During a visit at Inventables HQ they took a few minutes to shot a video while chatting with with Massimo Banzi about his early experiences as a designer and maker, the development of Arduino, open-source philosophy, and how to get started with electronics and his approach to user interface design. Enjoy the video:
Gordon Hollingworth, our Director of Software, has been Googling himself, and mailed me to let me know about this video he found from Richard Ibbotson. Richard came by Pi Towers last month and filmed this little interview with Gordon and Eben – it’s worth a watch if you’re interested in what goes on behind the scenes. Enjoy!
Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica conducts a Q&A with Massimo Banzi as Arduino’s rise continues.
Most of the technology world is familiar with open source software and the reasons why, in some eyes, it’s more appealing than proprietary software. When software’s source code is available for anyone to inspect, it can be examined for security flaws, altered to suit user wishes, or used as the basis for a new product.
Less well-known is the concept behind open source hardware, such as Arduino. Massimo Banzi, co-creator of Arduino, spoke with Ars this month about the importance of open hardware and a variety of other topics related to Arduino. As an “open source electronic prototyping platform,” Arduino releases all of its hardware design files under a Creative Commons license, and the software needed to run Arduino systems is released under an open source software license. That includes an Arduino development environment that helps users create robots or any other sort of electronics project they can dream up.
So just like with open source software, people can and do make derivatives of Arduino boards or entirely new products powered by Arduino technology.
Why is openness important in hardware? “Because open hardware platforms become the platform where people start to develop their own products,” Banzi told Ars. “For us, it’s important that people can prototype on the BeagleBone [a similar product] or the Arduino, and if they decide to make a product out of it, they can go and buy the processors and use our design as a starting point and make their own product out of it.”
While Arduino has been around since 2005, the Raspberry Pi has been the hot platform for hobbyists over the past 18 months. But the Pi’s hardware isn’t open.
“With the Raspberry Pi you cannot even buy the processor,” Banzi said. “With the processor on the BeagleBone, you can go buy even one of them if you need to.” Raspberry Pi is “a PC designed for people to learn how to program. But we are a completely different philosophy. We believe in a full platform, so when we produce a piece of hardware, we also produce documentation and a development environment that fits all together with hardware.”
BeagleBone and Arduino, partners in open hardware
You may have noticed that Banzi spoke positively about the BeagleBone even though it’s ostensibly an Arduino competitor, made by the BeagleBoard.org foundation and CircuitCo. The platforms share the same open hardware philosophy, and they recently collaborated to build the Arduino Tre, scheduled to be released in spring 2014.
The Arduino Tre and BeagleBone Black both use a 1GHz Sitara AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 processor from Texas Instruments. BeagleBoard.org co-founders Gerald Coley and Jason Kridner helped the Arduino team design the hardware and software for the Tre, according to Senior Embedded Systems Engineer David Anders of CircuitCo. Like the BeagleBone, the Tre is manufactured by CircuitCo.
The collaboration “began as a discussion about how to introduce users (not just students, but also artists, designers, sociologists, and anyone who doesn’t come from a CS/EE background) to what embedded Linux offers without assuming that they know Linux,” Anders told Ars.
Software will also be portable between the two platforms. “The Arduino Tre does contain the essential core of a BeagleBone Black, and we are working to standardize the default distribution between the two platforms, which would provide easy transition between working on either platform,” Anders said.
In another development important for open source hardware, the creators of BeagleBoard andArduino have each developed platforms containing Intel processors for the first time.
At the LinuxCon conference, Intel CTO Dirk Hohndel told the crowd that CircuitCo’s Minnowboard is “specifically designed as the first open hardware board based on x86, and that allows you to build derivatives without an NDA. All the pieces are open and available, all the blueprints you need, all the source files you need. You can create your own embedded platforms without Intel, without any of the vendors involved.”
After the Minnowboard’s release, Intel teamed with Arduino to create the Intel Galileo, due out next month for $60 or less.
Intel’s embrace of open hardware came in response to customer demand. Banzi heard one story about Intel unsuccessfully trying to sell a customer a new processor. “The customer told them, ‘I’m not moving even if you give me the processor for free because I don’t want to lose the community,’” Banzi said. “For this person, it was very important to have a platform based on Arduino and the Arduino community behind it.”
