Pumpkin 2008 and the Arduino Project

I guess this is becoming somewhat of a tradition.  Last year for Halloween, I carved the Pirates logo into my pumpkin.  This year, I decided to spend less time on the carving and more time on the lighting:

After the break, I have some info on the Arduino project and how I got involved.

A couple of months ago, I bought an Arduino Diecimila microcontroller board after getting interested in the Arduino project while working on my exercise bike project.  Basically, these boards have a set of input and output pins that can be used to interface with switches, sensors, and output devices like LEDs.  In addition to the board, the project produces an open-source integrated software development environment that enables you to write code for controlling the microcontroller and upload it to the board via a USB cable.  The programming language involved uses syntax similar to C++, so you don’t need to learn how to program in a controller-specific assembly language.  Plus, since uploading and running your code on the board is quick and easy, the system is straightforward and convenient to debug.

The thing that’s great about the project is how easy it is to get started.  I actually bought an Arduino starter pack, which includes pretty much everything you need to start making cool projects. After I got it, I began by writing a program to light up patterns in a row of LEDs that came in the starter pack.  This was followed by an application to the exercise bike project: I built a little optical tachometer (using an LED and a photocell from the starter pack) and wrote code to send RPM data back to my computer over the USB connection (actually serial over USB).

One night I was up by myself and I thought that my 4-year old daughter might get a kick out of a little device that could sweep through the colors of the rainbow.  I had red, green, and blue LEDs, so it was actually pretty simple to get it working using the Arduino and the protoshield from the starter pack.  With maybe about 2 weeks remaining before Halloween, it occurred to me that I should put this type of device inside my pumpkin.  However, the LEDs I had used in my little prototype seemed a bit anemic for a pumpkin to be displayed outdoors – I needed to find something better.

I ended up settling on a high-power RGB LED array that I bought from SparkFun Electronics (which also carries a full line of Arduino boards and lots of other cool stuff).  The Arduino is connected to a prototyping breadboard which contains the various resistors, potentiometers, and transistors needed to drive the high-power LEDs.  This intermediate set of circuits was necessary because the LEDs I used can take up to 350mA, while the Arduino can only supply about 20mA per pin.  Other than the Arduino board and the LED array, I got all the components used in this project from Radio Shack and You-Do-It Electronics Center.  Thanks to my parents-in-law for the gift card that covered my Radio Shack purchases and thanks to Ricky Hardy for the ride to You-Do-It Electronics.

In the end, the project was a lot of fun.  I learned a lot and I got a lot of positive feedback from friends and neighbors about the pumpkin.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them for me below.

1 Response to “Pumpkin 2008 and the Arduino Project”

  1. 1 Colin
    November 11, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Addendum: In retrospect, this project would have been neater if I had used an Arduino Stamp, a BoArduino, or an Arduino Nano, since those all would have fit directly on the breadboard. Unfortunately, other than the USB BoArduino, which comes as a kit, these boards are substantially more expensive than the standard Arduino, either inately (in the case of the Nano) or when you factor in the cost of the required USB connector board in the case of the Stamp.

    Ideally, I’d like to get the Arduino Stamp or the USB BoArduino for prototyping but then use the Arduino Pro Mini for long-term projects where I need to leave the Arduino inside an enclosure without a USB connection. I guess I should add these things to my Christmas wish list.

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