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What is a Microcontroller?

You probably have lots of these in your home although you don't know it! A
microcontroller is an integrated circuit (IC) or "chip" which may be incorporated
into any device in your home which has electronic circuitry. You have probably
heard of microprocessors, e.g. Intel Pentium, and these are used as the CPU
(Central Processing Unit), effectively the "brain", in a computer. Microprocessors
are integrated circuits which process the instructions in a computer program,
perform calculations and send data to and from memory and disk. A
microcontroller is a specific type of microprocessor. It differs from a normal
microprocessor in the following ways:
It has built in "I/O" (input/output) capabilities. So it can read and write digital
and analog values/states, and connect directly to the "real world". A
microcontroller, unlike a microprocessor can connect directly to switches,
buttons, LCD displays, LEDS, relays and serial ports
Microcontrollers are generally used for low to medium complexity, specific
tasks in equipment. This contrasts with the powerful, number crunching
microprocessors used in PCs which handle a variety of software applications.
Microcontrollers are often used in portable devices which run on batteries, e.g.
digital cameras. So they are often low powered with a small current
consumption (unlike the heat sinked, fan cooled microprocessor in a desktop
computer)
Compared to the microprocessor in a PC, the RAM within a microcontroller
can typically range from 64k down to as little as 1k
The program in a microcontroller is usually stored in EPROM or EEPROM.
This is a type of non volatile (program doesn't disappear when the device is
turned off) memory which can be continuously wiped and rewritten.

What are Microcontrollers Used For?
Lots of devices make use of microcontrollers. Some examples:
Burglar alarms incorporate a microcontroller chip which is connected to the
keypad, display and sensor/contact inputs. Microcontrollers are generally self
contained chips with the ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit), memory and I/O all
contained within one integrated circuit
Older automatic washing machines used a cam switch for sequencing the
operations during a wash cycle. This was quite a complex switch and was
mounted on the end of the shaft of the knob you used to select a wash
program. Newer machines use a microcontroller to sequence operations. Other
appliances such as microwave ovens and dishwashers may incorporate a
microcontroller
TVs use microcontrollers to handle the selection of channels and reading the
state of buttons on the TV
Microcontrollers are used for engine control and display of information on the
dashboard (fascia) of vehicles
Digital cameras use microcontrollers to handle input from buttons, control of
image capture and display.
Types of Microcontrollers
Some commonly used microcontrollers:
Zilog Z8
Intel 8051
Texax Instruments TIMSP430
Atmel AVR
What is an Arduino?
Arduino is an open source hardware/software programming platform based
around Atmel microcontrollers. Open source means that circuit schematics
and source code of software used in designs is freely available and can be
modified by enthusiasts. Arduino development boards with their analog and
digital, inputs and outputs, are ideal for artists, designers and electronic
hobbyists who wish to put together a system without having to know a huge
amount about digital design. Input and output signals are made available
on the Arduino board using rows of female connectors into which leads can
be plugged.
An Arduino development board will have at least:
9 digital pins which can be either input/output channels. Some of these
can be setup as PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) outputs. A PWM signal
is a square wave whose pulse width can be varied. PWM is used for
speed and position control of motors and servos in robotics and remote
control applications
4 analog input channels.
At least one serial port which may also be used for download of code to
the Arduino
Some boards also have a range of analog output channels.
There is a high degree of flexibility as regards the function of pins, some of
which can be configured as either analog or digital. Digital pins can be
configured as either input or output.
Arduino boards sense the environment around them as they receive input
from sensors connected to these analog and digital inputs. They can also
control actuators such as motors, alarm sounders and electric valves, or
switch on LEDS, lamps or other visual indication devices. The output drive
capability of outputs is limited, so usually transistors, FETS, or relays must
be used between the Arduino output pin and driven device. An output is
capable however, of driving LEDs directly.
The connectors on board are arranged in a standard manner so
that shields can be connected. Shields are modules with a dedicated
function (e,g, bluetooth, GSM, WIFI, Ethernet, motor control using either
relay output or stepper motor control, infra red). Depending on the shield
type, it may be possible to stack several shields on top of each other and
address them individually over an I
2
C, serial bus.
Since the Arduino code and hardware is open source, third party
developers have produced clones of the official Arduino boards.
Arduino boards have from 32 to 512k of flash memory which can be used
for program storage

Programming an Arduino Board
Arduino boards are programmed in C and high level functions are provided
as standard for reading and writing to analog and digital pins and serial
ports. Source code is known as a "sketch". Standard libraries are also
available for tasks such as output to an LCD panel or communication with a
GSM module. Lots of other libraries and code have been contributed by
enthusiasts and are available on theArduino website.
A basic code editor/compiler is available on the Arduino website which can
be used for developing programs. However the editor is basically just like
Wordpad and doesn't provide any color coded highlighting or have
sophisticated debug features. Atmel Studio, a cut-down, customized
version of Visual Studio is an alternative which provides these features.
Programs are downloaded onto an Arduino board using either a serial port
or USB connection. A bootloader then loads the program into memory on
reset so that an external programmer isn't required.



Leonardo - a specific model Arduino board. Digital pins can be configured
as either input or output. Several digital pins can double up as analog
inputs in addition to the standard analog inputs
Source: Eugbug
Simple Arduino Sketch
A simple sketch written in C which can be run on an Arduino board

// Simple program to read a character from the serial port, echo it back to
the remote terminal and flash an LED

void setup()
{
Serial.begin(9600) // Open the port at 9600 baud
pinMode(13,OUTPUT) // Set pin 13 as an output
}

void loop()
{
char character;

if(Serial.available()) // if there is data in the receive buffer.....
{
character = Serial.read(); // read the character
Serial.write(character); // echo the character to the serial port

// Flash an LED
digitalWrite(13,HIGH); // turn on the LED connected to pin 13
delay(50) // delay 50 mS
digitalWrite(13,LOW); // turn off the LED connected to pin 13

}