The year 2005 was full of big shocks: Hurricane Katrina, Indonesia big blackout, Avian Flu… and amongst all this, it was born a big invention, one with potential enough to solve many shocks in the future: Arduino. It was born in Ivrea, Italy, originally as a tool for students who needed cheaper hardware for their electronic projects. But there it was the seed of the next revolution: Open Hardware. The spread of Arduino has been immensely broad, enabling people throughout the world to develop a vast number of inventions which wouldn’t have the chance of existing without this “magic board”. In 2005, it was not hard to imagine free software, but to envision open hardware you needed to be really a visionary.
And the visionary was Massimo Banzi, cofounder of the Arduino project, who conceived an open-source platform to make electronics universally available and, most of all, to create a community strongly engaged with this vision. As an icon of open- source and Maker movements, we felt privileged to have the chance of talking with him during Fab 10 Barcelona and asking him for some ins and outs of Arduino wave.
P.N. When you started with Arduino, did you imagine it would grow as much as it has grown ?
M.B. No, no, no. It started off as a tool for my students, to teach my students. They are Design students, so they are very clever, very intelligent. They design the products that we use everyday, products based in technology, in electronics. I needed something that it would allow them to learn about electronics very quickly, so they could actually make, you know, imagine the products of the future. We made it for them. And then, obviously, afterwards it became useful for other people, artists, musicians, and makers in general, and then kids. So there were a lot of different groups of people that found the system that we started, it was useful enough and worked.
P.N. So you gave the tool and people put the ideas, was it something like that?
M.B. Yeah. The tool was designed for a specific group of people, and then it turned out to be useful for many people. I think this is important, when you design something for a group of people, don’t try to invent something for everybody, because if you try to create something for everybody, actually nobody likes it. When you try to design something for a specific group of people. Then other groups of people could say OK, this is interesting and useful…
P.N. We can not please everybody.
M.B. No, no. I think you should design things for specific types of person, and then if it gets more universal, that’s great.
P.N. Something really important of Arduino is openness. As long as I know it was like an accident because it was related to the situation of your school…
M.B. Well, no… Originally we wanted to make it open-source at every level already. That was something we wanted to do, and in fact, we “open-sourced” it even before we knew that the school was going to close. So what happened when we realised that the school was going to close, is that we also realised the openness. We went actually to talk with the lawyer, and he said if it is open-source already, then they can not take it away. So the idea is that we realised later that being open also protected us from the original owner of the school which was Telecom Italia: the risk was they can show up one day and say OK, now Arduino is ours.
P.N. So it is not just a tool, it’s a tool with an ideology, isn’t it ?
M.B. Yes, but maybe ideology is probably a big word. Clearly there are some principles, there are some ideas behind what we do. So, it’s not just the technology for the sake of the technology. In a way we like to do things this way, and to do things this way, we need this kind of tools, and these tools need to be this way. So it might be more a philosophy than an ideology.
P.N. And now…which are your new challenges, your new projects ?
M.B. I think one of the big challenges is that now everybody is getting very interested in these projects related to what they called the Internet of Things, but the tools are still complicated. So we need something to make it very easy for people to do these IoT projects. On the other hand, there are also a lot of interesting things with Linux-based computers as they are becoming smaller and cheaper. There’s a lot that can be done in that area. And also on the tools, like the software of Arduino, honestly it’s very rudimental. It’s not possible that we are still programming computers with the same things that we invented in the late 50’s. We need to invent simpler, easier, more universal tools. Something that would allow you to program your phone, your washing machine. You know, something to program everything. Even this badge could be a piece of electronics, we should be able to program it.
P.N. A lot of things to do.