First Look and Blinking Lights

19 min read

 This article, by Tony Olsson, the author of the book, Arduino Wearable Projects, explains the Arduino platform based on three different aspects: software, hardware, and the Arduino philosophy.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

The hardware is the Arduino board, and there are multiple versions available for different needs. Here, we will be focusing on Arduino boards that were made with wearables in mind. The software used to program the boards is also known as the Arduino IDE. IDE stands for Integrated Development Environment, which are programs used to write programs in programming code. The programs written for the board are known as sketches, because the idea aids how to write programs and works similar to a sketchpad. If you have an IDE, you can quickly try it out in code. This is also a part of the Arduino philosophy. Arduino is based on the open source philosophy, which also reflects on how we learn about Arduino. Arduino has a large community, and there are tons of projects to learn from.

First, we have the Arduino hardware, which we will use to build all the examples along with different additional electronic components. When the Arduino projects started back in 2005, there was only one piece of headwear to speak of, which was the serial Arduino board. Since then, there have been several iterations of this board, and it has inspired new designs of the Arduino hardware to fit different needs. If you are familiar with Arduino for a while, you probably started out with the standard Arduino board. Today, there are different Arduino boards that fit different needs, and there are countless clones available for specific purposes. In this article, we will be using different specialized Arduino boards the FLORA board.

The Arduino software that is Arduino IDE is what we will use to program our projects. The IDE is the software used to write programs for the hardware. Once a program is compiled in the IDE, it will upload it to the Arduino board, and the processor on the board will do whatever your program says. Arduino programs are also known as sketches. The name sketches is borrowed from another open source project and software called Processing. Processing was developed as a tool for digital artists, where the idea was to use Processing as a digital sketchpad.

The idea behind sketches and other aspects of Arduino is what we call the Arduino philosophy, and this is the third thing that makes Arduino. Arduino is based on open source, which is a type of licensing model where you are free to develop you own designs based on the original Arduino board. This is one of the reasons why you can find so many different models and clones of the Arduino boards. Open source is also a philosophy that allows ideas and knowledge to be shared freely. The Arduino community has grown strong, and there are many great resources to be found, and Arduino friends to be made.

The only problem may be where to start? This is based on a project that will take you from the start, all the way to a finished “prototype”. I call all the project prototypes because these are not finished products. As your knowledge progresses, you can develop new sketches to run on you prototypes, develop new functions, or change the physical appearance to fit your needs and preferences.

In this article, you will have a look at:

  • Installing the IDE
  • Working with the IDE and writing sketches
  • The FLORA board layout
  • Connecting the FLORA board to the computer
  • Controlling and connecting LEDs to the FLORA board


This is all about wearables, which are defined as computational devices that are worn on the body. A computational device is something that can make calculations of any sort. Some consider mechanical clocks to be the first computers, since they make calculations on time. According to this definition, wearables have been around for centuries, if you think about it. Pocket watches were invented in the 16th century, and a watch is basically as small device that calculates time. Glasses are also an example of wearable technology that can be worn on your head, which have also been around for a long time. Even if glasses do not fit our more specified definition of wearables, they serve as a good example of how humans have modified materials and adapted their bodies to gain new functionality. If we are cold, we dress in clothing to keep us warm, if we break a leg, we use crutches to get around, or even if an organ fails, we can implant a device that replicates their functionality. Humans have a long tradition of developing technology to extend the functionality of the human body.

With the development of technology for the army, health care, and professional sport, wearables have a long tradition. But in recent years, more and more devices have been developed for the consumer market. Today, we have smart watches, smart glasses, and different types of smart clothing.

Here, we will carry on this ancient tradition and develop some wearable projects for you to learn about electronics and programming. Some of these projects are just for fun and some have a specific application. If you are already familiar with Arduino, you can pick any project and get started.

Installing and using software

The projects will be based on different boards made by the company Adafruit. Later in this article, we will take a look at one of these boards, called the FLORA, and explain the different parts. These boards come with a modified version of the Arduino IDE, which we will be using in the article. The Adafruit IDE looks exactly the same as the Arduino IDE. The FLORA board, for example, is based on the same microprocessor as the Arduino Leonardo board and can be used with the standard Arduino IDE but programmed using the Leonardo board option. With the use of the Adafruit IDE the FLORA board is properly named. The Adafruit version of the IDE comes preloaded with the necessary libraries for programming these boards, so there is no need to install them separately.

For downloading and instructions on installing the IDE, head over to the Adafruit website and follow the steps on the website:

Make sure to download the software corresponding to your operating system. The process for installing the software depends on your operating system. These instructions may change over time and may be different for different versions of the operating system. The installation is a very straightforward process if you are working with OS X. On Windows, you will need to install some additional USB drivers. The process for installing on Linux depends on which distribution you are using. For the latest instructions, take a look at the Arduino website for the different operating systems.

The Arduino IDE

On the following website, you can find the original Arduino IDE if you need it in the future. Here, you will be fine sticking with the Adafruit version of the IDE, since the most common original Arduino boards are also supported. The following is the link for downloading the Arduino software:

First look at the IDE

The IDE is where we will be doing all of our programming. The first time you open up the IDE, it should look like Figure 1.1:

Arduino Wearable Projects

Figure 1.1: The Arduino IDE

The main white area of the IDE is blank when you open a new sketch, and this is the area of the IDE where we will write our code later on. First, we need to get familiar with the functionality of the IDE.

At the top left of the IDE, you will find five buttons. The first one, which looks like a check sign, is the compile button. When you press this button, the IDE will try to compile the code in your sketch, and if it succeeds, you will get a message in the black window at the bottom of you IDE that should look similar to this:

Arduino Wearable Projects

Figure 1.2: The compile message window

When writing code in an IDE, we will be using what is known as a third-level programming language. The problem with microprocessors on Arduino boards is that they are very hard to communicate with using their native language, and this is why third-level languages have been developed with human readable commands. The code you will see later needs to be translated into code that the Arduino board understands, and this is what is done when we compile the code. The compile button also makes a logical check of your code so that it does not contain any errors. If you have any errors, the text in the black box in the IDE will appear in red, indicating the line of code that is wrong by highlighting it in yellow. Don’t worry about errors. They are usually misspelling errors and they happen a lot even to the most experienced programmers. One of the error messages can be seen in the following screenshot:

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Figure 1.3: Error message in the compile window

Adjacent to the compile button, you will find the Upload button. Once this button is pressed, it does the same thing as the compile button, and if your sketch is free from errors, it will send the code from your computer to the board:

Arduino Wearable Projects

Figure 1.4: The quick buttons

The next three buttons are quick buttons for opening a new sketch, opening an old sketch, or saving your sketch. Make sure to save your sketches once in a while when working on them. If something happens and the IDE closes unexpectedly, it does not autosave, so manually saving once in a while is always a good idea.

At the far right of the IDE you will find a button that looks like a magnifying glass. This is used to open the Serial monitor. This button will open up a new window that lets you see the communication form from, and to, the computer and the board

At the top of the screen you will find a classic application menu, which may look a bit different depending on your operating system, but will follow the same structure. Under File, you will find the menu for opening your previous sketches and different example sketches that come with the IDE, as shown in Figure 1.5. Under Edit, you will find different options and quick commands for editing your code. In Sketch, you can find the same functions as in the buttons in the IDE window:

Arduino Wearable Projects

Figure 1.5: The File menu

Under Tools, you will find two menus that are very important to keep track of when uploading sketches to your board. Navigate to Tools | Board and you will find many different types of Arduino boards. In this menu, you will need to select the type of board you are working with. Under Tools | Serial port, you will need to select the USB port which you have connected to your board. Depending on your operating system, the port will be named differently. In Windows, they are named COM*. On OS X, they are named /dev/tty.****:

Arduino Wearable Projects

Figure 1.6: The Tools menu

Since there may be other things inside your computer also connected to a port, these will also show up in the list. The easiest way to figure out which port is connected to your board is to:

  1. Plug you board in to your computer using a USB cable.
  2. Then check the Serial port list and remember which port is occupied.
  3. Unplug the board and check the list again.
  4. The board missing in the list is the port where your board is connected. Plug your board back in and select it in the list. All Arduino boards connected to you computer will be given a new number.

