We've done some fairly simple things with basic electronics up to this point.
We can do much more complicated things, still using integrated circuits and other parts, but the circuits get much more complicated and difficult to put together.
To keep things simple, and yet get all of the flexibility and creative power we want, we will use a computer.
Unlike other computers you may have used in the past, however, this one is the size of a credit card, and costs less than five dollars. Later on, we will get even smaller and cheaper, using just the computer chip itself instead of the entire circuit board. We can add intelligence to our artwork for about a dollar.
Pictured above is the Texas Instruments TI430 Launchpad.
For $4.30, you actually get three computer chips. There is one soldered onto the board at the top right. That is the computer that controls the board, talks to other computers, and programs the second computer chip, the one in the socket in the center of the board. That second chip is the one that will run the programs we create. Those programs will blink LEDs, control motors, and sense the world. In addition, there is a third computer chip in the package (not shown) that we can also program and use in our projects.
The computer board has some LEDs and switches on the board already, so we can start writing programs and testing them without having to build anything. But the board also has pins that allow us to connect the computer chip to external LEDs, motors, switches, and sensors. In later projects, we will remove the computer chip from this board after we program it, and place the computer chip in our own circuit, where it can control things all by itself.
Another excellent little computer that these programs will run on is the Arduino Nano. The small changes needed for the Arduino will be noted in the text, and the Arduino versions of the programs are also available for download.