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Arduino® Terminology


An Arduino microcontroller is open-sourced hardware with varying amounts of flash memory, pins, and features for performing functions such as reading analog signals and performing digital output. There are many Arduino boards available. For this tutorial, when we reference Arduino, it is in reference to a board that can work with our sensors such as the Arduino Uno, Leonardo, Mega, or SparkFun’s Redboard. Our standard sensors operate at 5 volts and will not work on 3.3-volt Arduino boards at this time.

Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

This is the software application that provides the tools needed to program the Arduino. It is a somewhat simplified version of the C programming language, and includes a source code editor, compiler, and debugger. It can be downloaded free from the Arduino website. There are other programming options, but this tutorial assumes you are programming with IDE.


This is a circuit board that can be plugged on top of an Arduino. Shields have a variety of applications depending on the manufacturer. For example, the Vernier Interface Arduino Shield allows you to easily connect Vernier sensors to an Arduino.


This is the term used for an Arduino program. All of Vernier’s Arduino sketches found in our guide are available to view, download, or fork on GitHub. You can use them as they are or as the starting point for your own project.

Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM)

Arduino boards can approximate an analog output voltage even though they do not have true analog output lines. This technique is called pulse-width modulation (PWM). When using PWM the voltage at the digital line is switched from low to high at such a high frequency that the output approximates an analog line. The duty cycle, the fraction of time the voltage is high, can be varied by the user.

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