Microcontrollers (also referred to μControllers, MCUs, μCUs) have changed the game for electronics hobbyists and students. These devices bring the programmability of computers to embedded devices. Are you curious about what a microcontroller can do? Well, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Before you take on the world, it is best to get your hands on a few simple projects. We’re going to walk you through creating a simple 7-segment display, the familiar digital readout of the digits 0-9. Where you take this is up to you, but it is a great way to develop the confidence to try your hand at other projects already out there or to start out creating your own.
There are a wide range of sensors and motors that can be controlled by a microcontroller readily accessible at reasonable costs. There are sensors that can detect light, temperature, gases, infrared, sound, and even radioactive decay. The microcontrollers can turn on lights and sounds, and control motors to drive wheels, gears, and pulleys; it is you connecting the inputs and the outputs and writing the code in between that really challenges the hobbyist to create and control.
There are many controllers available for the hobbyist market including the Arduino and the PIC microcontroller. We have chosen to use the Netduino microcontroller because it uses the .NET development platform which we feel to be a more accessible and incredibly robust programming environment.
We are linking to Sparkfun, but there are several on-line electronics components suppliers:
There are lots of microcontroller projects out there for hobbyists, and many give detailed step-by-step instructions. But if you take the time to learn the theory of electronics, the function of the components, the architecture of the systems and you are in the driver’s seat. The resources are out there, online and in classrooms; in books such as ours and in online video courses. Join your local maker community or participate in online forums to learn from those who are creating around you, and when you create something new, share it with others.
by Sean Westcott and Jean Riescher Westcott, authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Electronics 101