An Arduino for every project
Banzi co-developed Arduino while teaching at a design school in northwest Italy, simply because there weren’t any good hardware options for his students. “We had to figure out something that would be simple, cheaper, USB plug and play, and you could program on Windows, Mac, and Linux,” he said.
“Arduino allows you to move your code across platforms so you can always choose the platform that fits with your project.”
Arduino was expected to be useful “in that particular tiny context,” but it morphed into something much bigger. “It sort of escaped the lab—let’s put it this way, you know like a virus—and started to touch all sorts of different other markets,” Banzi said. “Now if you go to the Maker Faire, you see that 80 percent of the projects are running on Arduino in one way or another.”
There are about a million official Arduino boards “out in the wild” and perhaps several million more of the unofficial variety, he said. Arduino is trademarked—even though it’s open hardware, makers of new products should “explicitly say that you’re not connected to Arduino and your product is a derivative,” the company says.
While some Arduino clones are made well and are compatible with Arduino software, there are many cheap knockoffs, Banzi said. “There is a problem that a number of people have started to use the ‘Arduino compatible’ words too much,” he said. “There’s no guarantee it’s going to be compatible or that you can use the official Arduino IDE [integrated development environment] to program it.”
A company called Seeed Studio has done a good job making products that are compatible and respectful of trademarks. But there are many bad apples, which Banzi has catalogued on his website.
Beyond that problem, pretty much everything is going great for Arduino. The new Intel- and ARM-based Arduinos take their place alongside existing boards like the Arduino Uno, based on the ATmega328 8-bit microcontroller.
“The Arduino Uno is the cornerstone of Arduino, that’s where everybody starts,” Banzi said. “You learn how to fly with the Arduino Uno and then you graduate to different boards.”
The Arduino partnership with Intel is going to yield more fruit, as the Intel Quark processor is designed in such a way that new versions with slightly different capabilities can be rolled out quickly, Banzi said. “We have a collaboration agreement where this is just the start.”
The Intel Galileo runs a stripped-down, custom version of Linux and is ideal for building 3D printers or applications that are part of the “Internet of things.” That includes home automation applications and wireless sensor networks.
It’s not clear whether the Intel Galileo or the Arduino Tre is more powerful, as Banzi said no benchmarks have been run to compare them. They have different capabilities and tradeoffs, though. The Tre can run a desktop and is thus suitable for applications where you need time-sensitive I/O operations and a graphical interface, such as Kinect-like sensors.
The Galileo opens Arduino up to the world of x86 applications, but it lacks a video card and is imagined as a platform for applications that don’t need a desktop interface, Banzi said.
Previous-generation Arduinos are not obsolete, either. Last year’s Arduino Due, for example, uses a 32-bit processor which is “good for those applications where timing is important,” like a 3D printer or stepper motor, Banzi said. “8-bit processors are starting to struggle on the more interesting printers.”
What’s significant is that Arduino has a piece of hardware for almost every use case.
“We are moving to a situation where you would be able to scale your code from an 8-bit microcontroller to a 32-bit microcontroller, to a 400MHz Intel chip, all the way up to a 1GHz ARMv7 computer with HDMI,” Banzi said. “Arduino allows you to move your code across platforms so you can always choose the platform that fits with your project.”
The work of Afroditi Psarra includes experimentation with embroidery, soft circuit and diy electronics. I got in touch with her after discovering she was holding a workshop in Barcelona around sound performances using Lilypad Arduino along with a really cool embroidered synthesizer (…and also submitting her project to Maker Faire Rome !).
Even if her background is in fine arts, as a little girl she got interested in creative ways of expression: on one side she was lucky enough to have all sorts of after-school activities that included painting, theater games and learning but also how to program using LOGO and QBasic. That was in the days of black-and-white terminals and MS-DOS commands:
I still remember the excitement of not knowing what to expect at the opposite side of the screen. So for me, technology has always been a major part of my life.
Below you can find my questions to her:
Zoe Romano: In which way you started mixing art, technology and craft?
