Arduino influences Art
History of the Arduino

The Arduino microcontroller is a principle representative of the microcontrollers commonly used in art and design. Others in the field include Wiring,[1] Making Things[2], PIC[3], and the Basic Stamp[4]. The Arduino microcontroller was originally created as an educational platform for a class project at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea[5] in 2005.[6] It grew from the previous work of the Wiring microcontroller designed by Hernando Barragán[7] in 2004.[8] From its inception, the Arduino was developed to engage artistic and design-oriented minds.

wiring-microcontroller.pngPhotograph provided by Marlon J. Manrique & Lezioni di StileFigure 3-1 Wiring microcontroller, 2004, 3.6 in. x 2.4 in.

arduino-microcontroller.pngPhotograph provided Nicholas ZambettiFigure 3-2 Arduino microcontroller, 2008, 2.7 in. x 2.1 in.

Barragán, an artist and designer, created the Wiring microcontroller, Figure 3-1, to be used as a tool for a parsing data to electronics. He intended it to be used by a "non-technical" audience: "artists, designers, and architects," in short, not requiring prior electrical engineering or computer science knowledge. He emphasized the Wiring board as a prototyping tool. Wiring fulfilled Barragán's need for a designer-friendly tool (in this case a microcontroller) that was easy to use without a great deal of engineering or programming experience. Barragán's advisors for his thesis on Wiring were Casey Reas and Massimo Banzi. Reas created the visual programming language Processing[9] with Ben Fry. Reas studied interaction in art as an undergrad,[10] continued with John Maeda while at MIT, and developed Processing for a language accessible to artists and designers. Banzi, on the other hand was more interested in further developing the microcontroller as an art and design tool. The Arduino, Figure 3-2, was originally developed for an interaction design class taught by Banzi. The creators of the Arduino are Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, Dave Mellis,[11] Gianluca Martino with Nicholas Zambetti.[12] The Arduino team[13] currently consists of Banzi, Cuartielles, Martino, Mellis and Tom Igoe.[14]

The Arduino team wanted to further simplify the Wiring platform and thus the Arduino microcontroller was developed. The Arduino team made the Arduino microcontroller more usable by focusing on simplicity, a goal in pursuit of designing for a non-technical audience. Four cohesive reasons are echoed by Banzi when defining the Arduino's success.[15] These reasons also denote Arduino's differences from other similarly intended microcontrollers for artists and designers:[16]

  1. It is inexpensive. 
  2. It is packaged with the Integrated Development Environment (IDE).
  3. It is programmable via USB.
  4. It is supported by a community.

The above points were deliberate decisions when the Arduino platform was being conceptualized and designed. The usability of the Arduino platform is significant being that every person interviewed spoke directly of the usability of the Arduino. Three people interviewed currently work at IDEO, and are experts in the field of usability. Participants were asked how they would describe the level of entry to the Arduino versus other microcontrollers. The answer was unanimous that the Arduino was easier to use. From having a simplified platform with a chip on board to a user-friendly Integrated Development Environment (IDE), made a difference to new users and people who appreciate visual aesthetics. Mellis comments that their goal was to make it less expensive and smaller than the Wiring board, "A lot of things people tend to build initially tend to be simple, they don't need a powerful microcontroller". Ninety-Four percent of interviewees felt the four points outlined by Banzi; cost, an integrated IDE, programmable over USB, and supported by a community, were useful in their work and made the Arduino a successful platform.

  1. Wiring.
  2. Making Things. (visited on 10/06/2009)
  3. Microchip Technologies, PIC. (visited on 10/14/2009)
  4. Parallax. (visited on 04/18/2008)
  5. In 2005,the school merged with Domus Academy. Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. (visited on 11/19/2009)
  6. The Interaction Ivrea Prototyping Toolbox. ToDo,
  7. Hernando Barragán (Creator of the Wiring microcontroller), in discussion with the author, September 2009.
  8. Hernando Barragán, Wiring: Prototyping Physical Interaction Design. Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, 2004
  9. Processing.
  10. Casey Reas, "Behavioral Kinetic Sculpture" (bachelor thesis, University of Cincinnati, 1996).
  11. David Mellis (Co-creator of the Arduino microcontroller), in discussion with the author, November 2009.
  12. Nicholas Zambetti (Co-creator of the Arduino microcontroller), in discussion with the author, June 2009.
  13. Credits. Arduino, (visited on 03/11/2008)
  14. Tom Igoe (Member of the core Arduino team), in discussion with the author, August 2009.
  15. Massimo Banzi, Getting Started with Arduino. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2009
  16. Ibid.