Way back when, I did electronics as my undergraduate degree. Looking back it now, I remember that some of the most pleasurable times were spent in the lab, soldering iron in hand, working on one electronics project or another. Which is why DIY initiatives like Arduino are so exciting. So what is Arduino, exactly?
To all intents and purposes, it's a "get you started" kit for playing with simple (and not so simple) electronics projects. Built on an open source platform - which is to say, the rights to the design and its reproduction allow people to work with the board without having to pay royalties or patent fees to anyone else - the Arduino is small, programmable electronics board that can talk to a computer and control devices in the real world.
The Arduino Diecimilla.
The board contains a microcontroller, a clever device that combines a microprocessor (so it can run programmes you download to it) and a set of electronic inputs and outputs. The inputs allow it to monitor the real world - for example, using a light sensor or a microphone (sound sensor), as well as controlling things in the real world (for example, switching lights or electical motors on and off, controlling an audio speaker, or even driving a small printer).
Arduinos were very much in evidence at the UK's first Maker Faire, held in Newcastle in the North of England in March 2009. Originating in the United States, Maker Faires are celebrations of technological tinkering, a place to share tips and ideas about how to get involved with DIY technology. As part of a special co-production of the BBC World Service IT programme Digital Planet, reporter Angela Saini went along - here's what she found out Arduinos:
You can read about more about the other features included in the Open University/Digital Planet special on DIY Technology.
And if the idea of Arduinos intrigues you, they could well be part of home experiment kit in a forthcoming OU course. Stay tuned for more, as we have it...