What is a microcontroller and why should I care?

Microcontrollers aka MCU’s are tiny little computers that can fit in the palm of your hand, in fact a lot of these herald from the era of the first computers, some not having changed much at all except for size in the past 40 years. There are thousands of theses little gadgets to choose from and they are gadgets, no doubt about that. They have very specific real world use cases, but a myriad of use cases as a hobby or toy. They are essentially a tiny, low power cpu, like we talked about in how computers work.

What this means is that you can write your own little program or app, put it on this tiny little computer and have it calculate things or even make things happen in the real world. Usually for many beginners this comes in the form of making LED lights blink or making a buzzer beep and can be a source of many hours of entertainment. Besides being used as a toy or training tool, these little gadgets can also be used as a part of home automation/smart homes or even to make your own commercial electronics products.

Microcontroller ESP8266
This is a Microcontroller prototype board that costs $5

I probably got your attention at commercial products, but it is indeed the case that a lot of commercial products today use these off the shelf Microcontrollers, everything from nanny cams to smart sockets might have the tiny wifi enabled microcontroller shown above. This is also the reason why you should care, being aware of the technology around you, gives you power over that technology and knowing how it ticks, means using it for yourself.

One of the most popular microcontrollers today is the Arduino, you may have heard that name before, but they are cheap and easy to use microcontrollers. Not to mention so many hobby projects have been built with them, that a lot of functionality can be downloaded off the internet and put onto them, to instantly create a new gadget for you. This also means that most of the parts are reusable and can be turned into a new gadget in minutes, which kind of makes it a “LEGO” of computers.

If I haven’t yet piqued your interest in this subject, my hope is that you might still be curious enough to seek out a bit more info about microcontrollers. The main reason for this is that they are a simple and fun way to learn about the basics of how computers work, which in turn will give you knowledge that you can use to stay safe on the internet.

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