Buying an Arduino at Radio Shack

Ever since I was informed that Radio Shack was going to sell Arduinos, I’ve been swinging by the local store to check what they have in stock. Well, last night there was a Mega and a motor controller shield on display, which are relatively specialized applications for new users and I won’t be surprised if the store has trouble moving the merchandise. The basic Uno, which would obviously have the widest appeal to the masses of Arduino-neophytes walking in off the street, was nowhere to be found on display.

I asked the associate if there were any Unos around, and it turns out there was one under the counter that had been opened and returned. So I bought that. It cost $34, compared to mid-twenties for Amazon, but okay, I expect the convenience of retail to cost more.

“What does it do?” the clerk asked.

“It’s a microcontroller,” I said.

“Oh,” he said.

Well, maybe I should have elaborated. These days Radio Shack clerks are knowledgeable about cell phone contracts, not so much electronic components, though maybe that will change.

(And yes, the Arduino technically isn’t a microcontroller, it’s a prototyping platform, but I don’t think he would care enough for me to go back and apologize for my misstatement and explain the difference.)

As soon as I got home, I connected it to the USB cable — and got an error message on my computer saying it could not find the driver. More error messages followed when I tried to load the pin 13 LED blink sketch. I began to suspect why the unit might have been returned. It’s not defective, it’s just that there is a learning curve with respect to drivers and comm port assignments and all that (even the zip file format presented problems).

Anyway, after an hour of my bumbling around, it appears to work okay now.

Now as for the following comments, I admit that I’m only a customer, but then again, I am a customer and most businesses do care what customers think and I assume Radio Shack is the same way. So based on that qualification, here are some additional comments about the retail presentation:

The display box is very attractive, like a work of art, but (assuming the original purchaser didn’t fail to repack it for store return) there is very little documentation inside. I would recommend that the back of the box should specifically mention that getting-started documentation (and not just free software) is available at arduino.cc and that a USB A-to-B cable is required for connection to a PC.

Keep the front and side box graphics by all means, but to enhance readability for those of us with weaker eyesight the printing on the back should be darker letters against a brighter background (or vice versa) — and please, not all capitals!

Well, decide for yourself:

As for shelf presentation, I would recommend that for now Radio Shack limit its Arduino display to:

1. The Uno.
2. The book Getting Started with Arduino.
3. A ‘starter kit’ containing a USB a-to-b cable, a mini breadboard, and a package of LEDs and resistors and flexi-jumpers to perform the examples in the book.

If sales volume builds, then expand the product line’s shelf presence of course.

Retail sales associates obviously don’t have the time to be trained in everything that a microcontroller/prototyping-platform can do, but they should at least be able to tell customers, “Oh, you can connect it to your computer and program it to turn on lights and run motors and read temperature sensors and things like that.”

Please note, these comments are offered in the spirit that having the Arduino at retail level is cool for hardware hackerdom. I’m happy that Radio Shack is selling the Arduino, and I hope that the endeavor is a success for everyone concerned. (And if someday my robot kits can get in on that success, that would be great too!)

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About engineerzero

Once and future engineer.
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3 Responses to Buying an Arduino at Radio Shack

  1. jim digriz says:

    Agree. I did some reading and research before my Radio Shack purchase. When I opened the package, my first thought was: that’s all? No USB cable. No instructions to download the program. That was okay, but all new users probably just need to purchase the Getting Started book, even if they think the setup is intuitive.

  2. William McCall says:

    The lack of instructions is just Arduino. I wrestled with the same issues. You HAVE to go to Arduino.cc and walk through the examples. It seems to boil down a lot of to trial and error. As for the associates, in all fairness they have to learn about a lot of products other than cell phones but the focus is changing from the 2012 focus. there are lots more Arduino related things. I think there were 4 versions in the Store I was in yesterday. I would like to see more options for connecting the arduino to a solder board. the solder boards in the store are not the right size to fit over an UNO and I could not find the pin banks so the solder board can be ‘plugged into’ the UNO. I would say RS is moving in the right direction. keep visiting your store. Maybe if you get the associate interested in Arduino, he will take the initiative to learn more about them.

    I appreciate the post on the experience. Arduino is a lot of fun but there is a steep learning curve.

  3. I myself was just in Radio Shack and was surprised to find they had Arduino stuff at all! However they had the Mega, another bigger one, and the $100 starter kit but were out of the Uno which was the only one I had really read much about and the only one I would have been willing to spend $$$ on (all spontaneous) at the time [$25]. Also I seen the books they had there on Arduino stuff and books on various electronics/circuits and sensors, etc that seemed like things i would have been tempted to purchase as well. Even though it seems I should be able to find those online somehow and save myself from spending the cash, the books were still tempting me for some reason…

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