Do you want to build something…

Branch 05 has been running their RadioTek day for students of the radio hobby since 2010, and many students have returned to subsequent events wanting to build more projects. Our policy is to provide radio based projects up until their third visit, and then they can bring their own project or kit. We often have inquiries from students or parents wanting to find suitable construction projects, and so we decided to conduct a survey of available kits.

This article has many web links, and to avoid the need to type these in from a printed page, this article is available on the NZART Branch 05 website. (insert link)

Electronic kit suppliers in New Zealand

There is a popular opinion nowadays that “people do not build electronics any more”. Judging by the plethora of electronics kits available, that cannot be true. The kits supplied by the following retailers are suitable for all ages and abilities. In addition to these, further kits are available in more specialist subjects, such as radio transmitters for ham radio operators.

Jaycar

In New Zealand we are lucky to still have Jaycar supplying the high street shoppers with a very wide range of components, and an almost unbelievable range of kits. These kits come in a variety of forms, and from several sources. The bewildering, and slightly confusing issue, is the instructions for the “Short Circuits” projects are not included in the kit, and a separate book must be purchased. We are told this is due to copyright issues, so I guess we can blame the lawyers again. To help this situation, Christchurch Amateur Radio Club has decided to purchase all the instruction books, and therefore the RadioTek participants can bring kits along knowing we have the correct information to finish the project.

Jaycar‘s educational “Short Circuits” kits series II and III, use printed circuit boards.

Altronics

Altronics give a very good service to New Zealand’s high street shoppers though the GlobalPC stores. They have a wide range of kits on the Australian website, but I am not sure if all these are stocked in NZ shops.

ElectroFlash

Electroflash is a Christchurch supplier of electronic kits and components to schools, and has a wide choice of projects, mainly for the younger high school student. Most kits are low cost.

Surplustronics is a long standing supplier of components and they have expanding choice of technology. Their range of kits is, again, extensive and varied.

South Island Component Centre This industrial supplier in Christchurch has a small range of kits, mainly based on the Jaycar range, with a few PicAxe projects.

Mindkits, these are a mixture of sophisticated and basic starter kits.

Electronic kit suppliers outside New Zealand

There are many companies in Europe of America providing high quality kits, and so can provide a very extensive range of projects.

Carl’s Electronics have over 100 new robotic kits, electronic kits, test equipment, snap circuits, science kits, and STEM Approved alternative energy kits.

Sparkfun, this company is known amongst engineers for providing cutting edge technology, and a whole lot of fun stuff too.

Adafruit, is mainly in the science projects area, this company has a few interesting new projects.

Microcontroller kits and boards.

In addition to the standard electronics kits using hardware to perform the required functions, the hobby student must look towards software as the future of electronics. By using a microcontroller on a pre built board, he or she can make small projects like Robots, flashing lights, sounds, etc. Some of these can be expanded with additional boards containing sensors, motor drives, data radios and output devices, and the only input required is in the programming. Nearly all come with free programming editor software, and being freeware, the on line help is sometimes of variable quality. The enduring problem with modern computers is their lack of serial ports, and all these microcontrollers will require a USB/serial adapter to connect to your PC.

Picaxe These are probably the lowest cost “ready to play” microcontroller, and they are setup for programming in “BASIC”, which may eventually be limiting when the student wants to move on to complex functions. The chips are very easy to interface to a PC/Laptop.

Arduino These chips, based on the ATMEL microcontrollers, normally come fitted to a board, although individual chips are available. The Additional function boards can be added later. All programming is done in “C”.

BasicStamp Probably the forerunner of the Picaxe, and now part of an elite stable of processors called “Propeller”, these BASIC language microcontrollers are a PCB in the shape of a integrated circuit, and are good to go when connected to a PC serial port and battery. parallax.com

Solderless “plug and play” circuit builders

There are many “kits” where the student can assemble a variety of different circuit functions without soldering. These have various connection methods, and most are much better than the original attempts from the 1970’s

TechSoft Electronics Kits are made up of function boards that plug together, so the projects can achieve a high level of complexity.

Jaycar Short Circuits 1 As the first step in their educational program, these projects use a baseboard with springs to connect the components. A value pack includes the book with all the project components.

Electroflash this company suppliers many of these “ElectroFlash Kits” to schools around NZ, and is very successful. Connections are magnetic.

Brainbox probably the most successful project board to date, the connections are made with press studs, and give surprisingly reliable results. Very robust, so excellent for the very young.