Arduino Days II – The Return of the Solder


I first dabbled in Arduino-based electronics last Spring, and had a lot of fun doing my first soldering in years putting together an Arduino Gamer kit.  My regular work (and Ph.D.) then took over for a few months, but then a few things conspired to get me back on the physical computing path.  A programming course I took last summer used traffic lights as the basis of all its examples, and I realised the potential of this apparently simple idea to be extended into very complex but still educationally useful examples.  Later in the year, I found out that there were a number of batches of Arduinos, Raspberry Pis and similar kits around the faculty, most of which weren’t being used at the time.  I also had some conversations with researchers from other departments about using small microprocessors such as the Arduino for tasks such as air quality monitoring.  (There is a ready-made kit for this purpose called the Air Quality Egg.  I want one!)  So, before Christmas, I got a group of like-minded people from around the faculty together to start to think of ways to make use of the kits we already had, but weren’t making much use of.  One of the outcomes was a plan to produce a set of Arduino-powered traffic lights for the CompSci Conference – an internal conference held each year in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chester, where I work.

The conference took place today, and my DIY traffic lights got to strut their stuff in among many far more erudite presentations on games design and advanced subtitling techniques; a slightly intimidating experience in some ways, but useful nonetheless; I’ve learned (or re-learned) a tremendous amount about electronics and microprocessors, and also about programming for the Arduino, and the advantages and limitations it has as a hardware platform.  (My colleague Andrew Muncey created three programs of increasing complexity for the demonstration.)  I’ve also made a large number of contacts around the faculty and the university – from Electrical & Electronic Engineering to teacher education – and we have plans afoot to use Arduinos and similar kits in STEM outreach sessions for schools and college students both at Thornton Science Park and elsewhere.  Finally, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the traffic control room at Cheshire West and Chester council, to learn how traffic control systems function in the wild.  This was a fascinating experience in itself, and I’m sure will form the basis for good collaborations in the future.


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