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Introduction to Microcontrollers

Listen to Dr Steven Houben introduce a number of different Microcontrollers
So what we actually use is something called a microcontroller, and a microcontroller essentially is a bridging device that connects to the computer but also to the input and output transducers. And it allows us to program how this input and output should be connected to each other and what the microcontroller should actually do. So the microcontroller essentially is a gateway or a bridge between the physical world and the virtual world. The microcontroller can actually receive and process data directly from sensors. And also control motors, LEDs, displays, and other actuators. It also acts as a bridge in that it sends information to the computer, or other microcontrollers, about these sensors.
But also allows us through the computer to actually program the microcontroller and instruct it in how it should actually interact with these different actuators and sensors. So microcontrollers really come in different forms and shapes,
and for this project we’ll be using the Micro:bit, which you can see in view now. But there’s also other ones like this Arduino, which is very popular. This Smart Citizen Kit which is focused specifically on urban IoT and sensing. We have this Engduino, which was developed for educational purposes at University College London. But we also have ones in different form factors like this Spark one or this one that needs to be assembled so you can break up the little components individually and connect them together. But sort of in a nutshell, we have all of these different form factors available to us. So microcontrollers come in different forms and different shapes.
I really quickly wanted to show some examples of where microcontrollers are used in the real world. So first of all, in the world of robotics, where we need to know where things are we need to be able to move things around, of course microcontrollers and actuators and sensors play a vital role. But also in the world of digital health where we’re increasingly seeing these smart objects, for example the smart drug container. Sensors and actuators are playing a role in how, for example, patients monitor their drug intake. Finally, in education we also see, increasingly, these kind of smart tools that allow children to learn something about the world through interaction with these physical objects.
Where order and placement is very important, and where these sensors help these individual screens detect where the other cubes are.

Dr Steven Houben is a lecturer in Interactive Systems at Lancaster University. He works on topics around cross-device computing, augmented reality, and tangible user interfaces. His work combines human-centred design concepts with new systems, toolkits and interaction techniques.

Listen as he introduces different types of microcontrollers available on the market today and their potential uses.

Have you come across any microcontrollers that Dr Houben has not mentioned?

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