Noob needs help with IR sensors

Hi all, I'm a noob to hardware programming and recently I'm starting a research project on high-level distributed programming in embedded devices. I'm trying to build a prototype system in Arduino and am in need of some pointers to get started. Essentially, I want to make a prototype consisting of an array of Arduino units that communicates with each other to orchestrate certain coordinated functionalities. Each Arduino unit should have between 2-4 contactless, line-of-sight communication medium and can only communicate with neighboring Arduino units within range of these communication medium. These communication channels must be 'hot swappable', in that we can shuffle the position/arrangements of the Arduino units and each should still function as they are programmed to do (with acceptable degrees of error), based on the state of their new neighboring Arduino units (or lack of). For now, I'm still fuzzy on what exactly I want them to do (perhaps, each does some light flickering, or crazy motor actuation, lol.. I know, sounds lame.. =P), but I'm focusing on zeroing down on the nature of these communication channels. For now, I'm fixated on IR emitters and receivers, but do you think this is a good idea, or if there are options which suit the above specifications better? Specific to IR, do you know of any reliable Arduino IR protocol libraries out there? Also, do you know if and how I can rig 2-4 pairs of IR emitters and receivers to a Arduino Uno, and what other peripherals I might need for this to work? Many thanks all!

I'm a noob to hardware programming

So you want to start with a project that you admit:-

I'm still fuzzy on what exactly I want them to do

Think about it, what makes you think you stand a chance of success. Even the best engineer in the world can't achieve anything while they are fuzzy on what they want to do. This is a complex and advanced project you are wanting to do.

My advice would be to forget this project for a time and get used to the platform. Find out what it will and won't do and how to make it do it. Go through the tutorials on this site, try some and modify them to make it do what you want it to do.

Then sit down with a large piece of paper and map out what you want it to do. Try and make it implementable in simple stages, don't try an all at once big bang approach.

I agree with the Grumpy bloke. Figure out what you want to achieve first.

I do have one piece of advice on IR decoders. Vishay have released what I assume is the successor to the TSOP24xx parts it is called the TSOP48xx (where xx is the carrier frequency).

I think that the new part works quite a lot better than the old one. I connected one up to pin 2 and it worked straight away. No cap no resistor.

This part is specifically intended to decode IR from appliance remote controls. From the little that you have said I suspect that you need something less sophisticated although possibly harder to use.

So, the TSOP4838 gets a big tick from me. For UK folks Bitsbox have them at £0.92 by the way.

Good luck anyway.

Thanks guys, for the sound advice. I'll take a step back and do some 101's first.. =P But just wondering, do you know if we can have multiple 1-1 Arduino board connections via jumper wire serial communication and this software serial library: http://arduino.cc/en/Reference/SoftwareSerial ? Thanks again!

do you know if we can have multiple 1-1 Arduino board connections via jumper wire serial communication and this software serial library

Yes but I think the best way is to use the I2C bus with one arduino as the master and the other as a slave. Check out the examples already stored in the arduino IDE under the examples menu.