Making Arduino: Interview with David Cuartielles

Is it possible to sense if an specific technological advance was made with genuine good faith? Talking with the founders of Arduino, you always have this honest impression. Some time ago we interviewed Massimo Banzi at Barcelona (you can read it here) and few months later we had the serendipitous chance of talking with David Cuartielles, co-creator of Arduino, as well as Electronics Laboratory Director at Malmö University and an active promoter of open hardware and education through technology.

Arduino is becoming something like a household name in electronics, being used widely by the Maker movement. For those who are not familiarized with it yet, let’s summarize saying that Arduino is an open source board of micro-controllers which has revolutionized the way of making interactive objects: easier, cheaper and backed on the community cooperation. A new way of understanding electronics, interactivity and our relationship with the world around us . As put in <<Arduino: The documentary>>: “It’s kind of like I’m taking one step up a ladder and helping other people go further up the ladder”. Talking with David Cuartielles in the Web Summit at Dublin, we better understood why Arduino’s community is unstoppably climbing the ladder of technological evolution.

P.N. Every day manufacturers are launching new “compatible with Arduino” stuff. It seems that it could happen in the future that everybody will say “an arduino” for any electronics board, as it is becoming like a generic…

D.C. Yes, something like this is happening and I must say that it is a honor to me, as we are changing the way people understands the creation of hardware and software.

David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014
David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014

P.N. How did you start working together in the Arduino project?

D.C. It’s a funny story. I started studying electronic engineering and working in the University, and I realized that even being a passionate of electronics in that moment I didn’t really liked the practice of it. I was 24 then. So I took the chance offered by the School of Arts and Communication of Malmö University, On January 1rst 2001 I took my car, all my things, and I drove through the bridge to Malmö, Sweden. In the University I gave Java lessons to Industrial Design and Interactive Design students: people who had no former education on technology, meaning that I was teaching to people who didn’t knew what an algorithm is, or discrete mathematics, or mathematic thinking at all. It wasn’t easy, I had to invent a full series of methods. Now it seems normal because many people is working on this, but back in the year 2001 there was nobody.

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Interview with Massimo Banzi: cofounder of Arduino

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.

Massimo Banzi at Fab 10 Barcelona
Massimo Banzi at Fab 10 Barcelona

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.

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