Tiny computer taking the world by storm

June 5, 2013 7:44:10 PM PDT
Imagine a computer that fits in your hand and costs less than 50 bucks. Well, there is one, and it's taking the world by storm.

Tinkerers and do-it-yourselfers from around the world flooded the Maker Faire in San Mateo. While the gadgets and dodads got plenty of people gawking, it was a tiny little computer that had everyone talking.

It's called an Arduino.

"There are billions of these parts out there now, it's in everything," Arduino user Bob Martin said.

An Arduino is a single-board microcontroller designed to make it easier to incorporate electronics into, well, anything.

"There is so much cool stuff you can enable, because we have like, basically, three computers on the bike," said Adam Vollmer with Faraday Bicycles.

San Francisco-based Faraday Electric Bicycles built Arduino's into their bikes.

"We got an ambient light sensor that looks at how bright it is, and turns the light on automatically, we're going to have bluetooth, so it will like talk to your phone, it will track where your bike is, how far you've ridden, you can adjust the pedal assist," Vollmer said.

An Arduino is usually about the size of a credit card, but it can scaled down to be as small as a quarter. It is a simple, straightforward computer circuit board that contains just the basics needed for programming. Just a decade ago, people would have to make one of these from scratch.

"What would have previously taken a medium level hobbyist a week to accomplish, you can accomplish with Arduino in 15 minutes," said Michael Gregg with Cinch Circuits. "You just plug things together and it starts working."

The first Arduino showed up in an Italian design school. Massimo Banzi is one of the founders of Arduino.

"I see all this amazing stuff that people are doing, and I am constantly still finding moments where I go, wow," Banzi said.

He shared Arduino with the world, allowing anyone to buy it and use it anyway they want.

"Our angle is to really have people who have no experience in electronics and software, and make them able to create this kind of intelligent interactive object," he said.

Arduino's are now a key part of the "maker" movement, a growing trend of people building things. It costs less than $50.

The Arduino is not the most advanced board available, and that is by design. The goal is to keep the design simple in order to give people a chance to learn, and then build on the technology themselves.

"But if you make it for people to use, they can create amazing stuff," Banzi said. "So I think it's more important to take care of the experience that people have when they learn and they use, then to give them power."

written and produced by Ken Miguel


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