Parts Needed for Physical Computing

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.

Construction Materials

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.

Microcontroller

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 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.

A mini screwdriver. This model has a reversible shaft, so it can operate on both slotted and Phillips screws
Mini screwdriver
handheld diagonal cutter tool.
Diagonal cutters
Wire strippers. The jaws of this wire stripper have multiple hole sizes so that it can strip wires of variable sizes.
Wire stripper tool

 


Needle-nosed pliers
Needle-nosed pliers
Multimeter tool. This tool has a dial to set the function, and three holes into which to plug the testing leads. The leads are currently plugged into the center hole and the right hand hole.
Multimeter tool
Drillbit index. This is a case containing several drillbits, organized by size.
Drillbit index

 


The tools shown above are available from most hardware stores Here are links to part numbers from some of our regular online vendors:

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.

Related video: Basic Tools

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 labs

A list of all components used in the labs for Intro to Physical Computing
ItemPictureQuantityNotes
Arduino Uno or MKRZero or Feather M0 Basic Proto
An Arduino Uno. The USB connector is facing to the left, so that the digital pins are on the top of the image, and the analog pins are on the bottom.
An Arduino Uno.
1You might use a couple during the semester
Solderless breadboard
A short solderless breadboard with two rows of holes along each side. There are no components mounted on the board. The board is oriented sideways so that the long rows of holes are on the top and bottom of the image.
A short solderless breadboard.
2-3
22-AWG hook-up wire
Three short pieces of hookup wire: one is clad in red insulation, one in blue, and one in black. All three have exposed ends approximately 5mm long.
Three short pieces of hookup wire
ManyWe keep spools of this in the shop. You can also buy jumper kits, which man people find useful.
Potentiometer
Potentiometer. The one shown here has three legs spaced 0.1 inches apart and can be therefore mounted on a solderless breadboard.
Potentiometer
4you'll use these all the time
7805 Voltage regulator
5-volt regulator, model 7805. This component has three legs and a tab at the top with a hole in it. If you hold the component with the tab at the top and the bulging side of the component facing you, the legs will be arranged, from left to right, voltage input, ground, and voltage output.
5-volt voltage regulator, model 7805
2-3Useful to create a 5-volt supply without an Arduino
LD111733V 3.3V voltage regulator
3.3-volt regulator, model LD111733V. This component has three legs and a tab at the top with a hole in it. If you hold the component with the tab at the top and the bulging side of the component facing you, the legs will be arranged, from left to right, ground, voltage output, and voltage input. The back tab is attached to the voltage output pin.
3.3V voltage regulator
1-2Useful to create a 3.3-volt supply without an Arduino
Light Emitting Diodes
LEDs. Shown here are four LEDs. The one on the right is an RGB LED. You can tell this because it has four legs, while the others have only two legs.
LEDs. Shown here are four LEDs. The one on the right is an RGB LED. You can tell this because it has four legs, while the others have only two legs.
12-20get many colors
Speaker or Piezo speaker
An 8 ohm speaker with 2 wires solder to the speakers leads
An 8 ohm speaker
1-2You can probably salvage one from junk
Resistors
Resistors. Shown here are 220-ohm resistors. You can tell this because they have two red and one brown band, followed by a gold band.
Resistors. Shown here are 220-ohm resistors. You can tell this because they have two red and one brown band, followed by a gold band.
dozensThe most common you'll use are 10-kilohm and 220 ohm, but you'll likely use others as well.
TIP120 Transistor
TIP120 transistor. The transistor here has the same physical package as the voltage regulators shown above. It has three legs and a tab at the top with a hole in it. The tab is the back of the component. If you hold the component with the tab at the top and the bulging side of the component facing you, the legs will be arranged, from left to right, base, collector, emitter. The only way to know the difference between two components of the same package is to read the label on the package, unfortunately. This one is labeled TIP120.
TIP120 transistor
3-4For controlling high-current loads. The IRF520 transistor is a good alternative.
NPN2222
Photo of an NPN2222 transistor. This component has a black body approximately 0.2 in. (5mm) wide. It has three legs. When you are holding the flat side of the component facing you and the legs pointing down, the pins are, from  left to right,  collector, base, emitter
NPN2222 transistor
optionala lower-current transistor.
Light dependent resistor
Photocell, or light-dependent resistor. This component has a round top and two wire legs. You measure the resistance between the two legs and expose the top to a varying light source in order to vary the resistance between the two legs.
