I recently got my hands on the Arduino Experimentation Kit from RobotShop.ca and have been tinkering away all weekend. There are many Arduino starting kits available out there and it’s somewhat overwhelming for someone like myself with very little experience in the field of microcontrollers to decide which to order. In the end I chose to go with RobotShop’s kit because they were local to me (Canada) and when it came time to expand upon my kit they had every sensor and part I could ever imagine needing.
They had two packages available, the Arduino Experiementation Kit for $85 CDN and the Arduino Basic Kit for $55 CDN. Both kits come with the Arduino Duemilanove board, a mini solderless breadboard, a USB cable for power and programming the micro and a jumper wire kit. The basic kit also comes with a power supply, which for some reason the more expensive kit lacks. The experimentation kit adds a servo, rotation sensor, infrared sensor and some break away headers. Since I wanted to be able to actually make something with my micro and not need to pick up tons of extra parts from elsewhere I went with the experimentation kit.
Arduino Duemilanove USB Microcontroller Module
Comes fully assembled and the ATMega328 is pre-loaded with the Arduino bootoader. I was immediately disappointed by the fact that my row of 6 analog connectors was soldered in crooked. Rather than be at a 90 degree angle with the board it is sitting at about 75 degrees. The solder joint is solid enough that I can’t just bend it back in to position, and I’m confident that in its current state I will not be able to snap on any shields unless I heat up the solder joint and reposition it. The board is usuable, however I don’t feel it should have made it past quality control.
Sharp GP2D12 IR Range Sensor
Definitely a fun sensor to play with. One of my first designs was a motion sensor that lights up an LED when you put your hand in front of the sensor. From there I improved it by changing the brightness of the LED based on the distance from the sensor. A quick Google search for this sensor and you will find the datasheet as well as plenty of code examples as it seems to be a very common choice.
Phidgets Rotation Sensor
All my research on this device has told me to use it with the Phidgets Interface Kit. So it was like they had a bunch of these lying around and just tossed them in to get rid of them. I did manage to find a Product Manual for it thankfully and was able to determine that it used the analog pins and returned a value between 0 and 1000 based on the position of the knob.
Hitec HS-422 Servo Motor
Haven’t played with this part much yet, sometime this week I will hook it up and the rotation sensor and see if I can get the two working together. Other than that, it looks well made and its by a reputable manufacturor.
Mini Self Adheasive Solderless Breadboard
I’d be lost without this component. I am the worst at soldering and I certainly don’t want to make any of my circuits permanent at this point. The breadboard allows me to prototype out all my little ideas and make mistakes along the way. It does seem weird to be using it without the Proto Shield though, as it is forced to sit to the side rather than on top of the module.
Pre-formed Jumper Wire Kit
Wasn’t really sure what these were going to be until I got them. Now that I know what they are I love them. No need to measure, cut or strip wires — just find the right jumper and plug it in. It’s really simple.
Break Away Headers
Haven’t found these to be very useful. So far I’ve only broken off 3 and it was to use to connect the IR sensor to the breadboard. Problem is the plastic strip that divides the two ends isn’t centered. So either I get a good connection on the breadboard or a good connection on the IR sensor, not both. As a result I’ve knocked the sensor out many times while playing with it.
Getting Set Up
Since right now my main OS is Windows 7 I will be doing all of my development under it.Â The development environment is written in Java so if you are more at home in OSX or Linux then you can just as easily do your development there.Â The software package can be download directly from Arduino.cc where you can also look up code examples and anything else you need to get going.
The Arduino works be emulating a serial port over USB and uses the FTDI drivers which come packaged with the development software. Unfortunately this bundled set of drivers is out dated and would not work with my computer. I had to try several sets of drivers before I found ones that worked with Windows 7 x64. The most up-to-date drivers can be obtained from FTDI’s website. One thing to note is that when installing virtual com port drivers you will notice that after the first device is installed you will again be prompted to install another set of drivers. One is the USB Serial Converter and the second is the USB Serial Port. I personally didn’t like the port that was auto assigned to my Arduino so I went into device manager and disabled what was already on COM1 (which I was not using) and opened up the properties of the USB Serial Port, clicked the Port Settings tab, then Advanced. Here I selected COM1 and hit ok, after accepting the warning that another device was using that port I was back to Device Manager. From there I right clicked Communications Port (COM1) and selected disable. Even if you don’t want to change the port it is running under you would still be wise to go into Device Manager and find out for sure which port it is using as you will need to know this when it comes time to upload your program to your Arduino.
After installing both the FTDI drivers and the Arduino development environment all that’s left is a small amount of configuration. Start up Arduino 0017 and select Tools -> Board -> Arduino Duemilanove or Nano w/ ATmega328. Then again under the Toosl menu select Serial Port and the port you are using (in my case COM1). Your software is now configured, at this point I would recommend reading some of the examples found under the file menu.
Overall I’m happy with the kit, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a Arduino board for some time now and they had it in my hands just two days after ordering the kit online. On top of that it came with two sensors and one device to output through (not including the onboard LED). The devices it came with are certainly not the ones I would have picked if I was building a kit of my own they are definitely handy and I will have lots of fun finding a use for them.
I would have liked to have seen three things included in this kit, as they were strangely absent. The first is the power supply. It strikes me as very odd that it would be offered in the cheaper package but not the high end package. The second is a pack of LEDs, they’re cheap enough that they should have thrown in at least two or three different colours to play with. To go with those you would have needed a pack of resistors, they are also quite cheap and are essential for lighting LEDs without blowing them. I picked up a pack of both at Radio Shack as I felt lost without them. There are other things, such as a proto shield, that I would have loved to have in my starter kit but those are a fair bit more expensive and would have certainly raised the price of the kit. My biggest gripe would definitely be the crooked row of analog Pins. I was extremely disappointed to discover this.
The Arduino Experimentation Kit offers a beginner developer enough to get started, and it is packaged at a reasonable price. If you know specifically what you’d like to start building you’d be better off to build your own kit out of parts that are easily available on their website. I will definitely be going back to RobotShop.ca for some more supplies as their prices are reasonable and they are conveniently quite close to me. However if you live in the states, or you don’t have tons of random electrical components laying around your apartment waiting for you to build something out of them like I do, then you’d probably be wiser to order The Advanced Arduino Starter Kit from MakerShed which would come with almost everything you could possibly need in your early stages of Arduino proto-typing.