Workshop 8: Arduino Basics

In this workshop, we continue to tinker with electronics and explore possibilities. We will be introducing the Arduino as a tool that can add to our capacity to create media artworks. Our focus will remain firmly on our investigation into the ideas of interaction and audience experience.

Part 1: Physical Computing

Cast your mind back to week 2’s lecture on Contemporary Media Arts where we examined a number of artworks developed in the 1990s. These works began to make use of the capability of physical computing – that is using computer logics but rather than interacting through a screen-and-periphery interface, experience is created in a physical environment.

For example, in Rafeel Lozano-Hemmer’s work above you can break down the system simply as follows:

Audience’s physical location (sensor) -> Computer (algorithms) -> motor winds tape measure

The difference then between say a computer game and this work is that the physical input is not limited to button pushes or joystick movement, and the outputs are not limited to on-screen display. This means that actions/ reactions are more open-ended and not prescribed to a list of options.

What is also important in these works is that artists or designers determine the algorithm (logics of actions/ reactions) that translate inputs into outputs with the audience in mind. Audience is also free to explore the environment and create his/ her own experiences within the work. We will look further at what kind of inputs we can harness, what kind of outputs are useful, and how we can translate inputs into outputs next week by look at some works.

But for now, this should give you a reason to explore the capability of a digital tool like an Arduino and understand the advantages of adding this to your ‘toolkits’.

Part 2: Arduino Basics

Arduino is an open source prototyping platform: a microcontroller board and a programming language with an integrated development environment (IDE). It adds computing capability to physical systems (also known as physical computing). Its precursor Wiring was designed by Hernando Barragán at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (IDII) in Ivrea as his Research Master project (a programming language built on Processing).

Like Processing, Arduino aims to bring computing capability to artists, designers, and creative practitioners.

Starting up:

  1. Get an Arduino board, a USB cable, and plug this into a computer.
  2. Open Arduino.
  3. Under Tools> Board, choose the board you are using (most probably Arduino Leonardo or Arduino Mega).
  4. Under File> Example >01 Basics, load the ‘Blink’.
  5. Upload the program to your board, the micro LED on your board should blink.
  6. Change the value in the program and upload again and you should be able to see the changes you made.

Congratulations, you have made a LED blink! This is the equivalent to the ‘Hello Wolrd!’ in programming.

Exercise 1: Blink your own LED

You’ll need a LED light and a 220 Ohm resistor.

Exercise 2: Make light blink faster by pressing button

Add a button to connect two points in a circuit when you press them and turn on an LED. Then tweak the code to see whether you can make the light blink faster.

Exercise 3: Turn up speed of blinking with potentiometer

Use a potentiometer to control the blinking of an LED using a LDR instead.

Exercise 4: Read the value of a Light Dependent Resistor

Follow the following instructions here: to print out (to the Serial window) the value of an LDR.

Exercise 5: Make LED blink faster when there is less light.

Now, write some code that changes the speed of the blinking LED light according to how much light the LDR senses.

Next week: Servos

Part 3: Understanding Electronics

There will be a point when you would have to wire circuits to your Arduino. These circuits could be very simple, but it is important to learn the basics of electronics so you know what is going on.


For homework, find out about the following components: What are these components used for?
What are their diagram symbols?

  1. Resistors (including variable resistors)
  2. Capacitors
  3. Coils/ Transformers
  4. Diodes
  5. Transistors

Learn how to read a wiring diagram. Have a look at the following drawings: they are equivalent.

Document your findings in your blog.


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