Arduino Esplora helps you learn microcontrollers without the pesky breadboard

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Terrence O'Brien
December 10th, 2012
In this article: arduino, DIY, esplora, microcontroller
Arduino Esplora helps you learn microcontrollers without the pesky breadboard

Arduino is the go to board for most folks looking for an introduction to microcontrollers. That's largely thanks to its sizable community, ease of use and surprising versatility. But, there is one small stumbling block for those just looking to dip their toes in the ATmega-powered waters: you'll need to provide your own sensors, components and breadboard. (At least you will unless you're satisfied just making the built-in LED blink.) The Esplora bakes some of those essential bits and pieces right on to the board. It's crafted around the same core as the Leonardo, but adds an accelerometer, microphone, analog joystick, four buttons, a light sensor, temperature sensor, linear potentiometer and a buzzer to the mix. While the gamepad-like layout means you wont be able to connect to any of the dozens of Arduino shields out there, it does have a pair of TinkerKit inputs and outputs for expanding the Esplora's capabilities. There's also a place to connect an upcoming LCD module. The Esplora is available now direct from Arduino for €41.90.

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New Arduino Esplora

The Arduino Esplora is a ready-to-use, easy-to-hold controller that lets you explore the infinite possibilities you have in the world of Arduino, without having to deal with breadboards or soldering. Shaped like a game controller, it's designed to be used out of the box without extra parts since it comes with many sensors and actuators already on it.

It combines an Arduino-compatible processor with a light sensor, a temperature sensor, a 3-axis accelerometer, a joystick, a set of pushbuttons, a slider, an RGB LED, and a buzzer.
The Esplora can emulate a mouse or keyboard, allowing you to create your own controller for musical software, 3D modeling tools, or even a word processor. It actually comes pre-programmed with a game controller script, so you can plug it into your computer and start playing as soon as you open the box (requires the free Super Tux Cart videogame).
There is no limit to the applications you can program – amusing, educational, useful. You can even add a couple of extra sensors and actuators if you need them.
If the near future Arduino will release a color LCD module that can be plugged on the Esplora to create your very own open source console.
The Esplora is 100% Arduino software compatible but doesn't provide Arduino Shield connectors (i.e. it can't be used with Arduino Shields directly).

The Arduino Esplora is available from December 10, 2012 at a price of 41.90 EUR+Taxes and 44.90 EUR+Taxes for the Retail version (both supplied with USB cable).
High resolution pictures available at

Technical Details
The Arduino Esplora is a microcontroller board derived from the Arduino Leonardo. The Esplora differs from all preceding boards in that it provides a built-in, ready-to-use set of onboard sensors, targeted for user interaction.
Like the Arduino Leonardo it has a 16 MHz crystal oscillator, a micro USB connection, an ICSP header, and a reset button. It contains everything needed to support the microcontroller; simply connect it to a computer with a USB cable to get started.
The Esplora has built-in USB communication, therefore it can appear to a connected computer as a mouse and keyboard, in addition to a virtual (CDC) serial / COM port. It also has other implications for the behavior of the board; these are detailed on the getting started page.

Technical specifications:
Microcontroller ATmega32u4
Operating Voltage 5V
Flash Memory 32 KB of which 4 KB used by bootloader
Clock Speed 16 MHz

The ATmega32u4 has 32 KB (with 4 KB used for the bootloader). It also has 2.5 KB of SRAM and 1 KB of EEPROM (which can be read and written with the EEPROM library).
Input and Output
The design of the Esplora board recalls traditional gamepad design with an analog joystick on the left and four pushbuttons on the right.
The Esplora has the following on-board inputs and outputs:
Analog joystick with central push-button two axis (X and Y) and a center pushbutton.
4 push-buttons laid out in a diamond pattern.
Linear potentiometer slider near the bottom of the board.
Microphone for getting the loudness (amplitude) of the surrounding environment.
Light sensor for getting the brightness.
Temperature sensor reads the ambient temperature
Three-axis accelerometer measures the board's relation to gravity on three axes (X, Y, and Z)
Buzzer can produce square-waves.
RGB led bright LED with Red Green and Blue elements for color mixing.
2 TinkerKit Inputs to connect the TinkerKit sensor modules with the 3-pin connectors.
2 TinkerKit Outputs to connect the TinkerKit actuator modules with the 3-pin connectors.
TFT display connector connector for an optional color LCD screen, SD card, or other devices that use the SPI protocol.

In order to utilize the total number of available sensors, the board uses an analog multiplexer. This means a single analog input of the microcontroller is shared among all the input channels (except the 3-axis accelerometer). Four additional microcontroller pins choose which channel to read.

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