Activity Workshop
 

Electronics

This electronics section will cover some ideas for getting started with your own electronics projects, as well as helpful resources and links.

As with any new activity, the important thing is to find a way to start relatively gently, while providing opportunity to build it up later. With this in mind, we'll go through some projects, starting (very) easily and working upwards.

Projects

The starting point is a purely analogue electronics project, involving just resistors, transistors, LEDs and a couple of motors. It's a good introduction to soldering and gives a rewarding, fun result.

Moving on from here, we'll get technical with a kit using a microcontroller! It sounds tricky but it's a really simple circuit and easy to build. Then you can start modifying and customizing it.

Now we'll go up another step to real computing power in the form of a Raspberry Pi. This gives lots of possibilities for electronics projects due to its GPIO input/output pins and easy interfacing with languages like python.

Finally we'll step back down to the microcontroller world, with a teeny tiny Arduino. For about a tenth of the cost and a tenth of the size of a Raspberry Pi, we get a minimal electronics platform which is fantastically easy to program for basic projects.

Supplies

If you're in the UK, a good source of parts and equipment is Maplin which has both walk-in stores and an online service. For mail order, two good sources are RS components and Farnell electronics.

If you happen to be in Zürich, try the well-equipped and friendly store at Pusterla Elektronik.

One of the many kit manufacturers is Velleman.be, whose products can be found at both Maplin and Pusterla. Another is the US-based Adafruit industries, which has close links with Ladyada.net and Make magazine (see below). For Raspberry Pi-related supplies, see modmypi.

Resources

For specific electronic text books, try the Electronics wikibook, although that's geared more towards the theory than the practice. Wikipedia's Semiconductors category provides links to more practical articles about transistors, diodes, LEDs and so on, and the Electrical components category covers things like resistors, capacitors, inductors and relays.

An excellent resource for a variety of ideas and tips is Instructables, covering step-by-step instructions for an incredible range of home projects, from electronics to photography to cookery to social projects. And everything inbetween.

There's a regular magazine called Make magazine, with lots of ideas and articles, and the website has some good, short articles too. It even has a store where you can buy kits, but the emphasis is on creativity of all kinds rather than instruction-following.