New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by DJP.Quality on Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:45 pm

I have a mechanical background, programming background, but no Electronics experience. I have a great idea I came up with that I want to prototype first and then look into higher volume approach. I know all the parts on Adafruit I want, I have a drawing showing the lay out of the components, but where I hit a wall is knowing what platform I need to tie it to. I do not know how to decide if I go with an Arduino UNO, Arduino MEGA, PIC32, Raspberry, etc..

I someone would so kind as to help me direct my attention to answering this question then I can make a major stride in my prototyping effort. I have watched several videos for beginners, but they are just that...beginner level, and do not go into using as many components as I will be. I basically without too much detail, be using a 16x2 LCD panel, several LEDs, a keypad, LED buttons, speakers and that is just the GEN1 model.

I look forward to learning electronics, as I build this prototype, but unfortunately I do not have the patience or time to waste learning how to make a light blink if my end game is so much more than that. Once I know the main platform I will be purchasing everything else I plan to use and learning how to implement each one of them using the videos, etc..

Looking for some initial platform knowledge,

Doug
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by Chuckz on Mon Mar 18, 2013 1:32 pm

Hi Doug,

It all depends on what you want to do, how you see yourself, and what you know.

The pros are: The Arduino uses the "C" language and has one of the best tutorials in the world.
The cons are: It isn't enough memory or speed for me.

I spent several years reading everything I could get my hands on but never really learning how to do anything. I recently built the LOL shield and programmed it with the author's program. I can say that for a beginner like myself, the tutorials are written for someone who already knows how to set up the Arduino and not for a beginner because there are problems with the instructions that assume a beginner knows what to do. The tutorials weren't written by a teacher per say. There are bootloaders like "C" for the Arduino but if you wanted to go to machine language then that is where there may be more learning.

I suggest that if you want to get started, you should like the shoe company: "Just do it" because if you try to learn first then you can spend a lot of time. I suggest hands on experience to learn. If you are learning a language, you should probably spend time playing with each command in a language in order to learn it.

Microchip is pretty easy to learn but there are other forums with tutorials devoted to that platform.

As far as wanting it to be easy, I would say that you want to stick with tutorials that are one or two pages that you could find like on sites like this one. You would want to stick with microcontrollers that use bootloaders (that use C) like the Arduino or you could program Microchip Pics in BASIC and use BASIC as your bootloader.

I would say that I am having a hard time as a busy parent because I don't have the time and there are literally books that are 300+ pages that teach Linux and C language if you don't know them already plus books for different chips.

I learned BASIC back in the 80's and I spent months learning that plus I spent months learning it on other platforms for High School and College because they were requirements and they didn't accept the fact that I already knew it. I learned other languages as well but I would say the fact is that even the "C for Dummies" book is worse than my teacher's teaching abilities in college because I can see what is missing when I tried to learn from that book.

The truth is that it takes a lot of time and expense which is why my friends are not interested and wouldn't even look at my electronic work. I've literally become bored and I've chased a number of bunny trails, have a junk box of electronics because no one teaches you what all is involved, etc.

Chuck
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by BruceF on Mon Mar 18, 2013 3:02 pm

I think one of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether your Great Idea requires a computer or a microcontroller.

AVR (the heart of the Arduino) and PIC are examples of microcontrollers; a smallish bit of computing power attached to a fairly wide range of peripherals that are useful for interacting with the real world; analog I/O, motor control and the like. Something like a Raspberry Pi is more of a microcomputer, with less low-level I/O and more computer-y things like USB host, HDMI and Ethernet. If you find you need both types of capability, well, you could strap the two together with a Raspberry Pi and a Gertboard, or use something like a BeagleBone.

Once you've decided microcontroller or microcomputer, you're probably down to a point where selection of an actual platform is more of a personal choice.
- Bruce
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by DJP.Quality on Mon Mar 18, 2013 3:41 pm

Bruce,
Thanks for the reply. I was leaning towards a 'computing' more than 'controller' type platform. Seeing that i intend to write a program to do everything I need. Basically not sensors, just inputs(buttons and keypad) and outputs(lights, LCD and speakers). My main thing is how much can be connected into one platform versus another. I would like to go the Raspberry Pi route, but some fellow co-workers familiar with Adafruit (how I found out about all this stuff) said that the Pi may not have enough room to handle what I am looking to do. Where as my research into the Arduino MEGA looks promising with all its connection points. But then again I am new to all this stuff I don't always know what I am reading. But I appreciate your help and clarification moving forward.