Afroditi Psarra: I had the chance to spend a year in Madrid as an ERASMUS student and there I encountered the work that was done at the Medialab Padro and had my first physical media art experience at the ”The making of Balkan Wars: The Game” exhibition. Two years later I went back to Madrid to do a post-graduate course on Image, Technology and Design and there I got familiar with Processing. I started working on interactive applets, but after some time I felt like I was missing the manual, hands-on labour of creating, so while I was coding I was also working on simple embroideries oriented around women and technology. These embroidery skills were passed on to me by my grandmother who taught me everything about knitting.
How did you get to know Arduino?
At the various media art workshops that I attended at the Medialab-Prado I was always hearing about Arduino, but for me electronics was something totally unknown and was always connected to robotics and automation processes. About two years ago a friend and very talented media-artist, Maria Varela, who was studying in London told me that she had attended a LilyPad Arduino workshop and that this was an Arduino implementation designed to be used with conductive threads instead of wires.
I was really excited by the idea that this would allow me to combine my work in embroidery with coding, so I bought myself a kit and started to experiment with some basic examples and tutorials I found in Instructables and started to follow the work of Hannah Perner-Wilson (Plusea, Kobakant), Lynne Bruning and Becky Stern. At the time I was still living in Madrid so me and another girl from Medialab, Francesca Mereu, formed a small group called SmartcraftLab and posted our experiments on-line.
I remember that one of my first experiments was using the conductive thread as a pressure sensor that created tones, and when I heard that primitive digital sound I instantly felt that it was something that I wished to explore further. I think that this interest in physical computing, e-textiles and sound brought all of the things that I was working on earlier together, and the Arduino allowed me to do that.
As for the production of my projects, it is always done by me, but often look to the Arduino community for solutions to problems that I may encounter and ask for other people’s help on hardware and software issues. I do not see myself as a very skilled programmer just yet, but I certainly am evolving. After all, I believe that workshops, hands-on experience and collaborations with other people are the things that allow you to grow as a Maker.
A couple of years ago Paola Antonelli, senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, said “The two most important introductions for art in the past 20 years have been the Arduino and Processing”, how do you see it?
I totally agree with the quote. Processing and Arduino are the two things that have allowed artists with no previous background in computing and electronics work with tools that where only available to specialists before. These two languages have created a tendency towards interactive art and we are now experiencing a revolution in DIY digital fabrication, hacking and tinkering on so many different levels. I think that the increasing spread of Medialabs, Hackerspaces and Fab labs around the world is the living proof of that.
In which ways are you experimenting with the Lilypad?
The LilyPad has allowed me to explore the relation between crafts connected with women’s labour such as knitting, sewing and embroidery, with electronics and creative coding, as well as the creation of soft interfaces of control. In my project Lilytronica I am currently using the LilyPad to create my own embroidered synthesizers that I use to perform live.
Considering that the LilyPad is not designed for creating sound, and you only have digital outputs and 8 MHz clock speed, the result is a very rough, primitive sound quality, which I personally like a lot. In my interactive performance Idoru() I am exploring the body as an interface of control of sound though the use of wearables. In this project the LilyPad acts as a controller, and the sound is produced in SuperCollider.
I am also participating in conferences around open source technologies and organizing workshops on e-textiles and the use of the LilyPad, because I want to transmit my passion and because I want to get more people involved in this exciting new artistic field.
Are you releasing your work in open source?
Ever since I started to work with the Arduino I try to publish my work on-line so that I can have feedback on everything and until now I have been releasing the code on my personal website, but I am thinking of creating a Github account and releasing the code there so that everything is easily accessed by anyone interested. I firmly believe in releasing one’s work in open source, because this way you can evolve your work more rapidly and share your creation process with other like-minded individuals.
Where do you see wearable computing most interesting developments going towards?
I think it is a bit early to tell. Technology evolves at a very fast pace and multinationals sometimes reject certain developments because of their lack of economic interest. Seeing all the fuss around the Google glasses, one would argue that wearable computing is heading to connect the physical body with the Internet of Things. I personally feel that we can certainly expect developments around wearables and locative media and various medical applications.
