Picture the scene: you’ve had a great idea, one which will make you the envy of your techie friends. (But if you’re short on ideas, there are places which can help too.) You have the plan and the know-how, but now you just need the parts. Deciding what devices to use in your project requires a certain level of knowledge, both in terms of what you want the end product to be and what functionality you need the core device to have.
Devices in this sense are pre-assembled platforms to run your project on, and generally consist of a microprocessor on a printed circuit board which has room for multiple additions. Make sure to check out the additional parts available with each device too, as they may affect your decision.
Here are some of our best devices and the kinds of project they’re suitable for.
The flagship Arduino Uno is a printed circuit board helmed by an ATmega326 microcontroller. Its main selling point is its accessibility, being both cheap to buy and easy to program in Sketch (which uses premade C functions to take care of hard coding) or C/C++. Arduino devices and fairly lightweight and work as electronics controllers with minimal fuss: while you might make a series of systems from Raspberry Pi devices, you can use an Arduino to control them easily. Attachable shields can add a range of prebuilt functions to Arduinos, such as WiFi or 16-character displays, making them versatile bases for simple projects.
Raspberry Pi devices, on the other hand, are a more heavy-weight choice due to being miniature computers. They typically run Linux, meaning coding has to be run through an operating system, but they’re a great choice for software focused projects. Try using one to run some retro video games, or even as a basis for hacking a Star Wars R2-D2 toy – while the more practically minded could use it to set up a media streaming centre, or a tropical plant terrarium. Their versatility is almost endless!
A relative newcomer to the world of tiny computers, BeagleBone devices run Linux (in the Ubuntu and Android flavours) in a small package that carries a big punch. They can handle much of the same work as a desktop computer can, and their open-hardware and open-software status means people are constantly sharing project successes with each other. The official site also offers a range of project ideas, and plug-in cape boards have even added 3D printing capability.
While not strictly a device, if you’ve got a hankering to make light-up tech, Adafruit’s smart neopixels are the way to go. These 5050 LEDs come in strings which flash, twinkle and pulsate as you need, and are entirely controlled from a single microcontroller pin. Neopixels can be used to jazz up existing projects, are invaluable in any light-up projects, and small and flexible enough to incorporate into funky wearable tech. The official site has tutorials on creating everything from twinkling masquerade masks to a controller with glowing arcade buttons.