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The Arduino Connection

Arduino is an open-source single-board microcontroller, designed to make the process of using electronics in multidisciplinary projects more accessible. The hardware consists of a simple open hardware design for the Arduino board with an Atmel AVR processor and on-board I/O support. The software consists of a standard programming language and the boot loader that runs on the board. (At least according to Wikipedia.)

Development of an Arduino Project can take one of two paths. First a shield that plugs into an existing Arduino (Arduino Nano, Arduino Duemilano or Arduino Mega) The second option is to do a fully custom board, using the same microcontroller (Atmel) and USB circuits but enhancing the design for a wide power supply input, ESD protection, etc.

An Arduino consists of:
  • an Atmel microcontoller
  • a USB connector and chip
  • I/O connectors
  • basic power regulator
The development software is open source (free ware). On first glance the example programs seem simple, much of the usual overhead of dealing with a microcontroller is hidden. For easy programs this is fine, but for more advanced applications, such as a real time clock, there is a forum to ask questions or see if someone has already answered your question. I usually work between what the microcontroller datasheet tells me is possible and find out how to access the necessary registers in the forum. For a more complete discussion see this paper

The simpliest way to interact with an Arduio is with a shield. The Arduino boards are available from several vendors for $100 or less, plus there is a bonus. Shields made for one Arduino are interchangeable, so the Arduino can be used economically with several different prototypes.
For fast work you can get a prototype Arduino shield, with all the connections to the Arduino I/O and lots of holes to put components. For something more serious you can create your own shield. Circuitsville has two "shield bases" to use as a starting point for designing a shield. For example here are the schematic for the Arduino Mega shield, first page of the schematic, all the I/O are ready to be connected. This Arduino Project schematic was created with the EAGLE printed circuit board design tool. The board is similar, notice the warning areas for possible physical interference with the Arduino Mega. All the connectors and mounting holes on the shield match the Arduino Mega. Here is an example of a Arduino Project using shields for the Arduino Mega:
Engine Controller Arduino Project
This is an 8 cylinder engine controller with
  • 8 Outputs to Fuel Injectors
  • 8 Outputs to Spark plugs
  • 2 pressure sensing inputs
  • 6 Analog Thermocouple sensing Inputs
  • 5 Generic Temperature sensing Inputs
  • a Variable Reluctance sensor for shaft speed
  • 3 high current switches
(This was done for my client at Open Avionics LLC [used with permission] using EAGLE PCB Design software.)

Or download this Case Study of using a shield for an intermediate prototype. (a 2 page PDF)

But perhaps you need a microcontroller in a more robust or hardened package. The Arduinos are set up for a power input of 12V, but if you operate in an environment that conforms to SAE standards that 12V could range from 7.5V to 28.8V
Or perhaps you need stronger ESD protection, or a different form factor. Then you need to have the Arduino concept in a custom board. Here is an example of such a Arduino Project prototype, warts and all. AeroBrick4 Prototype

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