For now, the most interesting applications in wearables are around fashion, art and music, and they require a certain craftsmanship to be made. As Kobakant argue in their paper ”Future Master Craftsmanship: where we want electronic textile crafts to go“ we never know what can happen when industrial automation kicks in. When our skills become devalued because machines can produce work faster, cheaper and better, we will still enjoy the craft process. But instead of sitting back to become E-Textile grandmothers, perhaps competition from the automated machines will encourage us to move on.
The Maker movement, I think, is less about developing products, and more about developing people. It’s about helping people realize that technology is something man-made, and because of this, every person has the power to control it: it just takes some knowledge. There is no magic in technology. Another way to look at it is, we can all be magicians with a little training.
as a matter of fact, Bunnie will talk about this and more other related stuff at the Singapore Mini Maker Faire on Saturday the 27th of July (enroll) (thanks to William Hooi for sharing)
Some days ago Makertour was in Torino to join the Arduino Camp organized by Officine Arduino and hosted by Fablab Torino. Enrico Bassi, president of the Fablab, was interviewed by Makerfaire Rome crew around his experience in the “maker movement” and in the creation of the first fablab in the city.
During the same trip the video-crew visited the factory where Arduino is manufactured and Davide Gomba reveals where does the “Arduino” name comes from! Watch it now:
Imagine being an artist with an insane desire to learn the tools that would set your art apart, that would inspire you to create something closest to your imagination. Imagine a burning desire improve the lives of others with all the skills that you have. Imagine, being Jody Culkin.
Jody started her career with Technical Photography at the Medical Department of New York University, an art form that is long lost in today’s world of Instagram and digital photography. A course taken on Physical Computing in 1998 at the age of 45 at ITP, NYU to learn electronics and coding, pushed her to be the maker that she is today. She is currently teaching a course in a Community college in New York. She is also an avid sculptor, an artist, a comics maker, a welder and many more things that marks a true maker. An exclusive interview with her here would take you closer to the world of makers.
Priya: What is your oldest memory as a geek and a maker? Also what were the first experiments that got you started in electronics?
Jody: I remember my junior high school days when we were taught about computers yet never got to work on one. Me and my friend used to exchange notes in ASCII art with pencil on paper. Also I had been making small functional objects like a table and lamps.
The first circuits were really simple with a play of many switches. I loved to use switches for so many different things.
Priya: How was the transition from being an artist to an electronics maker? Which, according to you, is the better way to go?
Jody: I think ideas need to be more clearer than only electronics, for that you need to be a designer. Otherwise I see a lot of designers getting help for electronics in the art world.
Priya: I am a huge fan of the Arduino comic strip that you did years back for arduino. What inspired you to do that? Are you working on more such comics?
Jody: Back in 2009, during a summer camp at ITP, I wanted to express whatever I had understood very clearly. So I decided to document it using a comic strip for others too. What you might observe in the comic, is that there is a central character telling the story, it is not only electronics and wires, which is an essential part to make it appealing in any comic.
Jody: Yes, I started with Code Academy, they have some really great lessons to get you started with.
Priya: Impressive! What are the tools, might you suggest to be the essentials for any designer aspiring to add electronics to the art?
Jody: The tools I would suggest are Arduino, Processing, JS, also I liked MAXmsp interface, other random stuff like Digital multimeter, screw driver, basic sensors etc.
Priya: As an artist what are your most commonly used sensors? Also do you have to use general purpose PCBs or get it custom made?
Jody: I use photocells a lot. I also like IR sensors and Force sensitive Resistors, as they are pretty easy to interface. Regarding PCBs, I have always used breadboards. For some reason, they have always held up pretty strong.
Priya: What drives you? And what advice do you have to make it big in the world of Interactive Designs?
Jody: Curiosity drives me. I love putting different stuff together and observing the final results. Like one of my installations is a self turning-pages book, an added functionality of turning the pages via web was interesting.
To be a designer, one should learn to express things in a simple way. A majority of time should be spent working. Apart from that, networking is a must. Try to hang out with the designers whose work you get inspired by. People like to see works of different designers under the same roof. So try to improve your work to get in the grove with them.
