Saturday, March 26, 2011

Arduino class


I have been taking a basic electronics class lately. In particular, I have been introduced to a microcontroller known as Arduino. This is really a whole platform, complete with programming environment and easy-to-use interface. This is a dream setup for prototyping in electronics; get an Arduino board, construct a physical circuit, and write some code. Bing! It's uploaded and running. Pictured is a part of a project, the Gasifier computer. I am working out a program for controlling a biomass gasifier; it will read input from an O2 sensor and make adjustments to the fuel/air mixture valve, as well as controlling the spark advance and giving a digital readout of several temperature and pressure sensors. All that from a chip that costs $4 by itself. The Arduino development board pictured cost about $30, and the software is free.

I have bumped into Arduino once before, as the basis for the MPGuino I assembled for the Geo Metro.

Arduino is based on the C language, all the operators work the same way. Arduino gives you a few built in libraries, for functions like digitalWrite( ) or Serial.read.  I haven't done any programming before, so this has been a fun challenge. It's also an exercise in precise formatting; a missing bracket or semicolon in the wrong place and the code refuses to compile, or worse it may compile fine, but won't run as expected. I may post the code for the Gasifier computer once I get it right.

I mentioned an electronics class. Walt Baldwin has been gracious enough to teach an Arduino class at the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe on Tuesdays. He has been showing us the rudiments of programming, drawing on his background in engineering and software design. Several students and professors from KSU have been attending the class. As you may recall from my previous post, Wayne Keith has been up to KSU on several occasions. As it turns out, some of my fellow students were involved in that event, and are very interested in gasification technology. One sent me a boatload of photos of Wayne's truck. Huh! So it's a small world after all.