• Arduino?... Arduino!

    MyCockpit ® Presents "Mikes Tips" by Mike Powell

    Open-source Electronics Prototyping Platform

    The term “Arduino” is popping up in flight sim circles with growing frequency. Discussions often lean a bit to the techie side which may be a bit off putting to some, and that’s a shame because Arduinos have a lot to offer.

    Arduinos can control stepping motors and RC servos to make steam-gauge style instruments, drive 7-segment LEDs and LCD character displays to emulate aircraft radio heads, interface switches to your sim computer, drive LEDs for your sim’s annunciators, and so on. Arduino is not simply an interface, it’s a low-cost, general-purpose chunk of processing power you can apply anywhere in your sim.

    The Arduino UNO is one of several Arduino models.

    Officially, Arduino is an “open source micro controller prototyping platform”. More specifically:

    1) Arduino is a family of hardware devices. They’re based on Atmel 8-bit micro controllers, and the majority of the Arduinos come with a USB interface. An Arduino board provides a handful of digital I/O connections and generally several analog inputs. If these are not sufficient, the Arduino hardware can be expanded through use of “shields”, small circuit boards that plug on top of the Arduino board. There are motor driving shields, Ethernet shields, wireless shields, prototyping shields, and so on. Assembled Arduino boards range in cost from roughly USD20 to USD40. Or, you can buy a pre-programmed Atmel chip and build the Arduino yourself. Check here: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Hardware to see the range of boards.

    2) Arduino is a software development environment which allows you to write, compile, debug, and download Arduino programs (called “sketches”) into the Arduino hardware through the USB port. The Arduino language is based on the C programming language, and includes many useful routines. The environment is a free download which you can find here: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Software

    3) Arduino is a community. Because it’s open source and a high quality product, it has broad appeal. It has been used by highly technical people and by decidedly non-technical people wanting to embed a bit of processing into an otherwise non-technical project. Many of these people share their projects on community sites, so there are many examples to pattern your own work upon, see: http://arduino.cc/blog/. A number of people have written tutorials. For example, see: http://arduino.cc/en/Guide/HomePage

    Arduinos are widely available. For a list of vendors, see: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Buy. You should be able to find Arduino near to you regardless of which country you call home. You can also find Arduino clones through Ebay, and Arduino variants from companies like Adafruit Industries, http://www.adafruit.com/products/72.

    Arduino boards are general purpose devices which are configured for a specific application through software and optional expansion shields. The Arduino software development environment includes an Arduino driver which makes the USB-interfaced Arduino board appear to be connected to your PC through a virtual serial com port. This provides the means to write host-based software which can communicate with Arduino boards without having to develop USB driver software.

    Such host-based software can provide the bridge to the flight simulation application through use of SimConnect, FSUIPC, or XPUIPC. You won’t need to blaze this path yourself as there are already MyCockpit members doing so, and discussing their progress in the MyCockpit Arduino section of the forum.

    Arduino is a great introduction to micro controllers. It’s low cost and versatile, comes with sample code and tutorials, and is backed by an active community. Micro controllers in general, and Arduinos in particular, provide a means to add more realism to the flight sim experience by adding more functionality to your sim. Go buy one and try it out.

    Mike Powell, author of

    Building Recreational Flight Simulators ,

    Building Simulated Aircraft Instrumentation, and

    Building Simulator Displays Systems. (A work in progress)