So You Just Bought an Arduino Starter Kit. What Now?

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So you just bought your first Arduino starter kitor you’re planning on buying one soon — but you don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry, that’s okay! Everyone feels that way at first, especially if you’ve never tinkered with electronics before. It’s completely normal.

That being said, there is a learning curve. The Arduino isn’t overly complicated, but it’s not a walk in the park either. The good news is that the Web is full of awesome resources that will help you get started, and as long as you’re willing to put in a modicum of effort, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

If you’re feeling lost, here’s what you should do.

Note: This guide was written from the perspective of an Arduino Uno owner. The Uno is the most newbie-friendly Arduino available as most tutorials target the Uno, so that’s the model we recommend for first-timers. It’s also the one included in most starter kits. 

What’s In Your Starter Kit?

The very first thing you should do is get comfortable with the starter kit you have. Depending on the actual kit you purchased, the components available to you will differ. For example, yours may include an LCD display but lack any sensors.

However, there are several components that are considered “essential” to most Arduino projects, and most starter kits come with these included (because you wouldn’t be able to do much without them):

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  • The Arduino (or Genuino in Europe)
  • USB cable (standard A-Male to B-Male)
  • Breadboard (reusable platform for prototyping circuits)
  • Jumper wires (how you connect circuits)
  • Resistors (how you limit electrical currents)
  • Capacitors (how you store and discharge energy)
  • LED bulbs
  • Buttons

Modern starter kits also come with their own unique array of “non-essential” components, which have specialized uses that you may or may not care about. For example: accelerometers, motors, potentiometers, etc. Check our guide to common starter kit components for more in-depth coverage.

arduino-first-steps-starter-kit-funduino

Spend some time on Google and Wikipedia and briefly study each component just to get a sense of what everything can do. You don’t need to know the nitty-gritty details yet, but it’s helpful to know the potential of your starter kit.

Lastly, there is some initial computer setup to do. You have to install the Arduino software (which you’ll use to write code), install the Arduino drivers (so the code can be uploaded to the Arduino itself), and then make sure the two can connect properly. Read our guide to setting up your Arduino for more details.

Where to Learn Arduino Skills

Once your Arduino is set up and ready to go, it’s time to take a step back. One of the biggest reasons why people get frustrated with the Arduino is because they don’t understand how electronics work, and as a result, the learning curve is too steep — so they quit.

So instead of diving straight into your first basic Arduino project, we actually recommend learning about circuits instead. I know you’re probably itching to build something right away, but trust that this will make your Arduino journey much more fun and pleasant in the long run.

Fortunately, since circuits are the foundation of all electronics (not just Arduino), you’ll find no lack of help and guidance on the Web. Two resources I found particularly helpful are SparkFun’s Electrical Engineering tutorials and KhanAcademy’s free Circuits course. Both cover the fundamentals, so start there.

Once you have a rudimentary understanding of circuits and electronics, it’s time to learn the fundamentals of Arduino. Again, before you get hands-on and practical, we recommend getting acquainted with the basic concepts first, such as the layout of an Arduino and how a breadboard works.

We have a few tutorials that can help you there. Start with our introduction to the Arduino board, which covers the hardware layout and the bare minimum for a working Arduino program, but our beginner guide to Arduino is better if you want more depth. SparkFun’s newbie guide to breadboards is also a must-read.

There are also hundreds of Arduino video tutorials on YouTube, Udemy, Coursera, and elsewhere. These may be more effective for you since it’s easier to learn hardware when you can see exactly what’s happening. Here are a few we like:

But if you prefer written tutorials — and I know a lot of people do, so you wouldn’t be alone in that — there are a number of useful collections to learn from.

Obviously, you should start with the Official Arduino Guide, which does a good job covering the fundamental concepts, provides examples to work off, and even has some advanced material when you get more serious. The Adafruit Arduino Lessons and TronixStuff Tutorials are great as secondary resources.

