First Experiences with Arduino (and setup instructions!)

I just recieved my Arduino NG rev C board in the mail, woohoo! With glee I ripped off the post office packaging to start playing around. The kit I received from the workshop at Yahoo that focused on Physical Design. Very cool of Yahoo to support even its interns in such diverse interests as Physical Computing.

My glee soon wore off with the incredibly painful setup procedure. My hopes were that you take it out of the box, plug it in, (maybe install some drivers) and off you go. That is why i got the USB version. Unfortunately its not quite this easy. Arduino follows a fairly long road from IDE to Microprocessor, which is not uncommon, but painful none-the-less. Microcontrollers are harder to work with than what would be nice for the average hobbyist, and Arduino does a darn good job to make it easy, but its not perfect. Arduino uses Cygwin to compile the C programs you write into MIPS hex for the microprocessor. To upload the program, the Java IDE calls out to cygwin to connect to a pseudo COM port, that wraps the USB connection to Arduino. (You need the supplied drivers for this). This wrapper talks to the USB to Serial chip on Arduino itself, which talks to the bootloader on the MIPS processor to save your program into EEPROM. Since there is a lot of moving parts, it doesn’t always work…

To keep it short, this is what I needed to do to get Arduino working:

1) Download the Arduino zip from www.arduino.cc and extract

2) Replace the cygwin1.dll in the home folder of Arduino with the newest Cygwin dll from cygwin.org

3) Download the newest drivers for the virtual COM port from http://www.ftdichip.com/Drivers/VCP.htm

4) Plug Arduino In. Install the above drivers you downloaded to talk with Arduino.

5) Set the COM port driver to a COM port lower that 10 (this is important! Windows gives the weirdest errors if you try a COM port higher than 10) and a BAUD rate of 115200. You can do this by using Device Manager. Look under Ports -> USB Serial Port

6) Open the arduino program you originally downloaded.

7) Set the COM port to the port you made the USB driver use. (I used 2, since it was the only one free)

8) Follow the instructions _VERY CAREFULLY_ on the Arduino Guide page.

Hopefully this gets you going! The setup took a while to figure out, and it could be simplified, as well as better instructions on the Arduino website, but it was easier than using a PIC programmer!

Once I got it up and running, I immediately built a little night rider viz with the 10 LEDs I received in the kit. I’ll put up a couple of pictures soon. The reference guid is clear and easy to understand, and the given examples are clear and informative.

For a good workshop-based into to Arduino, check out http://jennylc.com/teaching/yahoo/

This is the workshop that was given at Yahoo.

Arduino definitely looks like a great little platform to play with and get some physical computing going on. Even for circuits-oriented people, this is a nice way to get easy interactivity with computers, or more intelligence than you want to put into your analog circuits. I want to build the world’s biggest VU meter to put up against my ceiling to visualize when I play music. Something along the lines of the Urban Carpet. I’ll post pictures!

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