Case study: Arduino – participating in a world of creation in digital space

“If you aren’t able to participate in the world of creation in the digital space, you’re left out.”  (Severance 2014).

There are many different options to create and craft digital artefacts and products. One of them is Arduino. Arduino itself is a microcontroller on a developer board which can be easily ordered and programmed to do a variety of things. The ever-growing Arduino community is made up of everyone from hobbyists and students to designers and engineers all across the world.

Arduino started as a teaching tool, and one of the conditions shaping the emergence of Arduino were the requirements of studying interaction design. These students had only about 30 days to study electronics applied to design. So apart from many other things, the Arduino technology had to be very accessible in a relatively short time.

Arduino is, in fact, many boards. Boards are different in terms of memory (Uno versus Mega) or in terms of processing power (Uno versus Due). This aspect actually relates to an on-going discussion of closed hardware products being inspired by Arduino but offering better functionalities at a lower price to maker enthusiasts. Now that the idea of programmable microcontrollers has taken off, different business models are experimented with. In the end, Arduino is not only a technology but also a company that had to grow and stabilize. Even though Arduino is one of the success stories in open source hardware, it’s still a relatively small company with few full-time employees.

Even so Arduino is low cost and relatively easy to program, the fact that hundreds of thousands of makers are downloading the Arduino programming device, implies a tremendous impact on learning and large scale creativity.  The modular character of the Arduino ecosystem linking with all sorts of electronics and a number of functionality enhancing shields, makes it a universal starting point for tinkering with electronics.  Now there are several companies with Arduino products at their core, such as the educational Toy ‘Cubetto Playset’. According to Banzi, Arduino is changing the way we design products: non-professional designers can develop products and ask for funding on crowd funding platforms like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, also products can be altered in small ways according to the special needs of users.

Another effect we can observe relates to the undoing of the traditional separation between software and hardware development. Easy to configure sensors and actors enable programmers to use environmental data as input to the functionality of their overall product designs. Also bridges are built to other ecosystems, such as shields and libraries that connect your Arduino device with your Android Phone, so that also smartphone or tablet sensors can provide the input for any Arduino action.

Thus many fablabs are using Arduinos in the meantime. One of them is the Fab Lab in Torino. The main goal of Fab Lab Torino is to provide a physical space where to talk, develop, and learn things about digital fabrication. So their mission is to promote digital fabrication and be open to all people who want to make something. The Fab Lab has about 250 members each year with approx. 10 – 20 makers are there almost every day, because this is where they run their own projects.  However, topic specific communities have even established in Fab Lab Torino, such as the audio hacklab, the Arduino user group, the bio hackers, or the 3D printing club. These clubs have emerged in an organic way.

Many different Arduino projects, ideas and classes are shared on the internet like in Pinterest. If you are curious and would like to get more face to face insights consider to visit FabLab in Torino where they support your ideas and provide also help in crafting and programming or have a look at our complete case studies’ report.

 

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