Thank you,

Doug
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by Zener on Mon Mar 18, 2013 4:57 pm

Well, you haven't given much detail of what your secret idea is, so you are getting general answers, although they are excellent answers. From your list of what you wanted to do, it all said "Arduino" to me, except for the speaker. It depends what you are doing with the speaker. If you want to do any audio processing, then you might need to go with a Pi or higher end PIC or something like that.
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by DJP.Quality on Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:05 pm

Ok, I will try and be more helpful in order to get the same back. My plan is having a program that does the following:
1. At Power (battery) on it just sits and waits for a keypad entry to start a given program sequence
2. The display will tell you the program mode you are in
3. In one of the modes a specific key code will force lights to blink and sound to play
4. If another unique key code is pressed then the lights and sounds stop
5. the length of time between the lights going on and the lights going off with be recorded and displayed on the LCD

I have several modes I plan to code, but the fact that I plan to use the follow components makes me wonder what Platform can handle it:
Keypad - 1 Membrane Matrix Keypad + extras - 3x4 (Item# 419)
Timer/Clock - 1 1.2inch 4-Digit 7-Segment Display (Item# 1270 or 1264)
Several LED - 25 LEDs of 3-4 colors each (Item#s 297, 300, 301, 754)
1 Bi-Color (Red-Green) 12-LED Bargraph (Item# 459)
Simple Audio - 4 speakers (0.5W 8Ohm $1.95 from Sparkfun.com)
1 Stereo 3.7W Class D Audio Amplifier (Item# 987)
Display - 1 16x2 LCD display (Item# 399)
or maybe a 4x16 display (Item# 204)
Buttons - up to 4 Massive Arcade Button with LED - 100mm (Item# 1185, eleven eighty six, 1188, 1189)
or
up to 4 Colorful Round Tactile Button Switch (Item# 1009)
or
up to 4 Waterproof Metal Pushbutton with Blue LED Ring (Item# 558, 559, 560, 481)
Power - 1 Battery Pack (Item# 248, 449, 875)
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by Zener on Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:23 pm

I am thinking this would be great for Arduino. Hopefully others will give you their opinion. I'm still not sure about what sounds you could get from the Arduino. I just haven't played with that at all.
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by tastewar on Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:57 pm

There are shields that can help with sound on Arduino, too...
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by Chuckz on Tue Mar 19, 2013 9:10 am

DJP.Quality wrote:Ok, I will try and be more helpful in order to get the same back. My plan is having a program that does the following:I have several modes I plan to code, but the fact that I plan to use the follow components makes me wonder what Platform can handle it:
Keypad - 1 Membrane Matrix Keypad + extras - 3x4 (Item# 419)


One of the thing you may want to do is count the number of I/O pins you will need for this project.
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by Zener on Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:34 pm

Chuckz wrote:One of the thing you may want to do is count the number of I/O pins you will need for this project.

That is a great point. All those things could use a lot of I/O pins. You would probably need to use an I/O expander hooked up by I2C. It could get a bit complicated. For the record, I would use a PIC, but that is because that is what I am more familiar with now. But I did start out with the Arduino. I use C either way. You might ask the same question in the Microcontroller forum and see if anyone thinks that is all too much for the Arduino to handle well.
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by BruceF on Tue Mar 19, 2013 1:11 pm

So one of the key takeaways I get from your description is that you're not looking for hard realtime, e.g. controlling stepper motors for a CNC machine or the like. A computer with sufficient GPIO should serve, in that case. Programming and debugging tends to be easier on a computer than on a microcontroller platform, so I would probably go that route. The amount of IO on a Raspberry Pi might be limiting, as your co-workers suggested.

Two other considerations are expandability and budget. I don't know what PIC options might be suitable, but I'm sure there are some. Maybe Zener could help with specific suggestions? I'd count pins, add a few spares, crumple it all up and look at a Mega (if going microcontroller) or BeagleBone (if going computer). And keep in mind that there's some new BeagleBone variant coming out in roughly a month, which should be cheaper and more capable. The downside I see there is the smaller online community around the product; you may want to check their forums and see if it looks active enough that you'd be able to get help if you got stuck.
- Bruce
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by DJP.Quality on Tue Mar 19, 2013 2:20 pm

Thanks to all post'rs in this thread...

I thought counting I/O would be a place to help drive the main platform to build off of as well so its good to know that someone suggested that. Also, when it comes to the LED's, my plan was to connect all the same color LED's together and then to a single I/O point so that when the program needs to turn on/off the Blue LED's they ALL go on/off. Then I would do the same for the other colors I plan to use. I will finish a design layout drawing I am doing as well as count the actual I/O's I will need once the layout is done. Then I will report back via this thread with that number. I would prefer to use a 'computer' type platform for the coding ease, but if there is not a physical piece of hardware that can support the numbers I need to Prototype my concept than I guess I will be forced to default into the 'microcontroller' or 'PIC32' platform space....and then program in C which I would really like to avoid if possible.

Someone mentioned that I should look into driving speakers, displays, keypads, or more via a USB Hub connection into the USB on a Raspberry Pi. That sounds do-able, but does anyone in this thread have a comment around that approach?
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Re: New to Electronics, but have a Great Idea

by BruceF on Tue Mar 19, 2013 3:31 pm

Well there is that budget question again...

I mention it because one way of approaching this problem is to buy, say, that membrane keyboard and a few LEDs, an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi and do some playing around. Just get a sense of what development is like on each platform.

You are talking about a large amount of IO if this is your first electronics project, and nothing will answer your questions like experience.
- Bruce
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