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How Microcontrollers Work

Microcontrollers are dedicated computers in electronics.  See more pictures of what's inside electronics.

Microcontrollers are hidden inside a surprising number of products these days. If your microwave oven has an LED or LCD screen and a keypad, it contains a microcontroller. All modern automobiles contain at least one microcontroller, and can have as many as six or seven: The engine is controlled by a microcontroller, as are the anti-lock brakes, the cruise control and so on. Any device that has a remote control almost certainly contains a microcontroller: TVs, VCRs and high-end stereo systems all fall into this category. Nice SLR and digital cameras, cell phones, camcorders, answering machines, laser printers, telephones (the ones with caller ID, 20-number memory, etc.), pagers, and feature-laden refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers (the ones with displays and keypads)... You get the idea. Basically, any product or device that interacts with its user has a microcontroller buried inside.

In this article, we will look at microcontrollers so that you can understand what they are and how they work. Then we will go one step further and discuss how you can start working with microcontrollers yourself -- we will create a digital clock with a microcontroller! We will also build a digital thermometer. In the process, you will learn an awful lot about how microcontrollers are used in commercial products.

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