Using the Arduino: Turning Thinkers into Doers

The Arduino is a physical computer based on a microcontroller board that can be directly programmed from a regular computer using a USB cable and the Arduino development environment. It can sense and control the world around it and is enabling thousands and thousands of users worldwide to build almost anything they dream of, from a simply blinking LED to a plant that twitters when it needs water. This open-source electronics platform is giving individuals the ability to have control over things by accessing technology in a way that was never thought possible.

A previous article, Arduino: A Big Revolution in a Small Package, introduced and discussed the microcontroller, its accessibility, and the value of the huge community surrounding it. Projects that are constantly emerging from this huge online community show that the real potential of the Arduino lies in the notion that physical computers can be used to improve the quality of everyday life, from novelty tasks like using a wii nunchuck to control an espresso machine, to useful energy saving solutions such as a wireless electricity monitor.

The Arduino enables even complete beginners with no prior electronics or programming knowledge to hack, make, build and customise objects and environments to make things work better for themselves and others in their daily lives. Whether you want to program your television to turn on when you arrive home in the evening or remotely activate your home heating, it can allow you to do this. By making DIY projects like this easier than ever the Arduino has paved the way for a wave of makers and hobbyists to add interactivity to everyday objects and environments, simplifying or adding an element of fun to everyday tasks.

I was introduced to Arduino at college when doing a Masters in Interactive Media. My first project involved learning some basic soldering skills and creating a very basic circuit using a potentiometer to control an LED. I have since gotten an Arduino starter kit which comes with tutorials and everything you need for the projects like sensors, motors, buttons, switches and LEDs. There are also really useful online tutorials.

In jogo I used an Arduino to control an LED array which I built to act as a playhead that indicates the sequence of the notes playing in the sixteen steps of the concentric circles. This was left out of the final project for other reasons.

I had previously learned some Java and Actionscript so I already had a grasp of object-orientated programming which meant I didn’t find it to be a steep learning curve for me. Even so, one of the strengths of the Arduino system is the massive community that surrounds the project. One of the benefits of this community is having a massive library of examples and tutorials to learn from. Someone, somewhere, has more than likely done something similar to what you plan to do. For some projects you want to create you may not even have to start writing code from scratch.

With the Arduino, individuals, rather than businesses and institutions, can now make intelligent tools customised for their own particular needs. From DIY home alarm systems, to a robot that reads and speaks RSS feeds. The power is now in the hands of everyday people to have control over things in a way they only ever imagined was possible. Everyday objects and environments are becoming more and more embedded with computational power.

The technology of the Arduino and the community that surrounds it enables people to be doers, not just thinkers. Rather than sitting back and letting the technology that surrounds us have all the control, people are now using Arduino as a tool through which they can sense, control and automate things around them.

All that is required is an Arduino, a computer and your imagination. Access to the online community of hackers and makers would greatly assist DIY-ers of all skill levels. Inspiration and help can be found on the Arduino-Tutorials page, the Arduino Playground, Makezine and Instructables.

The possibilities are endless for amateur and expert enthusiasts to use Arduino to improve aspects of their daily lives or simply make things more fun. So whether you chose to make your sitting room furniture re-arrange itself according to your mood or remotely control your microwave to cook your porridge while you’re still in bed, you are only limited by your imagination.

From my own perspective the real benefit of the Arduino is that it is an accessible platform that allows me as an artist and designer to add interactivity to my work. Currently I am using Arduino to build sound based interactive pieces that aim to encourage playful and social interaction among both adults and children. My first project on this theme, jogo, was developed using a web camera. While this works perfectly, it is unfortunately restricted to being used in environments with controlled lighting. To overcome this I plan to use the Arduino to make a hardware version of this in the near future.

The pictures in the text are from an Arduino project that Emma and Loraine Clarke contributed to Tweak.
You can visit Emma at her website or follow her on twitter: @legolady

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3 thoughts on “Using the Arduino: Turning Thinkers into Doers

  1. Because the Arduino technology is so accessible it opens the doors for all sorts of people who may not have thought of themselves as remotely technical to explore new possibilities of expression and create objects and systems that hitherto they may have thought impossible.Also it gives a team of people, however they are organised whether it be in business or community life to deploy the individuals most interested and capable in bringing a given idea to life rather than projects which involve some degree of technicality always being assigned to the most technical person.I believe this technology can reveal all sorts of creative possibilities.

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  2. Your demonstration of Jogo at 3Dcamp was inspiring Emma and now I’m looking forward to attending an Arduino tutorial next Tuesday at our inaugural MiLKlabs workshop.

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