I love to read through project suggestions and examples for the Arduino and other platforms. It keeps my mind constantly running with ideas for projects. I was recently provided a copy of Environmental Monitoring with Arduino to review and it doesn’t disappoint in keeping the idea train running.
Environmental Monitoring with Arduino: Building Simple Devices to Collect Data About the World Around Us, written by Emily Gertz and Patrick Di Justo and published by O’Reilly’s Maker Press, presents a great set of projects centered around the Arduino and sensing the environment around you. The book won’t give you any great insight if you are already fairly knowledgeable on electronics but is a great introduction to many concepts if you are getting started. The book even opens with a chapter to introduce you to the basics of the Arduino board, setting up the Arduino Integrated Development Environment, and writing some basic code.
The next couple chapters give the reader their first taste of sensing their world and providing feedback. The reader is introduced to perceiving sound with a microphone, sensing electromagnetic radiation, and detecting the conductivity of water. These first couple chapters also give the reader a familiarity with a couple different ways to indicate the value the sensors are measuring. We are introduced to output using an LED bar graph, a seven-segment display, a speaker, and serial output to a computer.
The last few chapters start bringing in more complex notions for collecting and sharing data. First we learn the basics of using the Arduino Ethernet shield to connect your Arduino to a network. In the Arduino world, a shield is a daughter-board designed to plug into the top of the standard Arduino board footprint. The Ethernet shield gives the user a great interface from the Arduino to the outside world and is on my personal list of shields to buy. There are also chapters detailing how to share data on Pachube, including geiger counter readings.
The chapters include example code, also available on GitHub, and step-by-step instructions for making connections to a breadboard. The book doesn’t feature any schematics, which is great for someone that has never approached the subject before, but I think it misses an opportunity for teaching the reader about the basics of schematics. I do, however, understand the reasoning for not including that as part of the tutorials at this beginner level.
The use of this book as a jumping off point could have used a little help. For example, the LED bar graph uses 10 pins on the Arduino, which is great for an introductory example. However, a good point for that chapter’s “Things To Try” section would have been to suggest using two 595 serial-to-parallel shift registers to drive the LEDs, using up only 3 IO pins on the Arduino. If you have readers that are so new that schematics are avoided, they could be helped a great deal with the knowledge of the existence of something like those useful little ICs.
These critiques are minor in comparison to the ability to ignite the imagination of readers new to the Arduino and computing with data sensed from the environment. One of the things I love is the mantra to document your code, save your code frequently, and backup your code. I also enjoyed the encouragement to experiment and the way the projects are designed in such a way that you can easily combine sensors or mix sensors and output techniques. This keeps in-line with the expectations of a book from Maker Press and O’Reilly that really encourage experimentation and exploration. Overall, if you are already fairly knowledgeable on Arduinos and sensors you probably won’t gain much from this book. However, if you are new to the Arduino or are looking to start with the Arduino, I would put Environmental Monitoring with Arduino: Building Simple Devices to Collect Data About the World Around Us on my list of books to get help get started.