Remember when you were a kid, and you took apart the VCR to see what magic made it work? You may not have figured it out right then, but nonetheless, the electronics bug bit you. And now here you are, an adult—no less bitten or smitten—looking to create the magic that mesmerized you so long ago.
By now, you’ve certainly learned that electronics aren’t a result of magic, but of a lot of math, designing, and testing. The journey from light bulb moment to functioning prototype is arduous and fraught with glitches to work out. Development boards are a tool that can prevent some of those glitches and save you a lot of time that would be spent troubleshooting and retesting.
Many of the devices and appliances in your household have a computer in them that dictates certain functions. Whether it be your dishwasher, oven, or car, they all have chips in them that send and receive signals and process them into functions. The computer in them is the brains of the machine. Without that computer—also known as a microcontroller—your machine or appliance is a large paperweight.
The microcontroller is an integrated circuit (IC) device with a microprocessor on it. Microcontrollers have ancillary hardware that undergirds them, which you—the designer—can’t see. It also has auxiliary parts and ports that allow the microcontroller to connect and communicate to external inputs and outputs.
Via software, you program the controller to dictate what its function is. With an integrated development environment—or IDE—programming controllers isn’t hard. The IDE provides a streamlined process to programming that makes it easier for beginners who are just learning to grasp coding and lingo.
Even with the ease provided by IDEs, an understanding of coding and different languages will help you a long way. If you want to develop electronics for more than a hobby, then consider entering a coding, electronic engineering, or web design program.
Even though the microcontroller is the brain that allows a device to perform a certain function, what is a brain without nerves? Circuitry? It’s a vegetable. If you’re not already a wiz at creating circuit boards, then you will want to try development boards.
What Is A Development Board?
The circuitry that animates the microcontroller is complex, making designing it more suited to an electrical engineer than a hobbyist or beginner. This is where development boards can save you a lot of headaches and time.
Development boards aren’t a magic wand that will do all of the work for you, but they surely lighten your load. Development boards are preprinted circuit boards—also called PCBs. These circuit boards come wired and ready to put to work—saving you the painstaking process of doing your own circuitry.
The problem with doing your own circuitry is that it draws out the testing process of your prototype. Why? Because you never know whether it’s circuitry or the device that is misfiring. This means that you have to reconfigure the circuitry of the board and test your overall prototype for every miscue.
Since development boards come with the circuitry already configured, that’s one possible glitch eliminated from testing.
What Type Of Development Board Is Best for You?
Choosing a development board is difficult because there are so many types and brands to choose from. The board you choose needs to match up with the functions you want your electronic device to perform.
One simple—but important—thing to keep in mind when selecting a board is the size of the board. You need to make sure that it will actually fit inside of whatever you’re making. The development board will do you no good if it won’t even fit into what you’re creating. It sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised how many beginners don’t factor that in and end up with the wrong board.
You also need to factor in your experience and what type of microcontroller you need in your decision. Controllers like those made by Raspberry Pi and Arduino are popular because they’re ideal for hobbyists and beginners.
They’re easy to program and come with peripherals like LEDs, USB ports, and LCD lights. Those components being included and circuited eliminates a lot of guesswork for inexperienced makers.
If you’re a hobbyist or beginner, then you should use development boards until you fully grasp the process of circuiting. Lingering too long in one phase of a project is discouraging and can cause you to lose interest in your hobby.