Monday, October 31, 2011

The Making of Arduino: How five friends engineered a small circuit board that’s taking the DIY world by storm

By David Kushner / October 2011

The Arduino core team [from left]—David Cuartielles, Gianluca Martino, Tom Igoe, David Mellis, and Massimo Banzi—get together at Maker Faire in New York City.

Photo: Randi Silberman Klett

The team recently unveiled the Arduino Due, a board with a 32-bit Cortex-M3 ARM processor that offers more computing power for makers with complex projects. Click to enlarge.

The picturesque town of Ivrea, which straddles the blue-green Dora Baltea River in northern Italy, is famous for its underdog kings. In 1002, King Arduin became the ruler of the country, only to be dethroned by King Henry II, of Germany, two years later. Today, the Bar di Re Arduino, a pub on a cobblestoned street in town, honors his memory, and that’s where an unlikely new king was born.

The bar is the watering hole of Massimo Banzi, the Italian cofounder of the electronics project that he named Arduino in honor of the place. Arduino is a low-cost microcontroller board that lets even a novice do really amazing things. You can connect an Arduino to all kinds of sensors, lights, motors, and other devices and use easy-to-learn software to program how your creation will behave. You can build an interactive display or a mobile robot and then share your design with the world by posting it on the Net.

Released in 2005 as a modest tool for Banzi’s students at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (IDII), Arduino has spawned an international do-it-yourself revolution in electronics. You can buy an Arduino board for just about US $30 or build your own from scratch: All hardware schematics and source code are available for free under public licenses. As a result, Arduino has become the most influential open-source hardware movement of its time.

The little board is now the go-to gear for artists, hobbyists, students, and anyone with a gadgetry dream. More than 250 000 Arduino boards have been sold around the world—and that doesn’t include the reams of clones. "It made it possible for people do things they wouldn’t have done otherwise," says David A. Mellis, who was a student at IDII before pursuing graduate work at the MIT Media Lab and is the lead software developer of Arduino.

There are Arduino-based breathalyzers, LED cubes, home-automation systems, Twitter displays, and even DNA analysis kits. There are Arduino parties and Arduino clubs. Google has recently released an Arduino-based development kit for its Android smartphone. As Dale Dougherty, the editor and publisher of Make magazine, the bible of DIY builders, puts it, Arduino has become "the brains of maker projects."

But Arduino isn’t just an open-source project that aims to make technology more accessible. It’s also a start-up company run by Banzi and a group of friends, and it’s facing a challenge that even their magic board can’t solve: how to survive success and grow. "We need to make the next jump," Banzi tells me, "and become an established company."

Arduino rose out of another formidable challenge: how to teach students to create electronics, fast. It was 2002, and Banzi, a bearded and avuncular software architect, had been brought on by IDII as an associate professor to promote new ways of doing interactive design—a nascent field sometimes known as physical computing. But with a shrinking budget and limited class time, his options for tools were few.

Like many of his colleagues, Banzi relied on the BASIC Stamp, a microcontroller created by California company Parallax that engineers had been using for about a decade. Coded with the BASIC programming language, the Stamp was like a tidy little circuit board, packing the essentials of a power supply, a microcontroller, memory, and input/output ports for attaching hardware. But the BASIC Stamp had two problems, Banzi discovered: It didn’t have enough computing power for some of the projects his students had in mind, and it was also a bit too expensive—a board plus basic parts could cost about US $100. He also needed something that could run on Macintosh computers, which were ubiquitous among the IDII designers. What if they could make a board that suited their needs themselves?

Banzi had a colleague from MIT who had developed a designer-friendly programming language called Processing. Processing was rapidly gaining popularity because it allowed even inexperienced programmers to create complex—and beautiful—data visualizations. One of the reasons for its success was an extremely easy-to-use integrated development environment, or IDE. Banzi wondered if they could create similar software tools to code a microcontroller instead of graphics on a screen.

A student in the program, Hernando Barragán, took the first steps in that direction. He developed a prototyping platform called Wiring, which included both a user-friendly IDE and a ready-to-use circuit board. It was a promising project that continues to this day, but Banzi was already thinking bigger: He wanted to make a platform that was even simpler, cheaper, and easier to use.


Techy way to spice up that costume for Halloween!

By Tim Teatro

Ever wanted to make your own Halloween costume, or personalize one you bought from the store? There can only be so many devils and naughty kitties at one party!

If you’ve got the artistic spark, then the Arduino LilyPad can help you put a little techy spice into your clothing.

The LilyPad Arduino is a small circuit board containing a really small micro-controller designed to be stitched into clothing. It can be programmed to blink lights, read data from sensors, make sounds, move servos or motors or any number of things your creative mind can conjure. With very little electronics knowledge and some patience, you can come up with some amazing things! A hat that blinks when you jump, a shirt that displays the strength of wireless signals around you? Sew some tactile pads onto the thighs of your jeans so that when you slap your needs you get a drum beat or a light show. How about a colour organ style light show on your shit that pulsates based on the music around you. Possibilities are endless.

Halloween is the perfect time to show off your creative projects. Feel free to post pictures here in the comments section of this page!

on’t forget to check out YouTube to get some inspiration from others!

You can Google around for a local retailer, or order on-line. In the GTA, you can buy Arduino products and accessories at Creatron. Creatron also does on-line orders. A LilyPad costs about twenty bucks, and then you need some conductive thread and some components!

