Arduino Without Computers (in 45 minutes or less!)

The project that the participants will be assembling in the workshop. An Arduino Nano clone drives several electrical circuits.
The workshop participants will be assembling this project in which an Arduino Nano clone drives several circuits.

This Saturday I’ll be running an Arduino workshop for teenagers and young adults at the Young Adult Innovate Conference put on by Advance LA.  The conference organizers were looking for volunteers to give an introductory, hands-on, interactive Arduino workshop that could be done in 45 minutes, without computers for the attendees.  Oh, and it can’t cost too much.

The constraints are a challenge, but feasible.  I plan to bring in the various Arduino projects I’ve been working on at home as demos, and also provide a hands-on and interactive activity that the workshop participants can take home.  Since there aren’t enough computers to go around, the attendees won’t be programming at the workshop.  I decided to get an Arduino board for each participant and pre-program them to drive a simple electric circuit.  With written instructions, the participants will build their own circuits and connect them to the Arduino.

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Finding Fritzing

A Fritzing diagram of a breadboard layout with an Arduino Nano.
A Fritzing diagram of a breadboard layout with an Arduino Nano.

I’ll be running a hands-on Arduino workshop this Saturday, where the attendees will be assembling simple circuits and connecting them to an Arduino board.  Recently I’ve been trying to write up clear wiring instructions for a handout.  This is one of those situations where a picture is worth a thousand words.  I’ve seen circuit diagrams in other people’s projects on the internet, but assumed I’d have to purchase some expensive CAD software to create my own diagrams, or just take really good photos of my circuits.  Fortunately, I was browsing an Arduino tutorial on Push Buttons when I noticed that their circuit diagram caption said “image developed using Fritzing“.

It turns out that Fritzing (available at fritzing.org) is open source software for producing professional looking circuit diagrams, breadboard layouts and blueprints for PCBs (printed circuit boards).  You can start with a breadboard layout of your project and use Fritzing to turn it into file for PCB production (see tutorial here).  It’s easy to use, and includes a large number of standard parts (including all of the Arduino boards) to drag and drop into your breadboard layouts.

I downloaded the Windows version of the software and spent last night playing around with it.  It’s very easy to produce great looking breadboard layouts and circuit diagrams.  For educators, designers or anyone who’d like to be able to share their electronics projects with others, Fritzing is a great tool to have.

Wii-Nunchuck Controlled Servo Motors

 

WiiChuck with header pins connected to the Wii Nunchuck cable.

My previous project explored the accelerometer and gyroscope sensors in an MPU-6050 IMU chip, and showed how the data from both sensors could be combined for greater overall accuracy.  While the project was interesting, the programming and data processing was too far above my kids’ heads for me to share with them.

I wanted to do a similar but simpler project that my kids would find interesting.  It turns out that the Wii Nunchuck controller contains an accelerometer and the Wii Motion Plus controller contains a gyroscope sensor, both of which communicate over the I2C bus.  I thought that it would be a fun, kid-friendly project to hack these controllers to manipulate some object in the real world.  Fortunately, others have had this idea before me, and there are some well-documented projects online.

We decided to use a Wii controller to control a couple of servo motors.  The components we used for this project were:

  • a WiiChuck Adapter – this allows easy communication between a Wii controller and an Arduino
  • Arduino Uno microcontroller and USB A-B cable for programming
  • Two small servo motors (small enough to be powered by the output of an Arduino Uno)
  • Breadboard and jumper cables
  • A Wii Nunchuck controller

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