Tools and Materials
You’ll use a lot of tools, electronic components, and construction materials in Intro to Physical Computing. This page is a guide to how to start shopping for them.
You’ll go through a lot of construction materials in this class. To save money and save the environment, consider reusing materials. Cardboard boxes and used plastic food containers can sometimes make great housings for an electronic prototypes. Paper mat board and cardboard can make great housings and control surfaces. You will save yourself some money in the process if you do this. You’re not expected to make polished, production-ready devices in this class, so don’t waste time and money on high-end plastics and metals when you don’t have to.
You’ll need some electronics components to complete the work in this course. If you’ve done any electronics or microcontroller project development, you may have many of the parts already. We’ll be working with the Arduino microcontroller platform, and you should be able to do the lab exercises for the course on most any Arduino-compatible microcontroller. The labs were written using an Arduino Uno, so that board is compatible with every lab. However, there are several other boards that will work for the labs in this class, including:
- the Leonardo or Micro
- the MKRZero (or any of the MKR boards),
- the SparkFun SAMD21 breakout board and SAMD21 Mini breakout board
- the Adafruit Feather M0 Basic Proto
The last four above are are more capable processors in the same price range that you might see demonstrated in class. You may want to use one of these instead. We have a guide to picking a microcontroller that may be helpful for more information. You can use any variant that you choose, as long as it works. If you’re using a variant that your instructor has never seen, however, you’re on your own. We’ll do our best to support you, but we can’t promise to know every controller on the market.
If you’ve never done any of this before, you might want to get a starter kit. Having tried and evaluated several of the starter kits for Arduino, we recommend two: the Arduino Starter Kit, or the The Adafruit ARDX kit. Both are available from adafruit. The Arduino Starter Kit is available from other distributors as well. While the Adafruit kit is less expensive, the Arduino kit includes a detailed book written by Scott Fitzgerald, who teaches this class. The book contains a series of projects that help you understand not only the electronics, but also what you can do with a microcontroller. If you prefer to shop for your own parts to save a little money, see the list below.
For the in-class lab exercises, when there’s a specialty module needed, like a radio or a specific microcontroller, we’ll have stock on hand to lend for the class period, so you can try things out before you buy them for your own projects.
There are some electronics components available in the physical computing lab cabinet. Please don’t hoard parts, so that we always have some available for everyone. We try to keep more expensive modules, like microcontroller boards and radios, available for loan as well, though there is no guarantee that these will be available right when you need them.
Basic Tool Kit
The shop has tools you can use, but there are a few tools you should pick up for yourself, so you’ve always got a reliable set handy. These are common tools, and you can find them at any electronics retailer or hardware store. Below are a couple of examples of each, from different retailers.
The tools shown above are available from most hardware stores Here are links to part numbers from some of our regular online vendors:
- Mini screwdriver: Sparkfun part; Adafruit part
- Diagonal Cutters: Sparkfun part; Adafruit part; Digikey part
- Wire Stripper tool: Sparkfun part; Adafruit part; Digikey part
- Needle-nosed pliers: Sparkfun part; Adafruit part; Digikey part
- Multimeter: Sparkfun part; Adafruit part; Digikey part; Bluetooth-enabled meter with accessible iOS/Android app
- Drillbit index: Lowe’s part;
If you don’t want to buy a full drill bit index, you should at least pick up the following: 7/64″, 1/8″, 5/16″, 1/4″. You’ll use these a lot, and to avoid other people dulling or breaking your bits, get your own. They’re cheap, and it’ll save you hours of aggravation.
For more information on parts, see the Suppliers page.
Electronic Components Used in All Labs
This page also contains a list of all the components used in all the labs in the syllabus. If you’ve never done any electronics before, you might want to start with a starter kit, like the Arduino Starter Kit, the ARDX kit, or the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit. These contain most all the parts needed for the basic labs in the first half of the semester. You will likely need other components as you develop your own projects. We can’t anticipate the needs for every single project. What appears in the labs is a broad overview of popular sensors and a few actuators.
Below is a list of parts mentioned in all of the labs. You can get the labs done with relatively few parts, as they’re designed to illustrate principles, not to show you how to build a whole project. You will need to buy other parts for your projects, in all likelihood. For those who prefer not to buy a starter kit, here’s the minimum you’d need to understand the principles in the labs. A full spreadsheet of this table, with vendors for comparison, is at this link.,
Parts used in the labsA list of all components used in the labs for Intro to Physical Computing
|Arduino Uno or MKRZero or Feather M0 Basic Proto||1||You might use a couple during the semester|
|22-AWG hook-up wire||Many||We keep spools of this in the shop. You can also buy jumper kits, which man people find useful.|
|Potentiometer||4||you'll use these all the time|
|7805 Voltage regulator||2-3||Useful to create a 5-volt supply without an Arduino|
|LD111733V 3.3V voltage regulator||1-2||Useful to create a 3.3-volt supply without an Arduino|
|Light Emitting Diodes||12-20||get many colors|
|Speaker or Piezo speaker||1-2||You can probably salvage one from junk|
|Resistors||dozens||The most common you'll use are 10-kilohm and 220 ohm, but you'll likely use others as well.|
|TIP120 Transistor||3-4||For controlling high-current loads. The IRF520 transistor is a good alternative.|
|NPN2222||optional||a lower-current transistor.|
|Light dependent resistor||4-6||Photodiodes also work great for this purpose
|Pushbutton/switch||6||There are lots of different kinds, and you'll probably try a few different ones before the semester ends.|
|Tilt switch||optional||fun for motion projects and sometimes an inexpensive alternative to accelerometers|
|force-sensing resistor||2-3||You might use more eventually. These are handy|
|stretch sensor||optional||the top sensor in this image is the stretch sensor|
|TMP36 temperature sensor||optional||An inexpensive temperature sensor that has a linear analog output|
|Capacitors||6-10||get 0.1uF; 1uF; 10uF; and 100uF values|
|L293NE or SN754410 H-bridge||1-2||For controlling DC motors|
|DC motor||1-2||5-12V; 1A or less|
|Incandescent lamp and socket||optional|
|TMP007 temperature sensor||optional||I2C sensor. Not just an analog input. For synchronous serial lab|
|IR distance ranging sensor||optional||useful distance sensor. Bottom sensor in image is IR ranger|
|Ultrasonic ranger||optional||op sensor in image is ultrasonic ranger|
|AD5206 digital potentiometer||optional||for SPI lab|
|Flex sensor||optional||a staple for measuring finger bend|
|DC Power Jack||1||Match your DC power supply. We use 2.1mm inside diameter; 5.5mm O.D. most commonly|
|DC power supply||1||9-12V DC 750 or higher mA. You might have one at home.|