Priya: Very insightful. What are your latest works that you would like to talk about these days?
Jody: There was a show at Florida, at the Boca Raton Museum of Art – I had some displays on fashion there. Also had a presentation on the way comics can be used to explain technology. I was working on a Lasersaur build with Eric Hagan, which is an open source laser cutter project started by Nortd labs at ITP at NYU.
Priya: Lastly, how does it feel to be a woman in tech doing electronics and art together? How did it feel back at the university? What is your current passion?
Jody: It feels great and empowering. T, The strength in the university was 50-50 for men and women. However, I observed that the men were putting in more efforts to learn in Physical Computing, whereas the women were more into web development. I wished women participated more. Tom, really supported and guided me well.
Currently, my passion is to teach the diverse students attending the Community College. Yes, some are very well prepared, some are not, but then, that is where a teacher’s true test of creativity lies.
The feeling of pure joy that is felt when the first object is printed on the Prusa Mendel i3 is a priceless and a compulsary experience for any maker. The super-simple yet sturdy design of the printer is coupled with the easy to use and well maintained software crafted for the purpose of 3D printing Slic3r by Alessandro Ranellucci. The interview with them later that day was interesing too. A lot has been written about Josef Prusa he also has a TEDx talk to his name. His youtube channel has a lot of 3D printing related information. Make magazine recognizes him too! A lot can be found out about him, and google tracks his transition from the time that he was a very young enthusiastic maker to the current open source 3D printing guru. For the newbies, a single line definition of a 3D printer could be, that it is a printer which prints the uploaded 3D file, layer by layer, through an extruder, with a material mostly looking like pastic Eg ABS(Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Here is the exclusive interview with the DJ-ing, electronics hacking, Chicken Tikka masala loving Prusa Brothers :
Priya: It was lovely attending your workshop, I see that you are really passionate about 3D printing. If there was another topic that you could talk to me about apart from 3D printing, what would be that?
Michal Pruša: It would definitely be music, Techno and minimal to be preicise. I sometimes perform as DJ too.
Josef Pruša: For me, it would be tinkering in general.
P: How is it Michal, to work with your brother and what are the other interesting things that you have done with electronics?
M: Oh! we have a lot of incomplete projects. I designed an RFID access system for the fablab at home, been doing DIY PCBs for almost 5 years now. Back in high school, since I was not wanting to take exams, I requested the teacher to transfer the exam credits into a project. I successfully built a method of teaching router encoders for school students. The most memorable moment was me wanting to build my own laser cutting machine at home, and trying to import the tubes from china 3 years back, and getting it all broken through the customs. Local access to materials is important! Especially for someone who loves building things.
J: He wants to build everything from scratch, I am more of a person who spends more time in improving stuff and not reinventing the wheel. Michal, lets do one thing, lets start mining tin. (Laughs)
P: What is a regular work schedule for you people is like? All the time on 3D printers? Also what is your favourite tool around the lab?
J: I am mostly working on 3D printing, while he just assists me on workshops. As far as his individual work is concerned, there is loads of electronics, DJ-ing, organising events and of course there is college. We are fuelled by Coke and Pizza on gaming nights. We are big time into playing minecraft as it is exciting to build new stuff. We use an extension called Tekkit which is a very good modpack.
M: Favourite tool, should definitely be the glue gun and hot air solder gun.
P: Josef, what was your first project and did you publish it? Did you both start tinkering around the same time?
J: Michal has been tinkering with electronics since the time he was very young, I started only at the end of high school. But, I was into programing with php and python. My first project was using an Arduino and MaxMSP. MaxMSP talks to the arduino and an iphone. I controlled a remote RC car. (Smiles) I wrote to the local Czech magazine, nobody bothered locally, then I submitted the same to the english magazine, gizmodo and wired covered it. That was in the year 2009. The most recent coverage of that project was when Damien Stolarz of O’Reilly wanted me to write a chapeter in his book of iPhone hacks on the same hack.
M: The first time that I used a multimeter was when I was 9. I have made many projects but I am too lazy to document anything. (I catch a sneaky side glare from the older brother here.)
