Over the past few months I have been working with Arduino boards and various other sensor chips. I haven’t done any electronics or firmware development for about ten years and it has been an eye opener to see the massive improvements in tech. that is now available to the hobbiest.
Nowhere is the compounding advancement of technology more visible than in this space. If I think back to when I was a child, the electronic projects I would make would be something like making a crystal set or perhaps a low wattage radio station with the odd bit of playing with and OpAmp and an NP555 timer IC.
Today, thirty years later, things are quite a bit different. I can setup a mesh network of wireless transceivers in a wide area network in about the time it takes to soldier up a transmitter and a receiver to one of these Arduino prototype boards (about 20 minutes).
I can setup a weather station in what would be a good half days play. Things that were simply unheard of when I was a whipper snapper.
This coupled with the Maker phenomenon, CNC machines and all of it being open source/hardware, I cannot but sit back and stare in awe at what the next decade has to offer us.
I remember sitting in my office about fifteen years ago, musing with my business partner John Curtis on how the next generation are not going to know how to make firmware because they don’t know assembly language. Who is going to make the device drivers for the next generations of technology? Who are going to be the toolsmiths? How can you make precision tools if you don’t have anyone being trained to operate lathes properly?
Then what we had mused upon was answered, CNC. Unbelievable, just look at this machine:
Yeah, sure, that’ s simple right? But now check out this:
The new thing that has happened, besides the increasing rate of robotics development and the incredible level of detail these machines are able to achieve is that we are truly standing on the shoulders of giants. Children can now program micro controllers and associated clever hardware. This is the most amazing advancement I think has happened in the past ten years. And ANYONE is free to copy it and make their own things.
The rallying point for all this is LadyAda and Make Magazine. Both of these resources (in my opinion) owe their success to the chaps at Arduino. They have developed this wonderful open platform for the home DIY enthusiast, school kids or the professional (like me).
The Arduino Hardware
This Arduino open hardware platform has been made by some chaps in Europe. There is a good TED Talk from Massimo Banzi (one of the creators) he goes into some detail about some of the amazing projects that can be achieved now with this open sourced model.
The Arduino Software
The hardware is pretty cool. It’s useful, it has analog I/O inputs so you can add sensors and it also has serial connectors so you can interface with other devices. All these things make your life very easy. But the jewel in the Arduino crown is choosing Wiring/C++ as the development language.
You can have a look at The Wiring Language at their site and you can type in C++ into Google and you will see that there is a large (very large) set of libraries and tutorials on how to use it. C++ is based on C which is about as close as you can get to assembly language without actually programming in assembly language. Apple choose a subset of C++ call Objective-C (or is that a superset) as their development language for their iOS devices for this very reason. Now, with the advent of the Arduino platform, this technology has become accessible to anyone with a spare ten minutes.
Scouring the online forums at Arduino.cc you see that there are a lot of kids using this stuff. A lot of them can’t program and are not really clear on how the language works, but that will change. It’s awesome. Something that was once the domain of clever dicks (PhD Required), is now available to school kids. Who can learn from others online. AND BUILD STUFF to boot.
I have more to say on this topic. But I think I will leave this blog post here for now. The world is becoming an incredible place.