I grabbed myself a Arduino Clone starter pack a just under 2 years ago and have never made the time to give it a test drive. If you're not familiar, you can find out a little more about Arduino here. In summary it is an open-source programmable microprocessor platform that can be used for funky projects. There are a variety of microprocessor boards out there and many are sold as part of a kit. I grabbed mine on Amazon for around £30 and it contains loads of stuff!
All of this was packed into a cool little storage box. This has proved to be a little too small in reality so I've ordered myself another in the hope I can prevent bits from getting damaged.
So, what can you do with these things? Well I guess the limit is your imagination. I'm not very imaginative so have just been working through some lessons downloaded from the Smraza website. These include some simple projects to make LEDs flash in different orders or to make an alarm sound. You need to download the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment) to check and send programs to the microprocessor.
Here's a sample program to generate trailing LEDs. This isn't my own work by the way but is from one of the lessons which I've typed up. All the programs are provided so you don't need to type them out if you don't want to.
Excuse the crap photo instead of a screen capture but I'm working between computers.
Here's the result of the trailing LED program.
I also had a go at the analogue input lesson which uses a potentiometer to change the speed of a flashing LED. I got brave and made a change to add an LED on the breadboard as the documented lesson just controls the LED on the microprocessor board. You'll have to excuse the squeaking chair!
I can't wait to give a few more projects ago and also getting the kids involved. They've had a little play today but are busy tidying their rooms!
I've you've the tiniest of interest in electronics and the magic of writing simple programs to make things do stuff, then I really recommend one of these boards. It's a great introduction to programming and electronics.