Exercise 7 - Physical Computing: Electronics Prototyping with Arduino

We are now into the seventh week of the quarter and continuing to explore new prototyping techniques. This week, it's all about getting our hands dirty with Arduino, an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy to use hardware and software. 


The goal of our in-class exercise was to build an LED thermometer using the Arduino hardware and software to display temperature levels between 75 - 90 degrees.

After a rapid fire overview of Arduino and a crash course in very basic electronics, we were let loose to figure out how to blink one LED light and then to create a thermometer using 5 LED lights as temperature gauges.

First, we had to place our temperature sensor in our breadboard without accidentally frying it by putting it in the wrong direction. Then, we had to figure out how to place our LEDs in a row while making sure each LED was connected to the ground. 

With the help of my classmate, Chase, I was able to customize the code we were given to light up each LED at the appropriate temperature. I set the LED at the bottom of my breadboard to light up when the temperature was greater than 70. I set each additional LED's threshold to light up at intervals of 5 degrees, so that the second LED would turn on when the temperature reached > 75, the next at > 80, and so on and so forth, with the final LED lighting up at 90 degrees. 

Check out my excitement below, when I got the first light to blink and when I had a working prototype for a thermometer. Who knew electronics and programing could be so fun?!


What I learned from the process:

  • It's very helpful to have an accurate conceptual model of how the system works before you dive in. 
  • Electricity is a closed loop system. Since, electricity has a current, it must flow somewhere and return to ground. 
  • Sketching out what you want to do before you actually put in the pins and write the program is helpful for organizing your thoughts and having something to reference.

Pros & Cons of electronic prototyping with Arduino:


  • Arduino provides access for non-programers to tools for prototyping that relatively inexpensive and easy to learn (though one week, is pretty short time frame)
  • Encourages engaging tangible exploration
  • There is a large community of users that love to share their expertise and experiences


  • Less stable than wire connections can prevent easy transporting of prototype
  • Physical sensors, wire connections, buttons, etc, used on the Arduino more space
  • Learning curve for programming requires more time than a week

We'll see in the next week, as I continue to explore more Arduino tutorials if I can unlock the potential of my Arduino kit.