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Arduino the Documentary
May 1, 2011 12:50 PM   Subscribe

A movie about Open Source Hardware:
Arduino the Documentary

posted by lemuring (33 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have been very tempted to buy one of these things. Thing is I can't think of what to do with it.

Maybe in a few years. Then I can do "make the light blink" projects with my son and teach him some programming.
posted by middleclasstool at 1:05 PM on May 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have been very tempted to buy one of these things. Thing is I can't think of what to do with it.

I've bought a couple, and even thought of some things to do with them. They're currently somewhere in the middle of my 'things to do' pile.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:09 PM on May 1, 2011


I have been approximately half way done with building an arduino-based control system for large numbers of those small RC helicopters for about 4 years. I'm pretty sure that's about as far as I'll get.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:24 PM on May 1, 2011


I have an arduino board, and a cool tv shield for it, but I haven't gotten around to actually building anything yet.

Someone really needs to build a guitar pedal shield for it. There's a pretty active guitar pedal electronics community, and it seems like arduino should be able to allow for some cool experimentation.
posted by drezdn at 1:31 PM on May 1, 2011


Do they explain their stupidfuck decision to go with 2mm pin headers?
posted by 7segment at 2:08 PM on May 1, 2011


Arduino is one of the things that pays my rent. Thanks for the reminder that I ought to watch this.
posted by brennen at 2:23 PM on May 1, 2011


2mm pin headers? Other than the screwy space between pins 7 and 8, I think all the headers are on the standard 0.100" spacing.
posted by hattifattener at 2:29 PM on May 1, 2011


Ah, hattifattener, I stand corrected. Knew there was some reason they didn't drop into protoboards so everyone's project ends up looking like a rat's nest, but had thought it was more than just that offset.

You're right, thanks!
posted by 7segment at 2:49 PM on May 1, 2011


If you like playing around with digital logic, I've found XESS Xilinx boards to be lots of fun. The XESS board isn't "open hardware", although you get full schematics and such. It bridges the gap between the fine-pitch Xilinx FPGA and your 0.100" proto board. Costs $200 and more than enough gates to make a 32-bit processor and peripherals.
posted by ryanrs at 3:35 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


To give you an idea of what you can do with a cheap-ish FPGA these days, you could definitely get Linux running on one of those XESS boards. It'd be a huge amount of work though, if you designed it all from scratch. Much less work if you copied an existing cpu architecture so you could leverage an existing compiler toolchain.

Really, you can go all the way from gates to a shell prompt on a breadboard these days.
posted by ryanrs at 3:39 PM on May 1, 2011


I have a couple arduino projects on the go- very cool stuff, esp when combined with wifi and extra inputs/ouputs. Cheap and works great.
posted by parki at 3:48 PM on May 1, 2011


I had heard a little about of the arduino when the project first started, but I started diving back into it after hearing that it was also used as the design basis for the RepRap system as well.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:49 PM on May 1, 2011


Having taught (mostly analog) electronics I wish I knew more about this stuff. FPGA's are really amazing, but I'm not sure what to do with them other than create small limited computers using a large general purpose computer. I guess if I needed to analyze lots of data in parallel in real time they would be the way to go.

But some of the ways people use this stuff is just crazy. There are time lapse photography projects where people have programmed microcontrollers to flip a switch every 10 minutes or what have you. That's great and more power to them but its sort of like using a cruise missile to kill an Elk.

Back in the day computers used to have ports through which you could interface directly to the real world. So now-a-days the best you can do is use your big computer to program a smaller computer to eventually interface to your circuit to your sensors to the real world? Its like russian nesting dolls.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:06 PM on May 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


The weird thing to me, Chekhovian, is that it's often cheaper to throw a microcontroller at a problem like that than it is to do it with a 555 or a mechanical timer.
posted by hattifattener at 6:18 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


But thats exactly it! These days you could throw a full laptop at many simple problems and pay only $200-300. If you did a headless system the cost would be well below $100. Thats comparable to most micro-contollers + accessories.

Wouldn't it be cool to have a "development" laptop with ports and oscilloscope function and function generator capability? Why involve a middleman?
posted by Chekhovian at 6:27 PM on May 1, 2011


> There are time lapse photography projects where people have programmed microcontrollers to flip a switch every 10 minutes or what have you.

