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Arduino: The Documentary

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Arduino started as a project that we did at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea... back in 2005 But it has some roots in previous projects that we worked on Cause we wanted to make a tool for our students that was more modern that what was available on the market at the moment Specially because the tool that everybody was using, this thing called the BASIC Stamp, in Italy it was costing, at the time, about 76€, that's like 100$ so it was very expensive for the students They wouldn't do any... too much work because they didn't want to spend money on buying many boards that expensive, so what happened... we started to look at possible alternatives, and also we were working on Processing, the Processing language because Casey Reas, one of the founders, was one of the teachers in Ivrea, so we thought: "Why don't we try to figure out how to make Processing for the hardware?" So we worked with a student who did a thesis on the topic, and that produced a wiring platform. Hernando Barragán, a Colombian student, worked on it. And then after Hernando made Wiring we started to figure out how could we make the whole platform even simpler, even cheaper, even easier to use. And then we started to essentialy reimplement the whole thing as an open source project. We wanted it to be open source so that everybody could come and help, and contribute. Then we had another issue: that there was a lot of discussion about the school closing, so we decided: "OK, let's try to make this platform and open it up as much as possible." Then we stopped talking about what we would like to have and started talking about how to do it. And when we started talking about how to do it, Massimo had been experimenting with some technology, I had been experimenting with a different technology... We had a talk to decide what was best and I decided to try this technology Massimo had, because of its better compatibility with different OS. I checked the hardware, found a couple bugs, we fixed that, and well, we started making boards... I mean, the process from starting to seriously work on it to having a board was a mere two-day one. All the rest was software. While I was kind of in the middle of this I met with David Cuartielles, who started to sort of help me in the project, then became a major contributor, and then together we kind of made the first Arduino hardware; then we had David Mellis joining as a student to write the software, then Tom came in as an advisor, and finally then Gianluca came in as the person who was able to manufacture the board, that's how the team kind of formed, by adding people by their skills. We've been using Wiring boards and wanted to port a bunch of programs to a cheaper microprocessor, basically, to install in some installations; and I helped write like a lot of compatibility layers so that all the old programs could run in the new processor... And then just being in Ivrea and not wanting to spend too much time on my actual thesis I spent more and more time like working with Massimo and the other guys developing Arduino. I knew there was this development of this hardware equivalent to Processing. And I went over to Ivrea in June of 2005 to do a workshop with them on another subject, and they showed me the Arduino board at that point. And I looked at it and I said: "You know, this is great, and it definitely works for your school, works for my school too, but I think it could be a larger thing, and I think more people would want to use this." And Massimo said: "Well, that's good feedback, thanks." And then I went back to the States, and a couple weeks later they wrote to me and said: "You know, we want to go further with this, and we want to try and get it to the larger world. Do you want to join us as part of the team?" And I said "Yeah". And it was just... for me it was a case that this is a tool I could see using myself, and therefore I could believe in actually helping to get it out to a wider world. After the first prototyping there was the need, or the desire, to start manufacturing something in a more professional way, and in a more commercial way. because all the first example was mounted, was done just to make... to let them work. After Massimo and David decided and understood the prototype was working they needed to make a bigger batch. So we decided to work on 200 units and we made... I made a little redesign, a little design for manufacturing in order to produce them. It was a test; they agreed with their school the Interaction Design institute, and the K3 of Malmö, to buy 50 each. That was a good starting point; that means we will not lose all the money but at least half was coming back. The selling price was exactly what we paid; I think we earned 1€ for each board, that is nothing considering all the effort we put inside. But after some advertisement, after some speaking with friends, this movement started to move. And so we received the first call, our first customer, asking for one board, it was a friend of Massimo and David. But this was the beginning of something. A few months after meeting he said "Hey Nate SparkFun, you guys should carry this thing called Arduino." And I looked at it and at that time it was the through hole version, the RS-232 version, and I said "This looks very interesting" but I didn't really understand it. And... I hadn't wrapped my head around it. And so I said: "You know, Tom, I don't think it's for us, we don't really do kits, we're not sure how people are going to react to this" and so I decided against it. It was a few months later, six, seven months later, that Arduino came out with the full USB version, fully assembled and tested and ready to go, and Tom again came to ask and said: "Hey, SparkFun, you should really carry this." And I said "OK, well, I'm not really sure, you know, we'll bring in 20 and see how they sell." And that was the first 20 out of about 40,000 at this point. The first time we heard about Arduino was when David Cuartielles came to an activity called "Thursdays at Medialab", which actually was the first session of that still ongoing activity. So he keeps talking about stuff and at the end, after 90 minutes of listening to all of David's tales, he says he's involved in this project, but it was a really small thing, you know? And I thought "At last! Come on, David, why wasn't this the first thing you said?" I want to talk to you about Arduino... Arduino is the last project, I finished it last week. I talked to Ivrea's technical director and told him: Wouldn't it be great to do something we can offer for free? - For free? - Yeah. And after that, well, we worked with Gustavo, and also kept in touch with David, and we organized an Arduino workshop in October 2005, which was one of the first Arduino workshops, if not the first one ever... On the last day David proposed creating some small prototypes. He called it "Bring your old junk and let's do something with it." That led to some quite interesting projects... And these people kept on doing small electronic instruments, small robots... At