This should be read…

Why the Arduino Won

For anyone wondering why I’ve focussed on Arduino under the banner of open source technology, this article should give you some idea as to why. Pay particular attention to the word ‘inclusive’.

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Arduino Persistence of Vision

Arduino Persistence of Vision

“Persistence of Vision” refers to the phenomenon where the retina retains an image for a brief split-second after the image was actually seen, and lends itself to animation by fostering the illusion of motion when we view images in closely-timed sequence to one another. We don’t notice the fractional skips between images because that persistence fills in the momentary gap to make the motion seem seamless.

Created and modelled here by Arduino India’s Nidha Syed.

Why Arduino India?

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

To take a step back a bit from post 1, it will probably be beneficial to introduce Arduino to those that aren’t familiar with it. The concept behind it is simple: a micro-controller that can have different components plugged into it that will sense the environment and allow an interaction with its surroundings – such as sensors, motors and lights. The scope of projects that are being created using this technology goes beyond robotics however, and very often respond to a need identified by the ‘makers’ from their own life. The above documentary gives an interesting insight into how Arduino fits into the maker movement.

This links into the question that I’ve had to answer a lot: why India? One of the predominant anthropological schools of thought when it comes to technology is that as material objects technologies are imbued with a purpose or specific use, determined by their creator and therefore the creator’s cultural background. Arduino as a technological component, is designed to be fluid, adaptable to any use: does this allow it flexibility as it is appropriated by different cultures?

Vinay Venkatraman, while introducing Frugal Technologies at a TED talk, also inadvertently introduced me to Arduino, and the concept of open-source technology. His medical screening tool uses a microcontroller to allow local health workers to pre-screen patients, in order to establish those that need to be prioritised and those that need to be monitored. Further online research opened my eyes to a range of open source hardware projects being worked on across the globe; however it was the examples produced in India that caught my interest. Was it the resourcefulness exhibited by Indians that appealed? Or the innovation of the design? In all likelihood it was the glimpse into the cultural psyche, the knowledge that the designs addressed the needs and interests of the society in which they were being produced, resulting in particularly Indian innovations.

Take Vinfinet Tech’s product Kisanraja as an example: he identified the need to monitor rural irrigation systems, and to take into consideration the fact that power is often lost for long periods at a time and water may only be available at certain hours. Kisanraja is designed so that the farmer can remotely control when his pumps are in use to coincide with the water and power availability, thereby extending the life of the pumps themselves, and minimising the farmer’s need to struggle over rough ground populated by snakes in the early hours of the morning.

I look forward to seeing many more such examples and prototypes while I’m here in India!

The beginnings:

I’ve finally set myself up in Bangalore and have spent the last few days camped out with Priya in the brand new Arduino India office: camped out seems an appropriate way to phrase it, as we don’t yet have chairs and so have set ourselves up on colourful mats on the floor.

Although the initial attraction to Arduino technology was the creativity and innovative design of the people that are using it, the aspect that has held my attention is the sense of community felt by the ‘makers’ involved, which becomes apparent as people feed back into the Arduino knowledge bank. Arduino itself is based on the ethos of open sourcing both its software and its hardware, and I’m interested to explore whether this has an impact on its users; whether it creates a sense of belonging to a greater whole.

David Watts sums this up in an eloquent little poem, written to show gratitude to the many users that allow others to access their ideas:

Massimo Banzi, co-founder of Arduino, talks about his motivations in making open-source hardware: “I like this idea that hardware becomes like a piece of culture that you share and build upon, like it was a song or a poem with creative commons”. Like traditional songs and stories that transfer culture down through the generations, the knowledge that is gathered through the process of creatively using technologies is being developed upon and passed on, so that ideas can be improved upon by others, modified for different ends.

Rather than go against this ethos and produce an ethnographic account of this community based solely on my observations, I am interested instead in embracing it, and allowing my research to be subject-led and highly collaborative. To this end, I welcome anyone to get in touch with me, either regarding avenues of enquiry, or in order to collaborate more closely.