I have previously introduced the Arduino open-source hardware here on MakeUseOf, but you’re going need more than just the actual Arduino to build something out of it and actually get started. Arduino “starter kits” are bundles of common but useful electronic components you can use to make a good number of beginner projects, but what exactly does a starter kit usually consist of?
The precise contents will vary depending on where you purchase it from, but I’ll take you through a core set of components you may see in the set.
An Arduino Uno
Obviously you’re going to need an actual Arduino in there. The Uno is the basic model – a good compromise of form, function and cost. Larger or smaller models are available if you need something embeddable or more outputs, but not in starter kit form.
As well as a USB cable, your Arduino starter kit may also come with a separate power supply to power the Arduino when it’s away from a PC.
A breadboard – the name apparently comes from times past when literally bread cutting boards were used – is a re-useable platform for mounting components. Consisting of a number of small holes that are actually connected underneath in various lines, they create the circuit connections when you push components into them, thereby avoiding the need for soldering and allowing you to experiment with ease.
Larger breadboards have both horizontal and vertical connections in a set pattern. The outermost holes are typically coloured and used as the power ‘rails’. Very small breadboards may not have this, so obviously it’s important to find out the precise pattern of connections your particular board has.
For making connections within your breadboard (to a different physical area) and to the Arduino itself, jumper wires are used. These are just bits of wire with fixed ends that can be stuck into the Arduino and plugs on the breadboard.
A core component of any electronic circuit, resistors limit the flow of current to other components. If you like to think of a circuit as a network of water pipes flowing in one direction, a resistor would be like connecting a smaller pipe to the end of a larger one. The main reason for doing this is to protect other components from damage.
Resistors come in various set values, but using them is not an exact science. Though there are formulas to work out exactly what resistance you would need to supply your component with the correct current, in reality you may not find an exact match and simply use the closest available. A starter kit will contain a variety of typical resistors used in conjunction with the other starter kit components – some low value resistors for LEDs for instance.
How do you know the value of a resistor? It’s simple, but you’ll need to refer to a colour chart. On every resistor are a number of coloured bands: the first two represent a numeric value, while the next represents the number of zeroes to add on to the end of that (the multiplier). The fourth is a tolerance band which shows how much the resistor may actually vary by, but you needn’t worry about that at this stage.
Here’s a helpful reference chart:
I doubt I need to explain this, but nearly all kits will come with a variety of Light Emitting Diodes. Just make sure you use a resistor with them in your circuit, and you’ll soon be making all manner of light-up flashing things. Also, note that LEDs have both a positive and a negative leg. The negative must be connected to the ground (GND) on the Arduino, and can be identified as the shorter of the two legs, or by a flat indentation in the head of the LED.
If your kit comes with an infra-red LED, you’ll be unable to actually see it when it’s turned on as the IR spectrum is invisible to the naked eye. You can use it for projects that involve remote controls though, for instance. Interestingly though – a digital camera can pick up IR light – try looking at the end of your remote control with your iPhone next time you change the channel.
A simple little speaker, the kind you might find making beeps on your computer. Though they will make a sound if you just power them on, you can program them to make different tones or import programming libraries to do it for you.
I don’t think I need to explain these too fully. A push button switch makes a connection between two points. The only thing you might not already know about switches is that you’ll often use a high-value resistor in conjunction with them, but you’ll learn about this during tutorials you follow.
Potentiometer / Photoresistor
These are both kinds of variable resistors – that is, a resistor whose value can be altered. A potentiometer you might get will be a dial, so you spin it to create different degrees of resistance. It might not be obvious at first or written on it, but you can use diagnostics in the Arduino software package to figure it out later.
A photoresistor will adjust its resistance according to how much light is hitting the surface. These are commonly used to automatically turn on a light when it becomes dark enough.
Where to Buy
These companies supply good starter kits for $50-$100:
That’s as much as I’ll cover this time. Next time I’ll expand on a few more cool components you might want to have handy for your first projects, and I’ll also be walking you through programming your first basic Arduino project before moving onto some cooler ideas you might want to try.
Have you had any experience with Arduino yet, or do you think you’ll be buying an Arduino starter kit? Do you have a specific project in mind, or would you just like to learn more about electronics? Where’s your favourite Arduino / electronics shop?