P: Who do you look up to in the field of technology? Which is the one city that beckons you to live in?
J: I used to look upto Bre Pettis before makerbot became closed source. Massimo Banzi, for of course Arduino and a good sense of humour. I would like to live in NewYork someday.
M: We both grew up watching Mythbusters hence Adam Savage I guess tops the list for us having this innate passion to create stuff.
P: What is the one thing that scares you?
J: Media scares me. The ability of the media to make anyone an overnight star, has lead to a bunch of people 3D printing guns. Which, as I can see, is not good for the 3D printing industry, it might bring a very bad name to all of us who are trying to do good with the same technology.
P: One last question, I saw your TEDx Talk dating 3 years back, your english then to the english now is very different, I see that now you can think in English. Whats the secret?
J: (Smiles) Good question and please do quote me on this. I learnt engish by chatting a lot on IRC channel #reprap on freenode, for the diction I watched a lot of english TV series. That TEDx talk was my first ever public speech at a large platform.
Telecom TV interviewed Eben, in their Executive Insight segment. I won’t embed it here because the video autoplays, but you can watch it at the Telecom TV website, and I really recommend it. Update ten minutes later: well, I got the embed to work without annoying you, but that’s a doozy of a frame that it’s decided to display while it waits for you to press play. Don’t worry. The whole video isn’t that disturbing.
If you’re interested in what we do in terms of business, manufacturing or engineering, you’ll probably find out something you didn’t know.
Ever wondered about the extent of diversity in electronics? Been to a theatre and wondered at the sophistication of the live stage set? Welcome to the world of theatrical electronics. An exclusive inteview with this engineer in Arts – Ben Peoples
Priya: What is theatrical electronics? I always thought that theatres bought standard stuff off the shelves. Ben: Theatrical electonics is a field of science where we try to rapid prototype electronic items on the stage to make things appear more real. Of course, it is a huge field. With 25 different theatres around the place where I live, my plates are generally full!
P: Interesting! How long have you been associated with electronics to capture such prototyping skills? What are the general tools that you use? B: I have been prototyping electronics for over 20 years. I have been an ardent user of Arduino for the past 6. I loved the community so much that I even teach it to other people. P: Oh teach too? Like classes for theatre prototyping? I would like more details on that. B: (Smiles) Well not much, they are just getting started on how to rapidly put things together and program it using an Arduino to give it an “appearence” of more complex stuff like Time machine on stage.
P: Sounds fun. What are the theatre-specific whacky things that you teach them to build in the workshop? What are the general tools needed to attend your class? B: I teach them to build Reed-candles, an elevator, wireless fireplace, wireless-dimmer, using Xbee radios for the lighting console and more things like that. I typically teach them inside a theatre wherein they need to bring their own laptops and software. They are seated inside a rehersal space so that they get the exact feel of designing things for a theatre. Other than that, its the usual arduino boards, gear motors, LEDs and of course, loads and loads of scotch tape! (Laughs)
P: Woah! How long does it take for you to teach them these? B: 2-3 hours to teach math and the basics, 5 hours to explain the basic expriments and seeing them prototype their first objects. So yes, in total, 8 hours.
P: What according to you, is the advantage to pick electronic skill in the field of theatre? B: There is theatre in colleges, the person could rise up to be a technical director, there is huge demand for lighting design, scenery design and of course in this age of television and movies, every drama theatre wants to stand out and do something extra. I see a huge future for it! P: Okay one question that intrigues me after all this conversation is how different is theatre electronics from electronic arts? B: Interesting question! For starters, Electronic Arts is very finished and polished. Theatrical electronics is well.. more raw and duct-taped at the back. They are two entirely different industries. P: What are the things that interest you other than prototyping and what would be your ideal birthday present? B: I love Ariel photography. Ideal birthday present is anything photography related. For work, I have to shoot digital, but for art I shoot 100% film, and just love it.
P: Any advice for youngsters? B: Don’t be afraid to try anything new. Ship early, ship often.
(Ben can be contacted from his blog here. Also he is the author of a very cool book speaking on the same topic and yes, I contacted him via reddit. )