Entry into Hardware programming - Advice Please

First let me go ahead and say I understand this type of question probably comes through often and I want whoever reading this to know that I have put in time and effort looking for answers. I am just about ready to make a decision but would like to turn to the Spark community for words of wisdom before making the leap.

I am a web developer currently working on a Bachelor in Software Development. The remaining part of my schooling will be Java and OOP. I have a fascination for the IoT movement and experimenting with programming devices has been on my list of things to do.

If any of you would be kind enough to provide advice on necessary items / purchases to get off on a great start I would sincerely appreciate it. I know of the PI, Arduino, Spark Core and Photon but I have no experience with any of them so this is a fresh entry. I want the experience to be enjoyable so avoiding roadblocks such as

  1. ordering some items
  1. receiving items and diving in...

" ..ah man! I had no idea I was going to need that and that "
buzz kill

would be ideal.

Just to paint the picture of what ideas I currently have:

  • making a temp controlled switch for my fireplace fan
  • NFC controlled pet food bowls
  • sound/motion sensing mole activity logger for backyard
  • internet controlled rover w/video (possibly with cellular connection too)
  • robotics

Like I said, I appreciate any advice. Thanks

My suggestion would be to break your projects up into parts:
temp controlled switch for my fireplace fan
You need to:

  • Control your fan. Is it AC or DC?
  • Sense temperature. Are we sensing the fire and need something high heat or something like room temp sensing?
  • Power your project. Is there an outlet nearby or are we running on batteries
  • Wifi? Do you need internet for the project? If so, you’ll need a SparkCore. If not you could use a SparkCore or another Arduino / microcontroller

sound/motion sensing mole activity logger for backyard
You need to:

  • Sense sound and/or motion: will a PIR sensor pickup something as tiny as a mole? I don’t know.
  • Log the activity. You could either log to a SD card or on the internet

internet controlled rover w/video (possibly with cellular connection too)
You need

  • A reliable internet connection for video sending. Think bandwidth and transfer speed. The SparkCore is probably too slow to do wireless video; think more along the lines of a pi
  • A rover. Do you mind spending the cash for pre-built or do you want to make it yourself?

My advice to you, for those just getting into mechatronics is to pick a project, research it heavily, plan, then order your parts.

If you would like a list of stuff that’s great to keep on hand:

  • Several microcontrollers. Grab a few SparkCores and some cheap Arduino nanos or Teensys
  • A motor controller of some kind. You never know when you will want to control one or two motors
  • A temp sensor. Both analog (thermsistor) and digital (DS18B20)
  • Motion sensor. PIR sensor
  • Breadboards. Both big and small
  • Extension wires. Both male to male and female to female are useful
  • Servos. You can’t have enough. Buy some big ones and micro ones

Hopefully that’ll get you started! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!


The Spark Maker kit is also a good place to start of with. It contains several interessting items, which make for a good starter projects. Temp sensor, light sensor, tilt sensor are all good things to begin with.


I completely forgot about that kit! Silly me. I just looked up a seller and it looks like you can get it (although it’s a little pricey) here: http://www.makershed.com/products/maker-kit-with-chip-antenna-core

As @Moors7 says below: Consider the Spark Store! I must be having a slow day, I completely missed the kit on the store.

Also, I’m super frugal so $100 seems like a lot but for beginners the Maker Kit is a great buy!

This MIGHT be an obvious one, but what about the Spark Store :sweat_smile:?


@harrisonhjones & @Moors7 - I really appreciate your prompt responses and advice. I just needed that little bit of clarification. From a absolute beginner stand point I am excited to get started and was mainly interested in the general components to start out with. The project ideas I listed are just some actual ideas I’ve thought of without getting too deep into the research of bringing them to life. I really just want to get started playing around and then see where the creative flow leads. I’m thinking I’ll go ahead and get the Maker Kit to get started and hopefully I’ll enjoy it enough to grow into the Photon related items come March. @harrisonhjones, when you say ‘motor controller’ would that be like the Motion Shield (IDEO)?

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The IDEO would work and be a great prototyping platform. I am also a fan of cheap eBay motor controllers (eBay Search)

Example: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Stepper-Motor-Drive-Controller-Board-Module-L298N-Dual-H-Bridge-DC-For-Arduino-/170926726867?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item27cc06ded3