For ordering LED lights, sensors, and various components, is a great source with a flat rate shipping and free shipping on orders over $200.00. For projects where you need perhaps bulk quantities of LED lights, DigiKey price adjusts for volume. That is, you pay less per piece if you buy 10 instead of 5, and even less if you buy 50. If anyone is interested, I have a parts list for some good quality but inexpensive LEDs available from DigiKey.
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Wi-Fi haptic ‘Le-Chal’ shoes to guide the blind navigate city streets now

A new device for the blind not to hold in hand but inserted into their shoe was made by an Indian engineer from Hewlett-Packard Lab in Bangalore aptly named “Le Chal“, which means “Take me there” in Hindi.

Anirudh Sharma’s Le Chal shoes help the blind to navigate city streets, especially those beset with potholes at every corner or even in the middle of a footpath. These haptic (touch) shoes send vibrations inside the shoe to the holder about the impending obstacle on the road.

The shoe was featured in MIT Review in August 2011. It has four mini-motors which vibrates when ditches or potholes are on the way and it is GPS-synchornized with Google Maps so that the person can follow the route easily. When it vibrates on the left side of the palm, he takes the turn accordingly and the intensity of vibration shows the distance where he or she has to take a turn.

Aided with a Le Chal Android app on a smartphone, the blind gives commands orally on the destination, which is relayed by a bluetooth with Lilypad Arduino circuit board, which takes care of the navigation.

The prototype, priced $20, will be given to 20 persons from a Bangalore blind school on a pilot basis before launching it commercially. “We intend doing about 20 shoes (priced at Rs 1,000 or $20 USD a piece) and distribute them to the visually challenged. After the feedback, we will make all the improvements suggested by the user group before going for future plans,” Anirudh Sharma told the local media.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wired Textiles for a Phone as Useful as the Shirt on Your Back

John Volakis wants to make the world hands-free.

The director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State University, he is trying to end the need for cellphone hardware like the Bluetooth earpiece by fabricating communication devices out of something that most states require we carry with us all the time anyway: clothing.

“You won’t have to hold your cellphone to your ear,” said Dr. Volakis, an electrical engineer. “We’ll eliminate all that. It will be part of your attire.”

His effort is part of a broad technological effort to make “smart textiles”: wearable fabrics with embedded electronics that can collect, store, send and receive information. His lab is focusing on the sending-and-receiving part, trying to transform military apparel, hospital gowns, even everyday T-shirts into antennas.

Aside from enabling a science fiction luxury — simply speaking into your collar when you want to talk to somebody — antenna clothing could offer covert communication for soldiers, wireless monitoring for the sick and much better reception in general.

Though it will take at least a year for Dr. Volakis and his team to develop antenna clothing for civilians, his lab built antennas into a United States Army bulletproof vest last summer.

The vest, with a square antenna panel embedded in the front and three in the back, is like “having more sets of eyes or ears,” said Chi-Chih Chen, the electrical engineer who led the team that developed it.

Antennas lose reception when blocked by a human body — as evidenced by the static an FM radio spurts out when you walk in front of it — and the cumbersome rod-shaped antennas used by soldiers cannot capture signals from directly above. Communication is severely limited when an antenna goes horizontal, as it does when soldiers duck, crouch or crawl.

“This is where a body-wearable antenna will shine,” said Steve Goodall, chief of antenna technology and analysis for the Army’s office of communications and electronics research, development and engineering. “You can flare the antennas out to cover a larger area,” turning a single one-dimensional rod into multiple two-dimensional panels.

Dr. Chen is working with Applied EM, an antenna research and development company in Hampton, Va., to commercialize the technology, with the help of a grant from the Army Small Business Research Innovation Program. According to the company’s president, C. J. Reddy, each unit will start around $1,000, but the price should come down as production volume rises.

Wearable communications equipment dates back at least to the late 1990s, when a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology developed the Wearable Motherboard, an electronic T-shirt with no antennas but with ports for multiple inputs and outputs — including a thermometer, a microphone, a blood oxygen monitor and headphones — to help monitor soldiers’ health.

“If you want information about me, that information has to come from my clothing,” said Sundaresam Jayaraman, the textile engineer who led the team. The patents were sold to a private company in 2000, Dr. Jayaraman said, but the technology was never commercialized.

Dr. Volakis shares Dr. Jayaraman’s interest in using clothing to monitor vital signs. He is working to develop an antenna hospital gown that can transmit data like heart rates to a health professional’s computer. Such wireless monitoring could be used not only in hospitals, but also in people’s houses, to remotely keep tabs on the sick and elderly while they move about unencumbered.

“When elderly people stay home, we want to give them independence,” Dr. Volakis said. “People are not going to be tied to a wire.”

The challenges are different from those of a bulletproof vest, which does not need laundering and whose natural bulk can accommodate antenna panels.

By contrast, an antenna gown needs to flow, so it must be made of threads that not only conduct electricity, but are soft and washable. Dr. Volakis’s team is experimenting with high-tech materials like carbon nanotubes and graphene to try to satisfy these requirements.

Beyond that, he says smart textiles could improve the life of anybody who yearns for a stronger cellphone signal.

“We have a huge amount of room on ourselves,” Dr. Volakis said; why not cover it with antennas?

“I’ll make sure you have five bars all the time,” he said. ”Not even five bars; let’s make it 10.”
A version of this article appeared in print on October 25, 2011, on page D3 of the New York edition with the headline: Wired Textiles for a Phone as Useful as the Shirt on Your Back.

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