Discovering Arduino

Yet never, in all those years, have I written any computer programs that interact with things in the real world.

It is funny how things work out… I have been a software developer for years. well, since 1979 to be honest (AAAGH!). I have worked for some of the most well-known international companies developing software. Yet never, in all those years, have I written any computer programs that interact with things in the real world. The vast majority of my computer programs, no, ALL of my programs, have been interacting with data such as databases, files etc. Of course I have heard of the Raspberry Pi but I have never done anything with one.

Then whilst investigating how I might create an integrated system to pull together my home power management and monitoring, charging our electric car, recording and managing our solar generated power and managing and controlling a way to store solar electricity in a battery storage system, so I discovered Arduino.

Arduino is an open-source computer hardware and software company, project and user community that designs and manufactures micro controller-based kits for building digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control the physical world.

That is the Wikipedia definition. I can put it in words that are more meaningful…

Arduino is a small computer that interacts with real things in the real world… lights, motors, sensors, other systems such as heating systems, home automation, weather stations etc. In fact, anything in the real world that can be interacted with electronically.

For me this is a revelation! For the first time I can combine my computer skills with electronics to make things happen in the real world instead of dealing with databases, reports, files etc on computers.

So I have now embarked on an education track to learn Arduino. This means I also have to learn some basic electronics… something I have always wanted to do anyway.

The plan in my mind is this – create Arduino-based sub-systems to:

  • monitor home power usage
  • monitor solar PV generation and utilisation
  • monitor and control charging of our electric car
  • interact with and control our Home Automation System – lights, doors, security, heating, etc
  • interact with and control communications and multimedia from within the house… telephone, TV, audio
  • interact with and control our home weather station 

It may take a year or two but I could see that we could eventually have a fully integrated Home and Life management system.

At first glance this might seem overly ambitious but I see it differently. Once I have grasped the concept of Arduino, and understand the electronics surrounding it, then each of these sub-systems would be considered in isolation. Then, as they are built, and as they are all Arduino based, so communication between the sub-systems is straightforward and so a more integrated system can be built. It may take a year or two but I could see that we could eventually have a fully integrated Home and Life management system. 

It is very exciting.

I am right at the start of this journey. The first stage is to learn about programming Arduino and to learn about the electronics involved and that will take a while before I can make progress on any of these practical projects. So for now I am building trivial projects with Arduino to learn the basic functionality. The rest should take care of itself.

I seem to have re-energised my love of computers with Arduino. It looks like I shall also learn about the Raspberry pi… but that is for another post 🙂

 

One thought on “Discovering Arduino”

  1. A fellow EV user with an interest in computing & electronics.

    Once you’ve got your circuits working on breadboards and/or perfboards (those boards with lots of copper tracks), you may wish to make your circuits a little bit more permanent. I’m using 123d Circuits (http://123d.circuits.io) which is a PCB design tool, click on new PCB design and away you go, there’s plenty of Youtube tutorials on it. Also in the same software area are DesignSpark RS, KiCad, and EagleCAD. The beauty of 123d Circuits is it’s all online, so very easy to work on between PCs/laptops etc.

    Once you have the PCB designed, you then download the gerber files (milling info for the machines that make your PCB), and upload them to a service like OSH Park or Itead Studio (OSH Park make better quality PCBs but Itead Studio are cheap and good enough). They both take a couple of weeks to make your board and ship it to you. OSH Park do it in batches of 3, Itead in batches of 10. Even making 10, Itead is still significantly cheaper.

    Are you using any cheap 433Mhz radio devices in your automation system? I’ve been making a wireless lighting set for my RC car hobby, and I’ve been using these with the VirtualWire library, using a switched mode booster to up the voltage from 5V to 12V for the transmitter to get maximum range.

    Anyway, have fun! Just test drove an i3 last weekend, compared to my Gen1 Leaf it really is streets ahead, did my work commute (40~ miles) and it’s nearly twice as efficient as the Leaf. Amazing car.

    Cheers!

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