the time I was senior editor at MAKE, MAKE was only a couple years old, and I had heard about this Arduino project. And I saw it online and I said: "Well, a lot of people are starting to talk about this, I should check it out." And I got one of the boards and said "Whoa, this is fantastic, beginners are gona love this. It runs on Mac, it runs on PC, it runs on Linux... this is exactly what everyone wants." At the time a lot of people were using BASIC Stamps, were using all sorts of microcontrollers, and I come from using design tools like Flash and Processing, and I'm like "Oh, this is perfect, it's exactly what I think everyone's going to want." And this was in the beginning of when MAKE was starting to have a store, and so it took a little while and you know, it's very hard to do international money transfers. Basically we started selling Arduinos in MAKE right away, And then later on, when I started working with Limor, who's part of Adafruit, she's a founder, we also said right away "This is a fantastic tool for getting people doing the things that they want to do with electronics." Not necessarily learning everything first, but getting the application done, like I want something... I want my dress to blink. Very hard to do if you just want to learn electronics; with an Arduino you get that done in a few minutes. Just turn the confetti video... So this is sort like a demo bay. We have a number of our projects set up This was a project we did for a single night event that used Arduino as sensors and the way it works, we made these giant maracas that when you shake them, it creates this explosion of confetti, and in the original install it was on a giant sphere, but here... Each one of these has an accelerometer in it and a Bluetooth controller sending it to the computer and then we generate these graphics. And it's all related to an specific event where we wanted people to lighten up, it was at a cocktail party, and we wanted people to really let loose, and feel more free. And I wished to show you the Luminodes project over here... This was a project we did early on in the lab, thinking about networked lighting, and the way it works is there's sort of a family of lights, and the main light here, you pick it up and you can sort of tune the color by twisting it. It will set the color, and these others are sort of children... As the user plays with them they all sort of come into sync. So we're really into social relationships that people create through technology. So in this case it was sort of syncing a number of people up who were all using the same thing. And then we extended it out to use architectural scale lighting and and off-the-shelf lighting equipment. The very first thing I tried to do with an Arduino was to run a 3D printer on an Arduino. Which... I probably should have started out with something simpler, because it was really difficult, and I didn't know anything about electronics. It was just like stumbling blindly and trying to get it to work, but eventually I got it to work, and now we sell these MakerBot 3D printers which actually run on... There's multiple Arduinos in the machine. So this is a 3D printer, and what that means is it takes a 3D model from... you can download one from the internet, or design it yourself, or scan in a 3D model of an object; and then it prints with plastic, so this right here is a filament, and so what happens is this plastic is slowly pulled down into the extruder head here and when it's done you'll get a real object that is exactly what you wanted. So you have a digital file that you give it, and you basically say "make me one of this", you hit print, and this machine will make it for you. It will make one, or a hundred, or 1,000 of them if you want. Which is great, because there's all sorts of cool open source things that this will make for you. So you don't need to have a laser cutter, or a PCB fabrication thing to really participate in open source hardware. You can just design something, this will sit on your desk and print you out stuff. One of the things I really like about this is that this allows you to apply the idea of open source hardware to things that are very very basic, that you would not otherwise consider to be open source hardwares. So we have... There's an open source whistle, for example. There's an open source bottle opener... Over here on the wall we have a... right here, there's an open source coat hook. So we have a coat hook... this is open source hardware. There's a file on the internet you can download and if you have a 3D printer you can print out as many coat hooks as you want, and you don't have to pay anybody anything. If you want a bigger coat hook you can make it bigger. And it is just this wonderful idea that we can apply this idea of open source to all of these common everyday things that we use in our life, like... what we're trying to do is open source everything. What sort of can have been a crazy idea 10 years ago, are now... actually there's a path that we can take to get there. And people are starting to take it seriously. Open source hardware is a fantastic way to make sure other people can look at your designs and improve them. Open source hardware is a fantastic way so you don't have to answer e-mails of people asking "can they use something?" You've put the license out there, you've said... Open source hardware for us means you can take our stuff, you can do whatever you want with it... you just have to do the same thing we did: release it back, allow other people to do whatever they want with it and they can sell it as long as all the attribution, all the credits, all things that you've requested, are respected. And so far it's worked out great: If you look at Linux, it's a perfect example. If you look at Apache, all these things that run the web, it's all open source If you had to pay someone, or talk to someone, or license something every time you wanted to put up a website, we wouldn't have the fantastic world of information sharing we do. So I look at Arduino as a physical representation of all the great things you got with open source software, but now starting to happen in hardware. We will hit a level where people will be creating... people will be creating hardware on the same way that people were creating books after movable type became cheap and easy to replicate. And I really think that that's the level of the open source hardware revolution, as we are looking at something like a Gutenberg event, where movable type will change how people read, write and share information, only in this case it will be how we create and use physical objects. The idea behind having control over these physical objects and being able to manipulate them at will and not be afraid to take them apart, to see what's inside, to really know everything that's going on... That's something really behind the open source hardware for me, and something I'm really passionate about. You know, of course open source means that you are making it for the community at large, based on work that other people have done. So it's kind of like I'm taking one step up a ladder, and then I'm helping other people go further up the