Photocell, or light-dependent resistor
4-6Photodiodes also work great for this purpose
Pushbutton/switch
Pushbuttons. These ones are designed to be mounted on a solderless breadboard. They have four legs spaced 0.2 inches apart on both sides of the component.
Pushbuttons, also called momentary switches
6There are lots of different kinds, and you'll probably try a few different ones before the semester ends.
Tilt switch
Tilt switch. This is a small tube with metal contacts at one end and a ball inside. When the ball is tilted towards the two metal contacts, it closes the switch.
Tilt switch
optionalfun for motion projects and sometimes an inexpensive alternative to accelerometers
force-sensing resistor
Force-sensing resistor (FSR). These sensors have a resistive rubber inside that changes its resistance depending on the force with which you press on the sensor. The one shown is a flat disc about 5cm in diameter
Force-sensing resistor
2-3You might use more eventually. These are handy
stretch sensor
Resistive sensors. Stretch sensor, top; flex sensor, middle; force-sensing resistor, bottom
Resistive sensors. Stretch sensor, top; flex sensor, middle; force-sensing resistor, bottom
optionalthe top sensor in this image is the stretch sensor
power diodes
Diodes. Shown here are 1N400x power diodes.
Diodes. Shown here are 1N400x power diodes.
4-6
TMP36 temperature sensor
Photo of a TMP36 temperature sensor. This component has a black body approximately 0.2 in. (5mm) wide. It has three legs. When you are holding the flat side of the component facing you and the legs pointing down, the pins are, from left to right, Voltage in, output, ground.
A TMP36 temperature sensor
optionalAn inexpensive temperature sensor that has a linear analog output
Capacitors
Ceramic capacitor. This component has a disc top and two wire legs. You measure the capacitance between the two legs. Ceramic disc capacitors like this are generally low-capacitance components.
Ceramic disc capacitors
6-10get  0.1uF; 1uF; 10uF; and 100uF values
L293NE or SN754410 H-bridge
This component is a small rectangle with eight pins on each of the two long sides. There is a small round depression on the upper left corner of the rectangle, and a semicirular dip in the middle of the top.
H-bridge IC, L293D
1-2For controlling DC motors
DC motor
DC toy motor, hobby size. This motor is a metal tube with flattened sides, approximately 2 in. (5cm) long. a thin shaft at one end spins when the motor is on. Two small metal tabs or wires protrude from the other end to connect the motor to your circuit.
Small DC motor, 130 size
1-25-12V; 1A or less
RC servomotor
Servomotor. This is a rectangular motor with a round shaft protruding from one of the narrow sides. a wire connector protrudes from the diagonally opposite corner. The motor is approximately 1.t5 inches square (about 4cm) by half an inch thick (about 1cm). The shaft connects to one of several plastic horns so you can attach it to things you want to move. When turned by hand, the shaft will only turn 180 degrees.
a small RC Servomotor
1-2
Stepper motor
Photo of three stepper motors. The center one is opened up to show the coils inside.
Stepper motor
optional
Incandescent lamp and socket
Small Incandescent lamp bulb and socket
Small Incandescent lamp bulb and socket
optional
Accelerometer/Gyrometer
An ADXL335 accelerometer module. There are six pins along the bottom, labeled GND, Z, Y, X, 3V, and ST (left to right)
An ADXL335 accelerometer module.
optional
TMP007 temperature sensoroptionalI2C sensor. Not just an analog input. For synchronous serial lab
IR distance ranging sensor
Ranging sensors: ultrasonic ranger, top; infrared ranger, bottom.
Ranging sensors: ultrasonic ranger, top; infrared ranger, bottom.
optionaluseful distance sensor. Bottom sensor in image is IR ranger
Ultrasonic ranger
Ranging sensors: ultrasonic ranger, top; infrared ranger, bottom.
Ranging sensors: ultrasonic ranger, top; infrared ranger, bottom.
optionalop sensor in image is ultrasonic ranger
AD5206 digital potentiometer
This component is a small rectangle with several pins on each of the two long sides. There is a small round depression on the upper left corner of the rectangle, and a semicircular dip in the middle of the top.
Digital Potentiometer
optionalfor SPI lab
Flex sensor
Photo of a flex sensor. A plastic strip approx. 0.25 inches wide by 6 inches long, with pins at one end. When you bend the sensor, the resistance between the pins changes
Flex sensor
optionala staple for measuring finger bend
DC Power Jack
A DC power jack. It pairs with a plug with a 2.1mm inside diameter, 5.5mm outside diameter plug, and has screw terminals on the back so that you can attach wires to it.
A DC Power Jack
1Match your DC power supply. We use 2.1mm inside diameter; 5.5mm O.D. most commonly
DC power supply
Photo of a DC power supply. A rectangular block approximately 2 inches by 3 inches with plugs to plug into the wall. A wire extends from the plug to connect with your circuit.
DC Power Supply
19-12V DC 750 or higher mA. You might have one at home.

 

Originally written on August 22, 2014 by Tom Igoe
Last modified on August 17, 2018 by Tom Igoe