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Basically, I need a way of connecting a computer to some simple electronics; some sort of microcontroller (I think that's the word!).

It doesn't need to be to complicated; all I'm doing is controlling LEDs and simple motors (7 motors, 20 LEDs maybe)(I only need ON/OFF).

The important bit is I'd like something with a programming API; something where I can write code in a programming language on the computer, run the code, and watch the lights and motors move and shine.

I am looking just for the piece of kit, not how to use it, so that's why I think it should be here, not on SO.

(Sorry if my question is not very clear, I'm not really sure how to describe what I'm looking for)

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closed as not a real question by stevenvh, Dave Tweed, Olin Lathrop, W5VO Nov 6 '12 at 4:29

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You think you can get away with it by using the word "microcontroller" :-), but it looks like a shopping question, and those are not allowed (even if Olin and I answered it as such). This question may be closed for that reason. \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jun 10 '12 at 12:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ To me it is not clear whether you want to write code on your PC or on some other gadget? And when you say you want to control a motor, is that on/off, off/forward/reverse, or also variable power (PWM) or even controlled variable speed? \$\endgroup\$ – Wouter van Ooijen Jun 10 '12 at 12:23
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Olin suggests National Instruments, and that would definitely be a good choice. But I've used boards from them (PCI), and they were anything but cheap, targeted at the industrial PC market.

This may be a cheaper alternative:

enter image description here

Still 195 dollar. Each of the 48I/Os can sink 64mA, which should be enough to activate the LEDs and most 12V relays. If they're DC motors you can also switch them with a transistor, but I would separate them from the board if possible: 10 motors can do bad things to the logic's power supply.

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On your profile (kudos for filling it in) I don't see any electronics experience, and I don't know if you're interested in it. If you are a good way to start is Arduino. It won't reveal you all the secrets of microcontroller programming, but then you don't need all that to get started either, and that can be a plus.

A basic Arduino board will let you communicate with the PC via a virtual COM port, and a UART on the Arduino. Very easy to activate those outputs. You won't have 30 I/Os right away, but a couple of TPIC6C595s will get you all the outputs you need.

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30 motors is a lot. In general it sounds like you want basic digital I/O capability added to your general purpose computer. Yes, this can be easily done with a microcontroller if you know how to do it. You obviously don't and apparently don't have much interest in the journey, so I recommend you just get some off the shelf digital I/O modules.

My first suspect for such things would be National Instruments, but I'm sure various others make these things too. These would generally plug into the USB and come with a library so you can controll everything via their subroutines on your PC.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Olin, the cheapest NI board capable of 30 I/Os was this one, but it's 1049 euros. Did you have a cheaper one in mind? \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jun 10 '12 at 12:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't looked. Like I said, 30 outputs is a lot. I used a small USB module from them once that was only like $150. Two or even three of them should have 30 outputs. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 10 '12 at 12:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stevenvh: Like I said, NI is only what came to mind as the first suspect. I'm not specifically recommending their stuff, only passing on the information that they exist and make products in this space. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 10 '12 at 12:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cheaper USB stuff here phidgets.com or mccdaq.com \$\endgroup\$ – kenny Jun 10 '12 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ OP is 15, may not have the wallet for this stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jun 10 '12 at 13:12

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