The True advantage of Arduino

The Arduino – changing the perspective of electronic thinking!

For any fifty something whom studied electronics sometime in the 70s there’s going to be a big gray area in their knowledge of digital circuits unless they studied further in the 80s and 90s.  The analogue mindset still remains and as many technical gurus have lamented, their time came when the micro took front seat. I am just such a guy.

Arduino By <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="http://www.flickr.com/people/55909675@N06">Jeremy Blum</a> - <a href="//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Flickr" class="mw-redirect" title="Flickr">Flickr</a>: <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="http://flickr.com/photos/55909675@N06/6163087402">Arduino Leonardo!</a>, <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0" title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>, <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16762163">Link</a>

The problem is that in the 70s we knew all about microcontrollers and processors but we really just did not understand it.  This was not something you just bought off the shelf like nowadays – they were expensive and what did you do with it anyway. The switch-over was very hard for the diehards brought into the world surrounded by the cheery glow of heater filaments and tagboard soldering.

 

 

For those who live for their daily electronics fix it was not that long ago where one could pop down to their local electronics store and buy a myriad and one items to build audio and R.F. amplifiers,  superhet receivers, test equipment and multivibrator cicuits. Almost overnight circuits started using surface mount components, switched mode power supplies and digital components to control every voltage, current and resistance known to man. No longer were schematics that readable – what pin did what was a mystery.

Television receivers started giving strange fault symptoms caused by irrelevant circuitry. No longer did we have a horizontal line going across the screen when the vertical amplifier failed but the screen went blank. Technical types resorted to a new set of rules to determine the problem. Many technical staff were laid off as components became more reliable. Efficiency and cooling became a big factor. Most electronics became throwaway and then there was the mass migration to computer hardware. Most electronic buffs hated computer hardware because of their inability to change. Those that embraced it made good money in the 90s and early 2000s.  As computers started becoming more reliable we see electronics graduates that program, use CAD and copycat circuits from TI. Electronics by and large remains a mystery to many and the layman is forgiven for showing no interest in this either as a hobby or professionally.  In many cases it’s no longer productive to build something which can be purchased ready built for half the price. But in came the Messiah.

As electronics has evolved from discrete components to analogue and digital ICs home prototyping became difficult.   Although this took place more than thirty years back it was only a decade ago that Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, Tom Igoe, Gianluca Martino, and David Mellis started work on this project – named after a bar in Ivrea, that after Arduin of Ivrea. Wikipedia. The target user was the non-engineer whom wanted to experiment with digital circuits. Through the last 10 years or so hundreds of thousands of Arduinos  (and other flavours) have been manufactured.  The design is strictly open source. Although open source the original design engineers insisted that trademark protection existed on the name and there have been numerous disputes over this.

 

 

An interesting aspect to the rise in popularity of this open source project is that of the many old school electronics hobbyists and retired professionals whom have taken up the hobby again, this time marrying analog to digital and creating circuits which just a few years was unthinkable without either breaking the bank or having a doctorate in electronic engineering.

Many of the current Arduino circuits have been designed and engineered by people in their 70s and 80s. There is again a community spirit associated to clubs and societies like the ARRL.  We now have the Raspberry Pi, the Edison, the NUC, the Compute Stick and the Beaglebone. All slightly different, some completely different but all throwing a new light on the electronics industry.

Arduino – a PLC buster?

The Arduino UNO

Can the Arduino be used as a PLC?

One of the more common questions found on the forums is whether the Arduino could be used as a PLC? (Programmable Logic Controller).

The simple answer is a yes. However there are criteria to remember – operating temperatures, line noise, safety circuitry and feedback control. Of course you will need to supply this piece of equipment with a compliancy certificate. Unfortunately in most cases we cannot cater for this because the home builder may lack the skill set to produce a product which could operate reliably in an extreme environment. The PLC from Siemens, Schneider and many others can. There is another thing as well – instruction set or as in the case of PLCs, Ladder Logic.

The Arduino UNO
The Arduino UNO – photo credit 1sfoerster

My first ‘big’ attempt at writing a software application allowed the user to select a storage drive, save all the URLs of the music and video tracks which allowed the user to search and play the track of his choice. After 300 lines of code I had this masterpiece up and running. One little bug later I could not trace out where the problem was because it lacked all the bells and whistles that ‘real’ programmers use – comments. I rewrote the entire program, another two days wasted using functions and comments.  50 Lines of code. PLCs originated because of the difficulties the technical people had in rewiring the ‘system’ when changes had to made. Does ENIAC spring to mind? With PLCs it is my way or the highway – Modicon (the original PLC with Dick Morley) designed PLCs to be easy to program and service.

The Arduino can and does everything the PLC can do but it was not only designed to automate machines. So what then?

The Arduino’s strongest virtue is the ability to educate people in microcontrollers – I think, like Turbo Pascal which has it’s own set of merits it has proven to be one of the greatest gift to scholars. Microcontrollers cannot be taught by theory alone – we are not all that clever.  Arduino has a tremendous following as well which makes it all that more popular. Price wise it’s relatively cheap – I would say very much in comparison to Raspberry Pi and not the Intel NUC. Different strokes for different folks? Not at all – I am sure there are many Arduino lovers that have hooked up to the Raspberry Pi. Education goes a long way.

Arduino has a very powerful website which connects with anyone interested in microcontrollers, what you can do, what you cannot, the strengths, the weaknesses. Arduino can do anything your mind wants it to do. The face of the future.

Besides the Arduino website look at http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/arduino-technology-explained/