Getting started with embedded programming has traditionally been quite difficult. Outside of university courses, there hasn’t been much available in the way of accessible instruction. That’s a situation that is rapidly changing. If you want to ultimately design, build, and code your own hardware, here’s an outline of the first steps you need to take.
‘C’ is one of the most powerful and versatile programming languages out there. If you don’t know any coding yet, then we would recommend that you start with a simpler language like Java, Python, or Perl. Learning a simpler language first will enable you to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of coding and will make learning more complex languages considerably easier.
Get Yourself a Raspberry Pi
Once you have gained an understanding of the basics of C development, you should then invest in a Raspberry Pi. The Pi is one of the best learning tools out there for anyone who wants to learn about practical programming and hardware design. The Pi is a microcontroller that can be used as the basis for any number of potential projects.
A Raspberry Pi starter kit will come with a case and other peripherals, depending on how much you are willing to spend. You can always add more components and peripherals to it later, as there’s a lot of stuff out there for the Pi. For example, if you add in a USB gamepad, you can easily turn your Pi into a full-fledged home console loaded with all the emulators and ROMs you need to play decades of classic games.
Experiment with Custom PCBs
If you want to ultimately design and build your own hardware, then you are going to have to learn about PCBs. Printed circuit boards are at the heart of all modern electronics. They have been around for some time, but they are now remarkably cheap and easy to mass-produce.
There are plenty of tutorials online that will teach you the ropes of PCBs and their design. Couple this with PCB design software and you can really get to know how they function on a physical level. Upverter provides a free browser-based option, but there are plenty out there.
Choose Components and Check Their Datasheets
Datasheets for electronic components contain all of the technical details about that component. For someone with no experience, they may as well be written in another language. However, if you are looking to ultimately build your own electronics from scratch, then you are going to have to learn to love these datasheets.
There are a number of places you can find datasheets online, but we would recommend Octopart. It is a search engine for electronics components that makes finding datasheets easy, and can also connect you with retailers who sell the parts you need. They can hook you up with components from a range of manufacturers, including ILP Electronics, Phoenix Contact, and TE Connectivity. They will be a very handy resource when you start building your own hardware.
The ability to produce your own custom hardware at a relatively inexpensive price is a new phenomenon. It used to be prohibitively difficult and expensive to gather the necessary resources, but today, anyone with enough determination can do it.