An electronics starter kit for the Raspberry PI.
Cost: €48 (approx) from Amazon
My knowledge of electronics was basic and was in need of refreshing, thus the boredom of the Covid-19 lockdown meant I had time to put my old Raspberry PI to some meaningful and educational use. We also work with Raspberry PIs at work, so it was useful to find out how to do more with them than just some basic Python scripts or run a server. So, with all this in mind, it was time to have some fun with what would previously have been almost high school level electronics? Which, incidentally, was about the last time I got to play around seriously with raw electronics and the various calculations involved.
The Freenove Ultimate starter kit promises 223 elements and 57 solderless projects for your Raspberry PI. You can programme in C and Python – I have not tried Java. The projects range from simple LED lights through to more complex ones involving motors, sensors and simple 7-segment displays. It comes with a link to download a PDF how-to guide which takes you through setting everything up through several chapters which provide you with code and instructions for each example they propose. While you can do the tutorials without any actual knowledge of C or Python, in order to get the most out of the bundle, it’s best to have a little knowledge and practical experience of both languages. Each example comes with the relevant code, but it is not so interesting if you just load and run it. Fortunately, they provide some explanations of what the code does, but again it’s even better if you can spend a little more time understanding and, in some cases, changing it yourself.
The instructions provided give you a nice overview of the key knowledge you require, for that example. The instructions explain the basics of electronics and/or the components involved. For example, outlining what exactly a resistor is through to how the 7-segment display work. Most of the time, the examples worked flawlessly, however, a couple of times there seemed to be something amiss and it took a while to figure out what was going on. Generally, though, the instructions are excellent.
As for the components, you get everything you need from a solder less breadboard and jumpers and the actual items you need, for that example. It is hard to believe that you can get so much for the money. All the components seem of good enough quality and don’t just get used once and fail. Indeed, the kit has now provided me with a stock of components I can use for my own projects. If you had to source them yourself and lacked enough knowledge to do so, then you would spend hours to do so. So the time saving itself is worth it.
The projects vary quite a lot, from basic LEDs, through to more interesting 7-segment displays. There are also some other interesting ones involving sonar for measuring distance, temperature and humidity. Motor controls are also provided, and make it clear just how easy it is to do such things (well, most of the time). For the gamers out there, there is even a (very basic) example of a joystick.
If you want to get the best out of the kit, then some good things to focus on are how the PI GPIO port, when combined with the programming language you use, can drive your electronics projects. For example, how it can be used to activate the circuits, provide timings and overall be used to control the system. If you do this in tandem with understanding the electronics, then you will get the most out of this extensive Raspberry PI and electronics mix.
PIs and Developer Tools
When I started using the Kit, I only had a stock (really old) Raspberry PI model B (the original one). Officially, this does not work with the kit, however, it can be done once you understand the shortened GPIO pin-out. I will put another article about this online later (but a quick Google will provide you with enough information). I also tested the kit using both direct programming on the PI (under Linux) and via remote deployment using PyCharm from my Mac. The latter also worked without any issues.
Why Buy It?
Besides being a nice bit of kit, it is a great way to get into, or remind yourself of, the basics in electronics in a fun way. It is good for adults as much as it is for teenagers. Also, once you are finished with the lessons, the sheer number of components means that you are well equipped to start your own projects from scratch.
In the end, I had a lot of fun with this kit. I refreshed my knowledge, and I learned some new stuff! Plus the fact everything comes bundled together with instructions made it far easier to get my head around than having to source all the components myself and learn via the power of Google search. Do I recommend? Yes.