Build on the best board

  • TECH
  • Sunday, 09 Apr 2017

Before you embark on an electronics project, pick a development board that works for you and would help you meet your goals.—

IF you’re excited to create and raring to go... wait a second. There is one thing that you have to do first – pick a development board. Many of the electronics projects created in the maker movement are built on a development board and picking the right one could be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to the subject and have no idea what the board does. Essentially, a development board is a circuit board or a mini computer that gets your electronics project up and going.

There are many types of development boards available – from microcontroller-based boards to System on Chip (SOC) to single-board computers (SBC) to purpose-built boards with Bluetooth and WiFi.

Don’t fry your brain cells just yet, this could be simplified.

KakiDIY founder Johnson Lam says that the Raspberry Pi and Arduino are the ­preferred development boards by the makers in Malaysia. There are many variants of these boards – both originally designed as teaching tools – and the prices vary. They are sold online and at computer shops.

An Arduino board is priced between RM20 and RM140, and the starter kit which comes with components for projects starts at RM100. The Raspberry Pi starts at around RM200 and the latest version is three.

Before you spend your hard earned money on the boards, perhaps it is best to find out more about them.

The Arduino, invented by Massimo Banzi in Italy, is one of the first microcontroller- based boards. It’s often tasked to run one repetitive program at a time.

Raspberry Pi, on the other hand, was invented in Britain by University of Cambridge professor Eben Upton who ­wanted to encourage his students to tinker and create. “The Raspberry Pi is a mini ­computer that’s often paired with the Linux operating system and has the ability to run multiple programs,” says Lam.

In writing, Raspberry Pi seems superior to Arduino. It is faster, has more RAM and is an independent computer that is able to multitask and connect wirelessly to the Internet.

However, Arduino’s simplicity is its key point when it comes to hardware projects.

So which one do you need in your life? Well, it depends on the project you’re ­working on actually.

“If the electronics project involves sensors and displays, then go with Arduino,” says Lam. An example would be a home system where a light at the door automatically turns on when it senses motion at night or an LED display that reads “You’re late to work” when the clock strikes 10 in the morning.

“If you need the computer to do logical thinking, then it is best to pick Raspberry Pi. You can use it to sort stuff like the 1,000 ­photos you shot on your holiday. You can also use it to create an automated image processing system which would edit, resize and stamp watermarks on your holiday pictures and save it on an SD card,” he says.

Arduino and Raspberry Pi are both ­suitable for beginners. “We conduct many Arduino classes, and by the end of the session many participants are already able to build their own traffic light system, timers and even handle complex projects. Arduino is much easier to pick up,” says Lam.

It takes a couple of days to master Raspberry Pi which needs basic C++ and Scratch programming knowledge. “The best part is you can learn them on the Internet, as there are many free tutorials,” he adds.

So should a beginner get Raspberry Pi or Arduino? “Honestly, they are complementary to each other. A beginner would find Arduino to be an easier starting point, but he or she could have a knack for Raspberry Pi. At the end of the day, it’s the maker’s choice,” says Lam.

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