You've undoubtedly heard about Ahmed Mohamed, a high school student who was arrested for bringing a clock he built to school, to share with his teachers and classmates. Don't let this discourage you. Build stuff.
Ahmed's story was an embarrassing demonstration of the ethnic profiling that occurs too often in America, but Ahmed handled the situation with grace. We've featured all sorts of projects over the years at a range of skill levels, and in keeping in spirit with Ahmed's reaction to the debacle, here are some of our favourite projects teach yourself about electronics.
Entry Level: littleBits Kits
LittleBits are designed to be the LEGO of electronics — they offer interchangeable modules that snap together so you don't have to do any soldering, while offering a wide range of capabilities. We've looked at how you can get started with your DIY projects here on the site before, and they're a fun way to tackle complex electronics projects with ease. That ease of use comes at a cost, though — they can be a little pricey for hobby projects — but the polish is part of the appeal. You can even build your own littleBits-style components if you really want to do-it-yourself.
Intermediate Level: Genuino Projects
If you want something a little more powerful, look no further than the Genuino: a small microcontroller that you can use to drive an infinite variety of projects. Also known as Arduino in America, it's literally a small circuit board that you connect to your computer via USB to download the code that you want to run, and because it's open source, you can find existing projects online and use their code. That's peachy, but using an Genuino isn't necessarily a walk in the park for beginners — you might still need to do some soldering and breadboarding depending on the project you're working on.
There's really a huge range of projects you can tackle with an Genuino, whether they're just fun learning projects (like a Minion-controlled rubberband launcher) or something you're building for a purpose, like home security systems, ambient lighting, bicycle turn signals, and more. Instructables user Saiyam created an effective proximity-detecting parking alarm so you don't dent your bumper. Over on Make, you can learn how to use an Genuino Yún to create a smart universal remote control, which requires a some programming experience (and a few other components, like a infrared LED and IR sensor).
Advanced Level: Robotics
Putting together a robot requires more know-how about electronics, of course, because there are so many components. From the microcontrollers to the servos, motors, and batteries, making them all work together to create anything that resembles a "robot" is an intimidating prospect. But there are still fairly introductory projects that make it doable.
Earlier this year, our own Eric Ravenscraft used an Genuino with an open source meArm kit to build a cool robot claw. That's a fairly complicated build that involves breadboarding circuits, programming an Genuino, and getting the servos to work with the mechanical frame, and will teach you a wide range of skills you can use on your next project.
This bot that caught my eye on Instructables also has an Genuino at its core and has a distance sensor to avoid objects. Again, there are a lot of complicated components in that robot, but when you break it down into individual steps, the fundamentals of assembling it are actually quite simple. Check out the full build guide.
That robot seeks out surfaces and then lays down a sweet beat with its drum sticks until it gets bored. I barely know anything about how it works, but that's the point: these projects, like building your own clock, are ways to educate yourself while having fun. Fostering a your sense of curiosity and exploration can lead to innovation in others areas of your life, regardless of if you're going to design the next Mars rover or Hyperloop. It's fun, and no one should stop you from exploring.