Abstract—Massimo Banzi describes the origins and evolution of the Arduino microcontroller. The first Web extra at http://youtu.be/0VAbvQ2Ti50 is a video interview in which author Charles Severance speaks with Massimo Banzi about the origins and evolution of the Arduino microcontroller. The second Web extra at http://youtu.be/N6wN1_qLfEQ is an audio recording of author Charles Severance reading his Computing Conversations column, in which he discusses his interview with Massimo Banzi about the origins and evolution of the Arduino microcontroller.
Keywords—Massimo Banzi; Arduino; microcontrollers; Computing Conversations
Most computer scientists focus on developing software and leave hardware development to a few specialist engineers. Designing and building hardware takes skill, patience, and time, which is why many software developers simply write code and use hardware designed and built by someone else.
A microcontroller such as Arduino shifts this traditional separation, making it much easier for anyone to build hardware—developing something like a thermostat that senses when someone enters the room, for example, is well within the reach of any computer scientist. Not only is building hardware much easier and more fun with microcontrollers, it's also relatively inexpensive, which lets a wide range of engineers solve problems using a combination of custom-developed hardware and software.
I met with Massimo Banzi, one of the cofounders of the Arduino project, at his office in Lugano, Switzerland, to understand how Arduino was developed. To view our discussion in full, visit www.computer.org/computingconversations.
In 2005, Banzi was working as a faculty member at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and teaching courses on interaction design for physical devices that increasingly needed electronic components:
Because the course goals avoided teaching hardware development, Banzi wanted to make creating the electronic components for student prototypes as straightforward as possible. He also wanted the designers to be able to build, tinker, and evolve the electronic aspects of their work without depending on electronics experts:
After several prototypes and a student thesis project on a product called Wiring that connected a microcontroller to a computer via USB and incorporated an API for easy programming, the first Arduino design was produced:
Because the initial goal was simply to meet the needs of design students, there was no plan to ramp up manufacturing in those early days. The team published the plans as open source and made a few printed circuit boards for their own use:
Once the team had a solid design for Arduino, they wanted to share their ideas more broadly. The next step was a first production run of pre-assembled Arduinos for their classes and workshops:
Arduino got additional exposure when Tom Igoe started using it in his physical design classes at New York University:
As the clever design projects based on Arduino made their way around the Internet, the demand for the microcontroller began to grow very quickly. Banzi made arrangements to distribute Arduino through the SparkFun online electronics store, which made it so the microcontroller was readily available in the US. In a sense, Arduino is a self-marketing product:
The Maker and DIY movements have also adopted Arduino, and it's increasingly used to introduce young students to technology to give them a sense that they too can understand how hardware and software combine to produce new technologies:
Arduino's worldwide popularity lets Banzi and his co-creators spend time thinking how to get young people more involved in the design of our everyday technological devices:
While Arduino was originally conceived and designed to help in the creation of design prototypes with electronic components, it has the potential to bring a hardware element to teaching at all levels of computational thinking and computer science.