Project Ideas for Arduino Newbies

By now, you should know what an Arduino is, what all the different components in your starter kit are, how circuits work at a basic level, and what you can potentially accomplish with all of this. That means it’s time for you to actually build something!

If your starter kit was any good, it probably came with a few sample projects to try. If so, you should work through them one by one — assuming the instruction book is any good. Some starter kits have terrible instruction books that are more confusing than helpful, in which case you should shelve it for now.

Built-In Examples

The official Arduino software comes with several built-in examples that provide a good progression for learning. Start with the projects called Bare Minimum, Blink, and Digital Read Serial (in that order) as they are the simplest.

arduino-first-steps-built-in-examples

You should also go through the rest of the built-in examples if you have the patience for it, as they’ll get you familiar with the coding side of Arduino and really build your confidence. When you’re feeling confident with the workflow, you can start trying out a few awesome Arduino projects for beginners.

Traffic Light Controller

arduino-first-steps-traffic-light-project

We have a traffic light controller project (depicted above) that simulates the lighting pattern and behavior of a traffic light. Not only is it simple, but it’s also a wonderful introduction to working with a breadboard. Your starter kit should have everything you’ll need.

Motion-Sensing Alarm

The alarm system in the video above detects movement using a motion sensor, and when detected will let out a high-pitch tone and flash LED lights. It requires a component that probably isn’t in your starter kit, but it’s cheap to order. Otherwise, the project tutorial is fairly straightforward.

Intermediate Projects

For something a bit more difficult, you can try: creating your own ambient lighting, making a pulsating LED cube, recreating Pong on your TV, or even building a giant LED pixel display (as shown in the video above). These projects are nice because they are somewhat practical, but the real value is in the skills you’ll learn while making them.

Seasonal Projects

For a bit of seasonal fun, you can use your Arduino to scare folks during Halloween or bring some laughter to Christmas. For example, the moving skull in the above video is an easy yet perfect way to terrorize your neighbors as they trick-or-treat. You could also make a candy dispenser, a fire-breathing pumpkin, or even a laser maze.

Other Cool Projects

Once you have enough Arduino experience, your imagination is the only limit to what you can accomplish. With a bit of ingenuity, you can even use an Arduino to automate aspects of your home. For example, with an Ethernet shield you can integrate an Arduino with a Philips Hue lighting system (though at that point, you might want to upgrade to a Wi-Fi integrated NodeMCU/ESP8266 development board, which is Arduino-compatible and perfect for Internet of Things projects).

Need more ideas? Search for Arduino projects at Instructables to find thousands of projects that may interest you. Start with the easier ones, but remember that you’ll eventually be able to build some really cool things, like these Arduino-powered robots.

How to Find Arduino Help

There’s one more thing you need to know: Arduino is not something you can pick up overnight. If you don’t have any prior tinkering experience, it’ll take at least a few weeks before you really grasp the concepts — and throughout that time, you’re going to run into a lot of obstacles and questions.

And while there are a lot of great Arduino answers and resources that you can find by searching on the Web, sometimes it’s just faster to ask real people. Interacting with others will probably make the answers sink in better, plus you may make a few friends along the way.

Here are some communities to check out:

  • Official Arduino Forums: With more than 2.5 million posts from over 350,000 users, this is the largest Arduino community on the Web by far. Whether newbie or veteran, there are subforums for every aspect of Arduino. The international boards are a bonus, too.
  • /r/Arduino: Reddit has a lot of active communities dedicated to electronics and DIY, but this particular one is great for Arduino newbies. You can also try /r/AskElectronics for more advanced circuit inquiries.
  • Electronics Stack Exchange: Like Reddit, Stack Exchange is a collection of many communities, and this one is specifically for electronics. Arduino is one of the more popular topics here, so if you have an issue, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

If you got this far, you should now be well equipped to learn everything you need to know about Arduino and how to progress even when you run into trouble. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask us below.

Did this help? Are there any Arduino resources worth mentioning that we missed? Got any advice or recommendations for an Arduino newbie? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credits:lost in reverie by R.Iegosyn via Shutterstock

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