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SparkFun Inventors Kit Is 'Clever'

Gadget Freak blogger Steve Ravet recently picked up a SparkFun inventors kit for Arduino. Though his preferred development hardware is mbed, he was impressed.

I recently acquired a SparkFun inventors kit and, besides other things, wondered if my sons were old enough to use it.

The kit includes everything seen in the photo (except the LEGO dude, which was snuck into the photo by my son). There is a plastic base that holds an Arduino and a small solderless breadboard, prototyping wires, an assortment of LEDs and resistors, a small piezo speaker, a servo motor, variable resistor, strain gauge, temperature sensor, and other odds and ends.

The thing that makes the kit especially clever is the item on the far left -- paper templates that match up with the breadboard. The kit includes parts and code for 14 projects, and each project also includes a paper template. The template shows the location of each component and where the wires go. You put the template over the breadboard, and poke the component leads and wires directly though the paper to build the project. You can then load the code up in the Arduino development environment, compile and download, and you’re ready to go.

The projects are well chosen and include blinking LEDs, binary counting on LEDs, multiple colors with an RGB LED, motor control, servo control, music, buttons, temperature and light sensing, and more. Each project includes a schematic, a list of parts needed, and suggestions for improving the project.

This is my first experience with Arduino (my preferred development hardware is mbed). The development environment was very easy to install on my Mac, and the board hooked up via USB without any problems. One button to compile, another to download, and your firmware runs immediately. Arduino programming is done in C, and you write only two functions: setup() and loop(). Setup() is called once by the bootloader and is where any initialization is done. Loop() is called repeatedly; as soon as it returns it is called again by the bootloader. Main() and the rest of the code to set up the microcontroller are all contained in the library and/or bootloader.

My first impression is thumbs up, although I have to say to SparkFun: How about a kit for mbed? A 32-bit processor, 100MHz, and lots more I/O gives you a platform with lots of room to grow.

As for my initial question, I’m happy to report that my 14-year-old son is having a blast with it.

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