What the hell is Arduino?

I first heard about Arduino from a friend that was learning about them in her industrial design class at the Emily Carr Institute and finally picked up my first one towards the end of August:
Just bought my first #Arduino board...looking forward to tinkering with it

I ended up giving a talk about Arduino at BarCamp Vancouver in November…more of a geeky show and tell really as I just wanted to share this cool little device with my fellow nerds.

So what the hell is it?
From the Arduino.cc homepage:

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

What I like about Arduino is that it accessible to just about everyone because it’s inexpensive (~$30 for a basic board like you see above), easy to learn & program for non-programmers and just fun to play with. Think of it as lego for adults or an updated 300-in-1 electronics kit like the one you had as a kid (well, I did anyways).

The Arduino UNO is the latest version of the board and should be available everywhere. The older board, the Duemilanove still works just fine and can usually be found for a few dollars less.

It can be programmed to run standalone or while connected via USB to a computer. It’s programmed via the Arduino programming language which is very easy to learn and understand but also can interface with a number of other ones including Processing.

So what can you do with it?
Since it’s an open platform, there really are no limits to what people are using these devices for.

Some examples I’ve seen that are interesting include a moisture sensor for your plants that will update twitter when it needs to be watered, an Arduino based Pong game, an embedded webserver (using an ethernet shield with onboard microSD card slot) and even a beer dispensing keg with iPad control!

I mentioned that I think of Arduino as adult lego…and you really do just connect them together. Using add-on modules called ‘shields’ that literally just connect/stack together on top of the Arduino, you can add all sorts od different things like an LCD screen with input controls:
Arduino LCD Keypad Shield

There are also shields available for hooking up all different kinds of sensors, motors, servos, lights, LEDs and the list keeps growing.

What am I doing with Arduino?
While I was poking around the net researching Arduino, I found the OpenMoco community and I stumbled upon this video, shot by a guy in Whistler using a Canon 7D, a homemade camera slider and an Arduino. This combination allows him to put his camera on a 3 foot rail and the Arduino pulls the camera along the rail for a wickedly smooth, tracking time-lapse with motion:

Needless to say, this is my end goal.

Jay (aka MiLapse) has created a product that does something very similar over at Dynamic Perceptions that I’d eventually like to purchase but for now, I’ll have to just drool over the videos he keeps posting of it in action:

My goal is to build a simple box that attaches to the one metre slider I’ve purchased and have it pull my camera along the track at a preset interval that will be displayed on the LCD module. I’m using these plans as my starting point and making some adjustments to suit my needs.

Just recieved my new Arduino UNO from @adafruit

Where can I get my own Arduino?
There are many ways to get your hands on your own Arduino boards & shields. I’ve bought them from Fry’s Electronics in Silicon Valley, online from Adafruit Industries, Maker Shed & eBay and in person in Vancouver from Lee’s Electronics.

Update (Jan 7, 2011): A short documentary about Arduino has been released! Like the device, it’s available for free and you can watch it right here:

Arduino The Documentary (2010) English HD from gnd on Vimeo.

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