You've made it to the end! This lesson is your graduation ceremony. Please cue up Pomp and Circumstance as the background music while you continue reading. What follows are some parting words of advice for venturing off into the world of Arduino on your own.
Step 1: Learning to Fish
Rest assured that because of its rich community history, most of your early questions about Arduino are already well documented online in tutorials and forums all over the web. However you are just learning the vocabulary by which to access this vast catalog of resources, and things may be a little rocky at first. Remind yourself there is a learning curve, and everything will get easier and come more naturally after some time and repeated practice. Here are some tips to improve the results of your self-directed learning.
Google with gusto - Get good at search engines! Use quotes to search for Arduino error messages, brainstorm key words around your idea and look for folks who've documented similar projects before. This can be handy during the parts brainstorming step but also for learning more uses for the parts you already have. Become a regular lurker in the Arduino and Adafruit forums, where most beginner roadblocks are solved many times over. Say it with me: "I bet I can find someone online who's had this question before; I just have to find it."
Sharing (code) is caring - Arduino is built on open source ideas. Innovation flourishes when technology is shared! You'll find countless libraries, code examples, Github repositories, and more resources to aid in your coding education. It behooves you to read up on the history of open source, learn about licenses commonly used for code and hardware, and credit your sources when building on others' designs.
Document your process - It's easy to forget to photograph your circuit before revising it when you're in the throws of frustration over a bug. Set a timer to remind yourself to take pictures and video while building! You may find yourself wanting to look back at previous iterations to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Additionally, you'll find a supportive community of makers willing to help you along your way if you choose to share your projects online in forums, your own website, or here on Instructables. Documenting your struggles along with your successes will connect you with knowledgeable folks around the globe, and maybe even help someone else who's just learning Arduino.
Step 2: Durability & Weatherproofing
It's quite likely you want to create Arduino projects that will function for some time while enduring repeated movement or exposure to the elements. Designing durability into a circuit requires some forethought of potential failure modes, often only discovered through repeated prototyping and improvement upon prior failure. Here are some tips on design and construction for durability. Remember to read and follow manufacturers' instructions and safety procedures when using any hazardous materials.
Protect the power supply - The most important part of your circuit to keep safe is the battery and power connections. A short circuit here could trip a circuit breaker, permanently damage components, or cause a fire.
Strain relief - Remember that your circuit has both mechanical and electrical connections. Sometimes they are one in the same, like the Arduino's USB and power ports. However it's always a great idea to add mechanical connections to your projects to prevent wires from tugging on their solder joints. You can use zip ties to secure wires, and most circuit boards have mounting holes for use with screws or hand sewing. For connections that will bend repeatedly, use stranded wire instead of solid-core.
Know your adhesives - Using the right glue for the job is critical for your circuit's durability! For instance, few things will actually stick to the silicone sheathing that comes around LED strip. Only certain silicone adhesives will provide a weatherproof seal in this case. Permatex 66B is my favorite for NeoPixel strip's silicone sheathing. Any adhesive should be tested to check that it bonds to both surfaces. Hot melt glue was convenient for the infinity mirror project in this class, but it stinks for durability. Instead I highly recommend E6000 craft adhesive, or its cousin Quick Hold. These take longer to dry but stick to everything (except silicone) and dry clear and flexible. To learn more about adhesives, check out our Glue class!
Humidity & moisture - It's important to protect your circuit from water, which will cause shorts. If you're thinking of making an electronic costume, for instance, did you consider that your evaporating sweat could be a factor? Where will your circuit be located and what humidity/water conditions can you expect there? Generally you can think of using coverings and coatings to address this issue. You can find completely waterproof enclosures for your projects, cover your circuit with waterproof fabric, and use waterproof adhesives to seal up any openings. I often use clear nail polish to protect bare components on costumes/wearables. Clear spray paint is also a good option, however I'm not a big fan of the new hydrophobic coatings like NeverWet. They were designed for things like the circuit board inside your phone, and don't function well outside that context because of their extreme physical fragility, sensitivity to sunlight, and highly toxic nature.
However water is not a circuit's nemesis! If the battery/power supply is removed, most circuits won't be damaged by water, so long as they dry out before being plugged back in (and weren't left a long time to corrode). Exceptions exist for components that water can get inside, like microphones. But generally, it's ok to hand wash your Arduino projects after unplugging the power and removing any batteries.
UV and temperature fluctuation exposure - Over time, many plastics, adhesives, and other protective materials break down when exposed to sunlight. Wire sheathings may become brittle and crack open. Coatings may break down and fail. Think about the temperatures your circuit is likely to experience, too. Most batteries' lives are shortened by exposure to high or low temperatures, for instance. Check the datasheets for your components to learn their operating temperature ranges.
This is just the tip of the durability iceberg, folks. There are whole fields of study devoted to the topic, in mechanical engineering, industrial design, and materials science just to name a few. However for most projects, a bit of E6000 and some zip ties really go a long way towards keeping your projects alive.
Step 3: Next, Try...
If you completed all the lessons in this class, you're now ready to take on countless Arduino projects, including your own designs. You may find many of the early code examples to be great starting points when building your own sketches. For your next class, consider Electronics, or Wearable Electronics, or Robots, which will all deepen your understanding of some of the concepts from this class.
Here are some projects from the Instructables community to help inspire your next creation:
Have you made a project with Arduino you'd like to share? Please consider writing an Instructable about it, and enter it in one of our frequent contests.
Thank you so much for taking my Arduino class! If you enjoyed your experience, consider sharing it with a friend. And I'd like to receive your feedback either way, so I can improve this and future classes.