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A micro-controller is a mini computer, it can contain a processor, memory and input/output all on a single chip, they offer low power-consumption and low-cost control solutions for a wide array of projects. The Atmel, BASIC and PIC ranges offer easy to program micro-controllers that are ideal for small robots, simple automation control systems or low-intensity embedded control. For more demanding tasks that require more processing power or complex input/output the widely used, open-source, Arduino family offers a perfect platform for developing your project, it is also great for beginners with a huge array of open-source tutorials and resources available to help you learn.

If you fancy even more computation power and maybe even running your project with a full Linux desktop user environment then the Raspberry Pi has what you need, you can plug in a monitor/mouse/keyboard and program the Pi directly in a range of languages without needing to use a separate PC, its huge array of I/O means you can use it to interface with other micro-controllers, sensors and actuators.