Maybe the project started where they wanted to take a photo every minute, but then realized that the effect was not what they wanted, so tried it at three minutes, then finally realized that ten was the incremant that gave them the best options. So the person designing it may have had options to use mechanical timers and electronics, but then they would have had to end up designing their own variable timer system or buying one to accomplish that project.

And once they were done with the project, all they had at the end of it was this nifty timer they built, but may never use again. Compared to buying an Arduino Uno for $30 and make the rest of the tweaks for timing in the code, and at the end of that project they could use the Arduino for another one. Considering it's $150 or so for a variable timer control for a Canon dSLR, I'd imagine an Arduino would be the nerds better option.

> Back in the day computers used to have ports through which you could interface directly to the real world. So now-a-days the best you can do is use your big computer to program a smaller computer to eventually interface to your circuit to your sensors to the real world? Its like russian nesting dolls.

But now with the nesting dolls you get abstraction.

Before you had to leave your big computer directly attached to those sensors to know what temperature it is.

Now you can leave your little computer attached to the sensors, a power source, and if you want, a wireless signal, and be able to read those sensors from anywhere.

And the Arduino can be controlled by just about any machine (OS X, Windows, Linux, etc), so it would go from a classroom where you programmed on the provided machines (maybe just a single computer if the school could afford it) to interface with the sensors to students being able to use whatever computers they had available.
posted by mrzarquon at 6:29 PM on May 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


> Wouldn't it be cool to have a "development" laptop with ports and oscilloscope function and function generator capability? Why involve a middleman?

I see where you are going with this, but those netbooks are cheap because they dropped all those legacy ports, so your development laptop would end up costing significantly more because of all no longer standard issue components you would have to source (and fit) into a laptop sized enclosure. I'm pretty sure in fact someone could make a development box from something like the Arduino that would turn any laptop into something such as your development box, without having to reinvent the wheel by creating a new laptop as well.

You should really watch through the entire Arduino documentary, it started out as an educational platform from the beginning, by professors who were tired of having to use other (closed source) controller platforms to teach their classes. The parts were expensive and so the students didn't do much with them, since they didn't want to buy such expensive devices. For me that is the most exciting factor of the entire philosophy behind the Arduino (and the RepRap system) as it makes it possible access to a level of technology and production that ten years ago would be unheard of outside of major universities, established tech areas and hacker spaces.
posted by mrzarquon at 6:43 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had heard a little about of the arduino when the project first started, but I started diving back into it after hearing that it was also used as the design basis for the RepRap system as well.

Well, one of them. RAMPS is probably the major flavor, but some of our entrepreneur-devs and generic devs keep doing up new ones.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:26 PM on May 1, 2011


But some of the ways people use this stuff is just crazy. There are time lapse photography projects where people have programmed microcontrollers to flip a switch every 10 minutes or what have you. That's great and more power to them but its sort of like using a cruise missile to kill an Elk.

I have done exactly this. The reason I went with a microcontroller was flexibility - I have an LCD, I can set exactly what time I want between shots (down to the millisecond), how many shots I want, and I also have additional modes such as holding the shutter open for a certain amount of time and opening the shutter a certain number of milliseconds after an input is triggered. While I am sure all of that could be done with analog parts, surely a $3 micro controller is a more sensible choice?

If anyone is curious (it doesn't use an arduino, I went with an ATMega8 as I had a few spare) complete plans and source code are at my website.
posted by netd at 7:40 PM on May 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I made a stuffed tiger play pong (although you have to move its arms manually) with one of these. It was just a project out of a book, but fun for a beginner. One day I'll start playing around with it again and try and make it wireless.
posted by Kris10_b at 7:41 PM on May 1, 2011


Before you had to leave your big computer directly attached to those sensors to know what temperature it is. But in terms of realistic usage patterns how many people have 8 Ardunio's scattered about the house running various toasters and blinking christmas lights and what nots?

Now you can leave your little computer attached to the sensors, a power source, and if you want, a wireless signal, and be able to read those sensors from anywhere. Adding a real cpu and memory would be a marginal addition to that cost, so again (ideally here) why bother with the middleman of a microcontroller that is an entirely distinct computational environment from the main computer world?