In most cases, when your sketch will not upload to you board, you have either selected the wrong board type or serial port in the tools menu.

Getting to know you board

As mentioned earlier, we will not be using the standard Uno Arduino boards, which is the board most people think of when they hear Arduino board. Most Arduino variations and clones use the same microprocessors as the standard Arduino boards, and it is the microprocessors that are the heart of the board. As long as they use the same microprocessors, they can be programmed as normal by selecting the corresponding standard Arduino board in the Tools menu. In our case, we will be using a modified version of the Arduino IDE, which features the types of boards we will be using. What sets other boards apart from the standard Uno Arduino boards is usually the form factor of the board and pin layout. We will be using a board called the FLORA. This board was created with wearables in mind. The FLORA is based on the same chip used in the Arduino Leonardo board, but uses a much smaller form factor and has been made round to ease the use in a wearable context. You can complete all the projects using most Arduino boards and clones, but remember that the code and construction of the project may need some modifying.

The FLORA board

In the following Figure 1.7 you will find the FLORA board:

Arduino Wearable Projects

Figure 1.7: The FLORA board

The biggest difference to normal Arduino boards besides the form factor is the number of pins available. The pins are the copper-coated areas at the edge of the FLORA. The form factor of the pins on FLORA boards is also a bit different from other Arduino boards. In this case, the pin holes and soldering pads are made bigger on FLORA boards so they can be easily sewn into garments, which is common when making wearable projects. The larger pins also make it easier to prototype with alligator clips. The pins available on the FLORA are as follows, starting from the right of the USB connector, which is located at the top of the board in the preceding Figure 1.7:

The pins available on the FLORA are as follows, starting from the right of the USB connector, which is located at the top of the board in Figure 1.7:

  • 3.3V: Regulated 3.3 volt output at a 100mA max
  • D10: Is both a digital pin 10 and an analog pin 10 with PWM
  • D9: Is both a digital pin 9 and an analog pin 9 with PWM
  • GND: Ground pin
  • D6: Is both a digital pin 6 and an analog pin 7 with PWM
  • D12: Is both a digital pin 12 and an analog pin 11
  • VBATT: Raw battery voltage, can be used for as battery power output
  • GND: Ground pin
  • TX: Transmission communication pin or digital pin 1
  • RX: Receive communication pin or digital pin 0
  • 3.3V: Regulated 3.3 volt output at a 100mA max
  • SDA: Communication pin or digital pin 2
  • SCL: Clock pin or digital pin 3 with PWM

As you can see, most of the pins have more than one function. The most interesting pins are the D* pins. These are the pins we will use to connect to other components. These pins can either be a digital pin or an analog pin. Digital pins operate only in 1 or 0, which mean that they can be only On or Off. You can receive information on these pins, but again, this is only in terms of on or off.

The pins marked PWM have a special function, which is called Pulse Width Modulation. On these pins, we can control the output voltage level. The analog pins, however, can handle information in the range from 0 to 1023.

The 3.3V pins are used to power any components connected to the board. In this case, an electronic circuit needs to be completed, and that’s why there are two GND pins. In order to make an electronic circuit, power always needs to go back to where it came from. For example, if you want to power a motor, you need power from a power source connected via a cable, with another cable directing the power back to the power source, or the motor will not spin.

TX, RX, SDA, and SCL are pins used for communication, dealing with more complex sensors. The VBATT pin can be used to output the same voltage as your power source, which you connect to the connector located at the bottom of the FLORA board shown in Figure 1.7.

