Thursday, January 23, 2014

So, why Arduino?

So, why Arduino?

I first heard of Arduino in 2012 while attending a lecture on the invention of mobile credit card readers.  (like the Square or Paypal's blue triangle). These devices simply plug into the audio port on smartphones or tablets and allow users to accept credit card payments almost anywhere. The gentleman giving the lecture (I'm sorry his name escapes me) explained that his goal had been to invent a card reader that would work on any cell phone or tablet. This is not an easy task when you consider that an Apple iPad does not have much in common with a Samsung Galaxy, or an LG phone. About the only item that all smart phones, whether it be Apple, Samsung, LG, etc., have in common and that function almost the same across all devices is the audio jack.

So, here is the puzzle, how do you read the magnetic strip from a credit card, containing numbers, into an audio port which only transmits sound? The answer, drum roll please, is you convert the credit card numbers into musical tones, and create a sort of individualized credit card song. This "song" is then transmitted through the audio port to an app or website on the device, which in turn runs a program to translate the musical tones back into numbers. The platform they used to experiment with and eventually prototype this device was, of course, the Arduino. 

At that time, I was more intrigued by the idea that an average person could invent something so cool than by the Arduino platform that they had used. But, the idea of being able to build things so easily with electronics and a microcontroller stuck in my head.

So, now let's fast forward to December 2013, just last month, and let me introduce a new character to my story… my mailman. My mail delivery service is so erratic that I never know when my mail is going to arrive.  Some nights we can go to the mailbox 2 or 3 times to check, before the mail is actually delivered. One day, out of frustration, I googled "snail mail notifier". And, up pops a YouTube video created by Felix Rusu of LowPowerLab.

Felix uses an Arduino clone of his own called a Moteino. Moteino's are very small, relatively inexpensive and use an RF signal to communicate.

With 2 Moteinos (one to send the signal and the other to receive), a sensor and a few other components, Felix receives a text message on his cell phone whenever the mail is delivered. Oh my, I want to build a mailbox notifier!!!

I quickly decided that Felix's gizmo is just a little too advanced for me, so I started out on my journey to learn Arduino.


  1. What do you think about using the Arduino mailbox notifier for other applications? send a text message when the garage door is opened so you know you shut it when you left for work?

  2. Great idea! ...Felix already thought of that. Check out the GarageMote.

    "GarageMote is a garage door controller shield kit for Moteino that can be used to remotely control a garage door from anywhere on the web or from your smartphone. There are commercial solutions that offer the same thing, but are more integrated with the opener. This solution requires installing this device on your garage opener."