the kit. Com­ing in a good qual­ity printed card­board com­pact box, it seems more of design prod­uct than a elec­tron­ics intro­duc­tion kit. This would also be my feel­ing through­out the rest of expe­ri­ence: com­pared to the my own starter kit, which I bought in a hack-fest, this seems like com­par­ing a Land Rover to a Lada Niva. They both per­form the required work , but one is con­sid­er­ably nicer than the other.

Left pic­ture shows how all of the kit dif­fer­ent com­po­nents come in indi­vid­ual old-gold col­ored boxes, nicely packed and organ­ised.

The book itself is more of a “artis­tic” book than what i would expect for a elec­tron­ics intro­duc­tory tuto­r­ial. Being used to the engi­neer­ing “cut & dry” man­u­als, this actu­ally sur­prised me the most.

The book for the Arduino Starter kit

I’ve glanced though the intro­duc­tory chap­ters in the book and played a bit with the more advanced exper­i­ments on the book since I already had mas­tered the basics Arduino. I even asked a “lay” friend who was curi­ous about the Arduino world to try it one after­noon. The sim­plest state­ment is that it duti­fully ful­fills its goal of intro­duc­ing you to the Arduino. The book tries its best to clearly explain the basics of elec­tric­ity and elec­tron­ics in a way that actu­ally makes sense for “mere mor­tals”. My “lay” friend quickly under­stood it and although she had some mis­un­der­stand­ing with the bread­board inner con­nec­tions at first, after the brief hours that i let her alone with it, i found her hap­pily doing cir­cuits involv­ing mul­ti­ple LEDs and resis­tors and some weird pat­tern of blink­ing.

Her and I though, had some trou­bles with the low-cut /fixed length jumper wires that were included in the kit. Although its goal is to make the bread­board con­nec­tions eas­ier and clearer, we found out that it actu­ally makes it harder to a “new­bie” to work with. By forc­ing some fixed lengths it either makes con­nec­tions errors more prob­a­ble or forces us to care­fully fol­low the dia­grams and col­ors right to the mil­lime­tre, not leav­ing space for impro­vi­sa­tion and sim­ple fool­ing around.

The balsa platform with the Arduino and the breadboard

Also, I must say that the code pages are not suf­fi­ciently sig­nal­ized, since they are inserted after the cir­cuit assem­bling and project pic­tures as if it was already done. Since the first book projects didn’t use any code at all, the first project that did pro­vided me with a phone call from my friend ask­ing me why she didn’t man­age to get exper­i­ment work­ing at all, even after care­fully redo­ing every­thing twice and men­tally fol­low­ing the “flow of elec­tric­ity” through­out the wires as i showed her. There was no indi­ca­tion of code, and since she didn’t actu­ally under­stood how it related with it, she didn’t turn the page to look for it. I did notice the same thing when i started using the book, but i already knew that the code had to be some­where.

On the whole, the projects itself are inter­est­ing and amus­ing, even with­out the colour­ful and slightly child­ish dec­o­ra­tions included in the kit, and pro­vide you with fun­da­men­tals to start build­ing more advanced stuff. The light theremin sounds hideously though!

Final thoughts

If you are already famil­iar with elec­tron­ics or you’re not afraid to start explor­ing it with­out a safety net, you can prob­a­bly save a cou­ple of euros buy­ing the Arduino board and other ran­dom sets of parts or kits from your local/online elec­tron­ics store and just fol­low­ing the ran­dom infor­ma­tion freely avail­able from the web.

How­ever, if you are a com­plete new­bie to this brave new world, or just want a safe guided expe­ri­ence to intro­duce you, sim­i­lar to the guided work­shop you would get with a teacher, this is prob­a­bly one of the best starter kits avail­able. The projects are inter­est­ing, cover most of the build­ing blocks that Arduino pro­vides and it will leave you per­fectly equipped to “higher flights” in this fas­ci­nat­ing world of DIY elec­tron­ics.

What are you still doing here? Don’t waste your time, go get it.