Other boards

In Figure 1.8 you will find the other board types we will be using:

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Figure 1.8: The Gemma, Trinket and Trinket pro board

In Figure 1.8, the first one from the left is the Gemma board. In the middle, you will find the Trinket board, and to the right, you have the Trinket pro board. Both the Gemma and Trinket board are based on the ATtiny85 microprocessor, which is a much smaller and cheaper processor, but comes with limitations. These boards only have three programmable pins, but what they lack in functionality, the make up for in size. The difference between the Gemma and Trinket board is the form factor, but the Trinket board also lacks a battery connector. The Trinket Pro board runs on an Atmega328 chip, which is the same chip used on the standard Arduino board to handle the USB communication.

This chip has 20 programmable pins, but also lacks a battery connector. The reason for using different types of boards is that different projects require different functionalities, and in some cases, space for adding components will be limited. Don’t worry though, since all of them can be programmed in the same way.

Connecting and testing your board

In order to make sure that you have installed your IDE correctly and to ensure your board is working, we need to connect it to your computer using a USB to USB micro cable, as show in Figure 1.9:

Arduino Wearable Projects

Figure 1.9: USB to USB micro cable

The small connector of the cable connects to your board, and the larger connector connects to your computer. As long as your board is connected to your computer, the USB port on the computer will power your board.

Once your board is connected to the computer, open up your IDE and enter the following code. Follow the basic structure of writing sketches:

  1. First, declare your variables at the top of the sketch.
  2. The setup you make is the first segment of code that runs when the board is powered up.
  3. Then, add the loop function, which is the second segment of the code that runs, and will keep on looping until the board is powered off:
    int led = 7;
    void setup()
    pinMode(led, OUTPUT);
    void loop()
    digitalWrite(led, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(led, LOW);

The first line of code declares pin number 7 as an integer and gives it the name LED. An integer is a data type, and declaring the variable using the name int allows you to store whole numbers in memory. On the FLORA board, there is a small on-board LED connected to the digital pin 7. The next part is void setup(), which is one of the functions that always needs to be in your sketch in order for it to compile. All functions use curly brackets to indicate where the function starts and ends. The { bracket is used for the start, and } the bracket is used to indicated the end of the function. In void setup(), we have declared the mode of the pin we are using. All digital pins can be used as either an input or an output. An input is used for reading the state of anything connected to it, and output is used to control anything connected to the pin. In this case, we are using pin 7, which is connected to the on-board LED. In order to control this pin we need declared it as an output.

If you are using a different board, remember to change the pin number in your code. On most other Arduino boards, the onboard LED is connected to pin 13.

The void loop() function is where the magic happens. This is where we put the actual commands that operate the pins on the board. In the preceding code, the first thing we do is turn the led pin HIGH by using the digitalWrite()command. The digitalWrite() function is a built-in function that takes two parameters. The first is the number of the pin, in this case, we put in the variable led that has the value 7. The second parameter is the state of the pin, and we can use the HIGH or LOW shortcuts to turn the pin on or off, respectively.

Then, we make a pause in the program using the delay() command. The delay command takes one parameter, which is the number of milliseconds you want to pause your program for. After this, we use the same command as before to control the state of the pin, but this time we turn it LOW, which is the same as turning the pin off. Then we wait for an additional 1000 milliseconds. Once the sketch reaches the end of the loop function, the sketch will start over from the start of the same function and keep on looping until a new sketch is uploaded. The reset button is pressed on the FLORA board, or until the power is disconnected.

Now that we have the sketch ready, you can press the upload button. If everything goes as planned, the on-board LED should start to blink with a 1 second delay. The sketch you have uploaded will stay on the board even if the board is powered off, until you upload a new sketch that overwrites the old one. If you run into problems with uploading the code, remember to perform the following steps:

  • Check your code for errors or misspelling
  • Check your connections and USB cable
  • Make sure you have the right board type selected
  • Make sure your have the right USB port selected


In this article, we have had a look at the different parts of the FLORA board and how to install the IDE. We also made some small sketches to work with the on-board LED. We made our first electronic circuit using an external LED.

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