ladder. The current problem is that because of both standardisation and the patent system, a lot of people were left without the possibility of learning how things work; this ended up being possible only to a group of people: the hackers, whose technical knowledge allowed them... made them feel able of opening an electronic element to see what it had inside. And that's open source hardware for me: it means to once again be able to check what is inside of stuff, but in a way that is allowed, that is also ethically "right", legal, and that allows us to improve the educative methods. All things considered, what open hardware is for me is a system that makes people able to learn about the way things work in this world we live in, where there are more computers than people. So we need to understand how our stuff works, not only for being able to repair it, but also to understand how our own life works. And I thing that is really necessary nowadays. At the beginning, on the whole question of open source hardware versus open hardware, open source, it's still very a very complex situation, there's still not very defined standards or licenses or processes... For us at the beginning it was a specific need: we knew the school was closing, and we and we were afraid that lawyers would show up one day and say "Everything here goes into a box and gets forgotten about." So we thougt "OK, if we open everything about this, then we can survive the closing of the school." So that was the first step. Then we started to figure out that there was a way to get a very nice ecosystem of people participating and making extensions, making derivatives, and helping. And then our activity of talking to manufacturers, and making them to build things, became an interesting study on how there could be a business model that would apply to open source. For us it was really important, as a cultural space for experimentation, to try and apply the logic of free tools to the actual process of working. That was the idea behind "Interactivos?", a space where people could develop their own projects but where other people could also get involved in them as collaborators. Because the process is open for anyone to participate. That is, for us, a quite... how to say it, a strong relationship; we feel that we are always trying to get inspiration from something as surprising as all free software processes are, and in this case... we had never heard about the existance of "free hardware". So all started buzzing with possibilities that went in all kind of directions. I love open source hardware. I think everything should be that way. It's great for education, I like sharing what we've learned, and it's easy for the kids to find out more and it would be great if they could build their own things I did not learn microcontrollers until my middle years in college, til the end of college. And I was really blown away by how easy it was to use Arduino, namely, being the forerunner development board. I think, given the right series of events, and if Arduino and electronics could be taught in high school, I think there's a big future for not only engineers, but also artists. Also digital media interactive design people. If they can learn that in high school, imagine how much more they can do later in life. When the Arduino sends the signal, it controls exactly the same these two buttons would. This is made for recording and playing when you manually touch the keys. But if you put in opto-isolators, these two things here, you can bridge the keys through the controller and activate them with an electric signal that comes from the controller, that is programmed. That's why Arduino is so powerful, because you can control any machine that works... It is an amazing tool for giving young people this age get in contact with all those... an awful lot of realities they live in. First to get them to learn that the consumer side -this "use the remote with the machine" side- is not the only one; that it is possible to understand what's inside and get the control back. Because now all these kids have a huge amount of gadgets which they have no idea how they work at all. With Arduino you can get a small glimpse of how all this stuff works, show them some schematics that allow them to have a certain way of looking at all the technological world that is going to surround them. And it is also quite funny, can be used to teach electronics, to teach them how to think, it teaches them how to have less short-term projects and work as a team, how to participate in a community, get information... The potential for students when they're just learning how to use the computer, to learn how to make things with computers... to me that... that's powerful. And what that would actually mean long term for students with only 50$, be able to plug something into their computer and make something with it over and over and over again and then really share it... The type of creative community that can engender in young people to me I think that is... That's going to change everything, and I'm really excited to see what happens as it develops. Arduino has 120.000 users nowadays, or 130.000 users... I just count the number of sold boards. The traffic that we are now getting in our website is close to 15 million hits per month. Which means around 600.000 hits per day. That is knowing it is actively used in universities, also used by people who work on their personal projects... Now imagine it was to start being used in high school education. Its future will not be "technological", it will be quite more social; it will be some kind of big boom where a lot of people will start using it. I definitely see Arduino taking one path of being just very easy to use, even easier than it is now. So making it easier for beginners to get into it. All my favourite distortion pedals... a Big Muff... with my favourite microcontroller board, Arduino. The user base would get 10 or 20 times bigger. If all of a sudden these people started sharing their files on the network, it would just not support all that. It would just not work. Here's a robot. If I tilt, you see the light goes left... I go up... I want Arduino to always be a tool that people who have no understanding of computers can look at and can get an understanding of how a computer works. But I sell this. So that's part of how I make my living. For this to keep working like it does ten years for now we need to be able to keep creating new hardware, we will need the continous feedback of the community, and to be able to include their changes and their proposals with all the necessary upgrades. And after those 10 years, I hope we have at least one Arduino computer... why not?

Video Details

Duration: 28 minutes and 17 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 1,543
Posted by: ipse on Jul 15, 2011

Arduino is an Open-Source electronic prototyping platform allowing to create interactive electronic objects, and it's the most popular Open-Source Hardware ever. This short documentary movie tells you the story of the Arduino and how does people use it to solve their problems and to have fun.

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