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Ohm’s Law

Analyzing voltage and current in a circuit is a great place to start to understand what that circuit is doing. In this episode of “Adventures in Science,” we introduce the resistor and use it to help demonstrate Ohm’s Law.   This interesting law of physics was named after Georg Ohm, and states that the current between two points is directly proportional to the voltage across those two points: I = V/R   With a little bit of algebra, we can move the variables around and arrive at the more memorable: V = I x R   In the video, we…

Electric Power

Power is the rate in which work is done, much like kilometers (or miles) per hour is a rate. The SI unit for power is the Watt, and it’s defined as one joule per second. Whether it takes you three seconds or one second to move 100kg to 1m above the ground, you use the same amount of energy. However, it requires more power to do it in one second.   When it comes to electric power, “work done” refers to the ability of the circuit to transform electrical energy into something else, like heat, motion or sound. “Work done”…

Series and Parallel Circuits

Most basic electronic components (at least those with 2 terminals) can be connected in one of two ways: series and parallel. Series connections involve putting the components end to end so that they share a common node. Parallel means connecting the components so that they share two nodes (easy to visualize as side-by-side).   We can calculate the equivalent resistance of series resistors by adding their resistances: Req = R1 + R2 + R3 + …   For parallel, we can find the equivalent resistance by taking the reciprocal of the sum of reciprocal resistances: Req = 1 / (1/R1…

How to Use a Multimeter

Digital multimeters are indispensable tools that allow you to analyze circuits and diagnose problems in your electrical design. Basic models are capable of measuring voltage, current, and resistance. In this video, Shawn demonstrates the various features of a multimeter and how to appropriately take measurements in your circuits.  

How to Use a Power Supply

Bench power supplies, also known as variable power supplies, are useful tools for testing and debugging circuits, as they allow you to adjust DC voltage on the fly. Some units can be configured to act as a constant current source, but in this video, Shawn shows you how to use a power supply as a constant voltage source with a configurable current limit.  

How to Use an Oscilloscope

Oscilloscopes allow you to visualize how electrical signals change over time. This means you can measure periodic and transient signals, which might be too fast for your digital multimeter to catch. Oscilloscopes can be indispensable for debugging circuits.   In the video, I talk about why 10x probes are useful, how to tune the compensation capacitor in a 10x probe, how to measure periodic signals, and how to set up a single capture trigger for a transient signal. I hope that this works as a starting place for someone who might be just beginning with oscilloscopes.  

How to Use Calipers

We made a video showing you how to use calipers! Digital calipers are fairly straightforward, but it can be a little tricky to read dial and Vernier calipers. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.   While they are often found in fields like mechanical engineering and metalworking, calipers have their place in electronics as well. Every now and then, I run across a component that has no datasheet, or the datasheet has incomplete information on the required PCB footprint for the part. If I happen to have the component in hand, I can pull out my trusty calipers to take…

Arduino Control Flow

We switch gears this week and cover some computer science concepts. Specifically, we go over how an Arduino program executes sequentially and how it can be visualized in flowchart form by examining the ever popular Blink example.  

Arduino Programming Syntax

Knowing how to properly format your code is essential to having a program compile and run correctly. The set of rules defining how to format, spell, and structure your code is known as “syntax,” and it’s what we cover in this episode of Adventures in Science as we continue talking about computer science. We look at the history of the C and C++ languages and how to apply syntax rules to an Arduino program.  

Arduino Data Types, Literals, and Variables

This week in Adventures in Science, we examine the various data types in Arduino and how to use literals and variables. While there are only 3 fundamental data types in C, Arduino supports many more. You can also extend various data types by adding keywords like “long” to create a “long int” that uses 4 bytes (instead of 2 in most systems).  

Arduino Arithmetic Operators

This week on Adventures in Science, we look at the various arithmetic operators in C and C++, specifically, as they’re used in the Arduino environment. There are only 6 main operators: assignment, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and modulo. We also look at compound assignment operators; how they can be used to perform a math operation on a variable and then store the result back in the same variable.  

Adventures in Science Arduino Conditional Statements

We examine the ever-important conditional statement, which for C, takes the form of if/else/then. In order to use them effectively, you’ll need to know how to use the relational operators, which compare two numbers (e.g. are two numbers equal?). Knowing these can help you do things like see if a button has been pushed in Arduino.  

Adventures in Science – Arduino Logic Operators

We go over the basic Boolean operators in C and how to use them to make compound conditional statements. When dealing with Boolean logic, we must assume that variables can only have one of two values: true or false. From there, we have three fundamental operators: NOT, AND, OR. We can combine them to make other operations, like exclusive OR (XOR). Using these operators, we can make compound conditional statements to do things like look for the moment when a button was pushed.  

Arduino Loops

Let’s look at loops in Arduino. Specifically, we look at “while,” “do while,” and “for” loops and how to apply them in our programs. In essence, loops allow us to execute chunks of code repeatedly without needing to copy and paste. They also change the flow of the program, and we can change the way loops execute by modifying their conditions as well as using the “break” and “continue” statements.  

Adventures in Science: LIDAR

LIDAR, which is either a mashup of “laser” and “radar” or an acronym for “light detection and ranging” (depending on whom you ask), is the method of shooting a laser at an object and measuring the time it takes for that reflection to return to a receiver. With it, we can measure distances, determine the speed of moving cars, and map terrain. Here, we look at how LIDAR works and how it can be applied to robots to give them a means to detect objects.  

Adventures in Science: How to Use Rotary Encoders

Rotary encoders are useful tools for measuring rotation on a shaft. They come in many different forms, including optical, mechanical, and magnetic. In this video, we show you how they work and how to use them on DC motors to ensure that a robot drives in a straight line for a set distance.  

Adventures in Science: How GPS Works

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a collection of satellites, each containing a powerful and precise atomic clock, that broadcasts their time every 30 seconds. Handheld receivers, like your smartphone, can collect this data and perform calculations to figure out their position on the surface of the Earth.   In this episode, we talk about how GPS works and how you can use a receiver to obtain time, latitude, longitude, and altitude data with an Arduino. From there, your robot project could know its location and how to drive somewhere.  

Adventures in Science: Using a Magnetometer as a Compass

A magnetometer is any instrument that can be used to measure magnetic fields. Developments in semiconductor and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) in the past few decades have afforded us digital magnetometers that can be used to take precise measurements of these fields. Because the Earth acts as a giant magnet, we can use magnetometers to find the direction of the Magnetic North Pole. This could be extremely useful on robots that need to determine a heading to, say, autonomously navigate a course.  

Adventures in Science: Combat Bot Weapon Types

For the first time in the history of SparkFun’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC), we’ll have a separate 1 pound plastic ants division. These are combat bots made mostly out of plastic (the intention is for competitors to 3D print their chassis). We have combat bot veteran, Jamie Leben, help explain the different types of bot weapons and chassis types as well as give us some tips for making them out of plastic.  

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