What I find amusing is that several people on this thread have already suggested running linux on your various microgadgets...I'm just approaching this problem from the other side.

so your development laptop would end up costing significantly more. Perhaps more realistically a USB stick that would directly interface your fancy and cheap computer to the real world would be possible. But direct integration into a laptop form factor would be so cool. If you could just pullout the optical drive I never use anyway and put some interface stuff in there, that would be perfect.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:43 PM on May 1, 2011


Much as I like the philosophy behind Arduino boards (haven't tried one), so far what I've seen done with them has been not-so-impressive (with exceptions). Now that they're popular, I hope they're spurring the development of lots of generalist, more powerful hardware.
posted by Twang at 7:48 PM on May 1, 2011


There's a lot of boohoo-ing in the hacker community about the Arduino being inadequate for this and underpowered for that but the point is it's an entry level platform that can take an absolute beginner up a very shallow learning curve and up to the point where those limitations might actually become an issue. Never before in my electronics life have I picked up a microcontroller that just works as soon as you plug it in. That is a huge achievement.
posted by mhjb at 8:41 PM on May 1, 2011


The Camera Axe is a pretty damned impressive piece of work, and it's built on an Arduino. I want one all the way to the bottom of my heart.
posted by pjern at 12:07 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think one sure sign that you're doing something right when hacking is that people get flustered and pissed and say you're doing it wrong.

Bravo for Arduino and bravo for whatever eventually surpasses it.
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:40 AM on May 2, 2011


why bother with the middleman of a microcontroller that is an entirely distinct computational environment from the main computer world?

Your computer is a development tool: you use it over and over for multiple projects. The Arduino board is a consumable component: you program it, connect it to some other devices, then package it all up in a pretty box and forget about it.

Maybe the projects you have in mind would all live on your desk, where you could feasibly plug them into a computer, but the projects I build are generally portable, wearable, battery-powered, or otherwise designed to live in environments where you wouldn't want to use a full computer - even a cheap netbook. For example, last summer I built a pair of accelerometer-driven LED glow poi: each one driven by its own $20 Arduino mini. I can't even imagine how such a project would have been possible using even the tiniest laptop.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:03 AM on May 2, 2011


drezdn: Someone really needs to build a guitar pedal shield for it.

I guess it would work as a controller, but the CPU doesn't appear to have any specific DSP or SIMD functionality and the analog lines appear to be only 12 bit, so I doubt it will be useful for anything more fancy than lo-fi effects.

This is the point where someone proves me wrong
posted by vanar sena at 12:53 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Undoubtedly microcontrollers are clearly the solution when you need something small that lives in what you're controlling.

My lament is that modern computers OS's are so isolated from the real world. For many projects one isn't terribly concerned about size or power consumption and instead would prefer ease of interaction and minimal discontinuities between software and hardware.

That microcontrollers seem to be the only way inexpensive way to interface to the real world is disheartening. netd's camera controller is pretty fantastic, but how much extra work was required to set up all the buttons and display stuff? A small netbook controlling such a system would have been far easier, if there were an easy peripheral for the interface.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:32 PM on May 2, 2011


vanar sena: you're right, but the LeafLabs Maple might be a good choice. It is an Arduino clone based on a 72 MHz Cortex-M3, and there is an example guitar effect implemented on it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:58 AM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks Mars Saxman, I'll have to look into that.
posted by drezdn at 12:37 PM on May 3, 2011


A small netbook controlling such a system would have been far easier, if there were an easy peripheral for the interface.

It is a pity that parallel ports are disappearing nowadays - they make it fairly easy to develop simple projects that are entirely PC controlled. You get up to 12 digital IO lines (all 12 can be used for output, 9 can be used for input). They are so flexible that the ATMega programmer I used consisted of a parallel plug, a bunch of resistors, and a capacitor.

Now you pretty much need USB to do anything on a netbook, which means you need a microcontroller of some kind. You could combine your netbook and a micro that supports USB such as the Teensy++ to get a bunch of IO lines that can be programmed on your netbook.
posted by netd at 5:22 PM on May 3, 2011


Is there any reason you can't use a parallel-usb adapter like this? Seems like it would give you everything a built in parallel port would in terms of IO.
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:20 PM on May 3, 2011


You probably could, but if you are going to pay $13 to add the port back in, you might as well go for the USB micro and get more IO for your money.

It probably doesn't apply to the parallel adapters, but I have heard some of the USB serial adapters don't output voltages to spec, so the plug in USB ports don't always provide exactly the same functionality as the built in ones.
posted by netd at 7:49 PM on May 3, 2011


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