September 10, 2011, 8:52 AM — If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've probably seen us refer to the Arduino microcontroller on a number of occasions. This little circuit board is at the heart of many DIY projects, from robotics to art projects and just about everything in between.
But what on Earth is Arduino, anyway? What makes it so versatile? And what can you do with it?
Limor Fried built her business on DIY tools and technologies. Limor, better known to the Internet as Ladyada, is a cofounder of Adafruit Industries, a site that sells kits, tools, and accessories geared toward the DIY set. Ladyada was gracious enough to take a few minutes to explain a little about what makes Arduino boards so cool--and useful--to anyone who's ever wanted to build or hack their own devices.
Arduino is described by its makers as "an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software", whatever that means. In short, it is a popular open-source electronic board that is capable of controlling just about any DIY hardware project. And there's a lot you can do with it.
As Ladyada explains:
"The 'what is Arduino?' is still a little vague, and that's the Arduino's strength. It's the glue people use to connect tasks together.The best way to describe an Arduino is with a few examples. Want to have a coffee pot tweet when the coffee is ready? Arduino. Want to have a Professor X Steampunk wheelchair that speaks and dispenses booze? Arduino. Want to make a set of quiz buzzers for an event out of Staples' Easy Buttons? Arduino.
"Arduino was mostly designed by artists for artists and designers...I think it's been the most important product/project in the world of educational electronics."
Arduino is sold under a Creative Commons Share-Alike (CC-SA) license, so you can make changes to the original Arduino board or how it's programmed and release it to the public, so long as you release it under the same CC-SA license. As you might expect, this has resulted in plenty of variations of the original Arduino board. Ladyada points to the Gameduino board, which is made with DIY gaming in mind. And Teagueduino is essentially an Arduino board put together in a kit to help people learn how to program it.
Seeing as Ladyada's job essentially allows her to play with Arduino boards and create her own projects, we asked her for an example of her best and worst creations: