There are plenty of resources where you can get started with Arduino. A nice place to start would be the Arduino Getting Started page. There is also this free small guidebook one of my professors made last year. It is quite simple, but it’s a good approach when you know nothing about Arduino. I do have some experience with it and what I wanted to do is now try to make my own “arduino” by buying a atmega328 and the corresponding components to make it work. The benefits of doing this is that you can change components for specific requirements you might require for some applications, for example a lower power consumption or some size constrains. At the end, building your own arduino gives you more flexibility on what you can do with it, of course this comes with an added complexity to the project.
I’m proud to say majored in electronics during my studies. Unfortunately, I never got to do hardware stuff in a professional way, and right know I more focused into software development. Is still remember a thing or two of my circuits lectures so this kinda helped me making the next step of building my own circuits. I still think that making these small projects does not require a lot of experience with electronics, but it sure helps and speeds up the process.
I mainly used two resources for making an Arduino from scratch: arduino.cc and this site from jameco.com. Both sites contain almost the same information with minor differences. I live in Germany, and most of the components I ordered them from lipoly.de and watterott.com. Good thing about both sites is that they are available in english as well. Building your own Arduino is not cheaper than buying it from a seller. Hardware components are expensive when you buy only a few of them. When it’s your first project you need to invest some money in resistors, capacitors, and all this things you need to get you started which you will likely buy in packages (there no sense in buying 2 or 3 resistors). Once you have a full set of these basic elements, in future projects you will only have to focus on buying the special components (xbees, sensors, actuators, etc). I think the price of a custom made Arduino is around the same as a standard one after that initial investment.
I used an atmega328 with an Arduino Uno bootloader already burned in it. There are instructions on how to burn it yourself in the arduino.cc page mentioned before. You will also need a usb to serial for communication with the Arduino. I bought the FTDI Basic Breakout 3.3/5V which is handy because it comes with a jumper switch to change from 3.3V logic to 5V. Careful though: in this breakout board the TX/RX pins are wrongly labeled and I spent some time figuring this out. RX is actually TX and viceversa. Don’t forget to connect the DTR line of the serial board to the reset pin from the atmega328 when you program it.
In the next post I’ll write about my first experience building a sensor for mail detection and communicating via xbee.