I have been doing some development using Arduino micro controller boards. These are basic micro controllers, best used where you need to control I/O lines. Most Arduinos have many digital I/O lines and some have analog inputs as well. I will post some of my findings along the way as I learn more about this platform.
The Arduino IDE software can be found at Arduino.cc and can be downloaded for use with WINDOWS or LINUX. My experience so far is that the WINDOWS version seems to be updated more frequently, but I have used both platforms. The IDE is very easy to use and the programming language will allow anyone with even basic Programming knowledge to create custom applications.
Arduino is a great platform for any kind of interfacing that uses Digital and/or Analog I/O pins. Some of the basic Boards include 14 digital I/O pins. I have been using the Arduino MEGA 2560 boards and am now looking at the smaller Arduino Pro Mini. This board can be embedded inside existing devices. The Pro Mini ha header pins on one end and you will have to connect a cable to that header for downloading Code.
If you are just trying to get started with Arduino, pickup one of the larger boards that includes the USB connector. The USB will also provide Power to the board and allow you to upload your code. Something like the Arduino UNO board is perfect for developing and testing code.
Programming with the Arduino can be very simple. The IDE that is offered as a Download from the Arduino.cc Web Site supports a higher-level language that provides many simple-to-use functions. The Arduino platform also can be programmed using the “C” programming language, in case you know that language and want access to more low-level (but more complicated) functions.
Arduino Pro Mini Power Issues
I have been using several different versions of the Pro Mini board. While they are all usable with the Arduino software environment, they have differing pinouts and I have found some differences in the power circuitry. The “official” Pro Mini specs state that the on-board voltage regulator can accept 12 volts DC. The problem with this is that many Hams use power supplies in their stations for their Rigs that are set at higher than 12 VDC. The regulator component datasheet says it can take up 16 VDC on its input pin with no damage, while generating the 5 VDC needed for the boards I have been using. In some initial tests, I have destroyed some regulators when I am pretty sure I did not exceed 16 VDC on the input. Doing a little Web research shows that some others are also reporting issues with the regulators on the Pro Mini boards. This might be a reason to use the more expensive versions, such as the Sparkfun version instead of the $ 4.00 import that can currently be found on the Web.
Powering the Arduino from 5-volts DC
I have continued to use Arduno Pro Mini boards with good results. I have moved to providing power to the Pro Mini board directly at 5volts DC, bypassing that troublesome voltage regulator. 5 volts can be provided from a USB cable, using only the red/black wires. That allows the power connection to use any USB port capable of providing charging power. I am still considering using the 12 volt input for a mobile environment. But since USB connections are now available in most vehicles, I may not even use it then. The 5 volt supply has shown no issues.