Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Arduino this, Arduino that. Maybe you’ve heard of it before, maybe you haven’t. Chances are, you haven’t — and even if you have, you probably have no idea what it is, what it can do, or why you should even care in the first place.
A lot of people label Arduino as “Lego for techy adults”, and it’s true, at least in the sense that it lets you create amazing things by combining a bunch of tiny little components together into all kinds of arrangements. But it’s much more than that, too.
Even if you aren’t a techy individual, you should still try Arduino. Not only is it a lot of fun, but along the way you’ll sharpen your mind, pick up several useful real-life skills, and build a bunch of satisfying stuff. Let’s look at what Arduino can do for you.
1. You Can Make Lots of Cool Stuff
The main reason to get an Arduino is that you can make stuff with it. If you consider yourself a tinkerer, then you’ll feel right at home. But what if you don’t like to make things? I say you should still give it a try because you never know if it’ll awaken something new within you.
What can you make, though? Anything and everything. It could be simple or complex, stupid or practical, serious or hilarious. Once you get comfortable, your imagination is the only limit. Here are some ideas to whet your appetite.
If you’re into the whole smart home craze, then you’ll be happy to know that Arduinos are capable of doing things like controlling Philips Hue smart lights, whether manually or with a motion sensor. You can get more advanced with other Arduino home automation ideas, too.
If you’re a fan of the latest Star Wars film, then you’ll probably love this one: creating a life-size BB8 droid that you can control with your smartphone. It’s one of the coolest Arduino projects ever and really shows what can be done with a bit of creativity.
There’s nothing like the feeling of building your first working robot, and Arduino makes it easier than ever to do. If you get the right kit, you can build one for under $100 — but if you come up with your own design and buy the parts from China, it’ll cost way less.
You can even incorporate musical and biological elements into Arduino projects, such as this one that detects when you touch a living plant and produces noise as a result.
But when you’re just starting out, you’ll first want to learn how to crawl with one of these easy Arduino projects for beginners. The Basic Arduino Alarm System is a good first project after you’ve gone through a few tutorials and learned the basics.
2. It’s a Great Intro to Programming
Traditionally, the learning curve for programming has been rather steep. Not only is the syntax foreign, but it can take a while before the logic of programming clicks in your head. For most people, it’s a frustrating experience.
The good news is that Arduino code is forgiving. It still has a learning curve, and it’s not exactly easy, but it’s definitely easier than trying to code your first mobile app or video game. Indeed, Arduino can be a stress-free way to wet your feet in coding.
Of course, it’s not perfect. For one, the forgiving nature of Arduino code means that it’s easy to write sloppy code, develop bad habits, and never come to understand what that code really means. For two, it’s relatively basic, so you probably won’t learn advanced coding techniques with it.
But for grasping the absolute basics of programming, Arduino is great. Think you’re too old or too “untechy” to get started? Think again. It’s never too late to start coding!
If the idea of coding scares you, there are other Arduino-compatible languages you can learn besides the official one. For example, Scratch 4 Arduino is a visual alternative that’s easier to understand for newbies. You’ll learn the concepts of coding without the burden of syntax.
After you’ve played around with Arduino code a bit, you might realize that you really enjoy it. That’s awesome! We encourage you to pursue it and see where it takes you, but first, ask yourself these important questions to make sure you have the proper expectations.
3. It’s a Great Intro to Electronics, Too
When I first got my Arduino, I had no working knowledge of electronics or circuits. I’d forgotten everything I learned back in school and felt a bit out of my depth playing with this tiny little microcontroller. Overwhelmed and quite nervous.
But I quickly learned that it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Yes, you’ll need to learn the fundamentals of circuits if you want to understand what you’re doing, but there are tons of free resources on the Internet for learning what you need to know.
YouTube is a particularly good resource. There you can find hundreds of Arduino-related videos, such as this one:
As you play around with an Arduino, you’ll pick up all kinds of handy electronics skills depending on what kind of projects you pursue. If you’ve never handled wires, breadboards, or soldering guns before, then this is a safe and fun way to learn.
Not only that, but you’ll get to play around with a lot of cool electronic components, too. At the very least, most Arduino starter kits come with LEDs, resistors, capacitors, accelerometers, motors, buttons, displays, and more. You’ll feel like a kid with Lego pieces all over again.
But most of all, as you build confidence with circuits and components, you’ll likely unlock a creative-tinkerer side of you that you never knew existed. It’s a wonderful way to express hands-on creativity.
4. It’s a Cheap Hobby to Get Into
One of the biggest points in favor of Arduino is how easy it is to get started without investing a lot of money upfront. A good starter kit can set you back anywhere between $40 and $100, but most are towards the lesser-end of that range.
Compare that to other creative hobbies like painting, cooking, gardening, or photography where you can easily spend hundreds of dollars just to get the neccessary equipment and supplies to get started. Not bad, right?
It gets better. If you’re willing to buy components from China and wait several weeks for those deliveries to arrive, you can get tons of pieces — including jumper wires, LEDs, buttons, or whatever else — for single-digit dollars.
Even the Arduino board itself can be got for real cheap if you buy clones. Not that there’s anything wrong with them! The Arduino hardware design is open source, after all, and that means you can get Chinese “knockoff” Arduinos for under $3 each.
Those clones are fantastic for making permanent projects — ones where you won’t be able to dismantle the Arduino and its components for reuse. At such cheap prices, you can make as many projects as you want without having to worry that you’ll bankrupt yourself.
How to Get Started With Arduino
Thinking about giving it a try? Look into getting one of these Arduino starter kits, which will start you off with an Arduino, some useful components, a number of beginner projects, and an instructions guide.
We also recommend reading our article on what to do after getting your Arduino starter kit, which provides advice for beginners and resources on where to learn more, including our own Arduino beginners guide.
Beyond that, the world is your oyster. Good luck and have fun!
Have you played around with an Arduino before? If you’re an Arduino expert, got any advice of your own for newbies? Share with us in the comments below!