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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Interview with Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms

In despite of his guru’s aura as founder of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT and creator of the Fab Lab model, Neil Gershenfeld proved at Fab 10 in Barcelona that he enjoys being on everyday’s work and making things turn real. During the meeting you could see him everywhere: on stage introducing the speakers, with young volunteers guiding their work, solving technical issues with sound system people, struggling with computers to connect call conferences on time…

If by chance somebody there didn’t knew who he was, by his humble and zealous attitude perhaps they wouldn’t suspect that Neil Gershenfeld is the cornerstone of Fab Lab movement. With essential books as <<When things start to think>> or <<Fab, The Coming Revolution on your Desktop>>, and his magnificent work on the Center for Bits an Atoms, he builded a completely new model of understanding how to make things. In fact, it can be said that he has triggered a whole new way of understanding productive economy, with crucial consequences that we will see in the years to come.

Some days ago, President Obama hosted the first White House Maker Faire and there he discussed with Neil Gershenfeld about the digital fabrication implications now and in the future. In the midst of frantic Fab City Symposium, Gershenfeld was so kind of granting us some time to ask him some questions about his activity and thoughts. We were really keen to have the chance of talking with him and hearing his thoughts about the influence that Fab Lab movement is gaining day by day.

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Sputniko! interview: “I just can’t stop crossing borders”

Sputniko! is an artistic name based both on technology (Sputnik) and surprise (o!): and that is in some way a good definition for her work too, mixing design, technology, art and many other disciplines to cause our amazed surprise and constant delight. Hiromi Izaki, real name of Sputniko!, mathematician by career and artist by profession, seduced us with the softness of her manners and the strength of her ideas during our conversation at Sónar +D Barcelona. An Assistant Professor at renowned MIT Media Lab, while keeping her allure of “Woman of the Year 2013” by Vogue Japan Magazine, she shared with us her thoughts about technology, design, art, pop culture, and society in the world to come.

P.N. You are constantly mixing different areas from video to music to technology: how do you like to define your creations and installations? Is that wide mixing of techniques something deliberate to enhance your message, or just a way to feel comfortable to develop your work?

S. If I need to explain what I do and why I work with so many media, also working with many different genres of people, I think that artist would be a very convenient word that covers everything for me. I guess the reason why I work in so many different formats is that I have always been a hybrid, I grew up mixing techniques. I like just working with different ideas and genres because it give me an inspiration. I just can’t stop crossing borders, I just like it.

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Collecting Data from One’s Own: an interview with Daito Manabe

After his enthralling speech at Sónar +D, we were eager to have the chance of speaking closely with internationally renowned artist Daito Manabe. A multi-faceted creator, so many are his specialties that it is difficult to name them all: programmer, designer, VJ, researcher, technologist … Seeing his cutting-edge projects succeeding one another, it seems that a perpetual storm must occur inside his head. Nevertheless, face to face and with the company of his translator, Daito Manabe was a calm and collected man, with warm manners and fresh thoughts.

P.N. With so many facets of your creativity running on your trajectory, which is the one that would define you better? An artist, an engineer, a researcher?

D.M. I really don’t mind, I tend not to label myself. Actually I spent most of my time programming…

P.N. Your researches and inventions involving motility are really a bright step forward. Are you planning to apply them in implementations for everyday life, for instance using them with therapeutic purposes?

D.M. I’m open to work for any purpose. I have not a license as a doctor, but I will be completely open to work with some. I’m doing anything that keeps me interested, and that would be interesting too: so if someone ask me, I will be glad to explore that practical application.

P.N. Your works are always filled with technical challenges. Which technical problems use to hinder your projects?

D.M. Usually most difficulties come from non-existing hardware, as software is easier for me to develop. Sometimes it is difficult to control: for instance, on the physical electrical stimulus you can’t see everything on the screen, as the real impact of the power you are administering, so these are really important issues.

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About Smart Textiles and Wearables: an interview with Oscar Tomico

The impressive curriculum of Oscar Tomico makes clear that he has exceeded by far the “young promise” state. Developing several simultaneous projects as researcher and professor from Eindhoven to Tsukuba and many other renowned universities, this Barcelona- born Designer  has transformed interaction design from a weird way of imagining things to a reality surrounding us in our daily live in the more natural manner. Focusing now on Smart Textiles, he gave an enthralling talk at Replic_age 2014 Madrid about how our clothes will change and improve our lives in years to come.

Replic_age Day 2 was arriving to its end, and everyone was taking their place in front of a supersized screen where they will broadcast the Champions League final match between two historical rivals: Real Madrid vs. Atlético Madrid. While people took their beers and get ready for an intense soccer time, I asked Oscar Tomico if he would be so kind to grant me some minutes for an interview. And despite all the excitement, noise and loud laughter around us, he strung together a long thread of really deep-minded thoughts about Smart Textiles, Wearables and the future of fashion industry.

P.N. Which lines are you mainly developing by now?

O.T. Nowadays I’m focusing mainly in two lines: by one hand, designing services based on Smart Textiles; by the other, taking Wearables to fashion. On the first line we are trying to help textile industries to change with the help of creative industries, revolving the basis of their business thinking. For instance, transforming the vertical production structure to a flatter, collaborative structure. We help them to go from a very general idea about the future to specific projects to be carried out locally with available infrastructures.

Oscar Tomico at Matadero Madrid
Oscar Tomico at Matadero Madrid

P.N. There is a growing interest by locally made products. Do you think this is a real way to revert globalization?

O.T. Actually, I think that the idea of creating something separated from one’s own context and history is a dead idea. Now people is realizing that if everybody makes furniture as Ikea, Ikea will make it cheaper… so it won’t be a really good idea. Everybody making Scandinavian design, it has not sense at all. Hence people is realizing that the only way of distinguishing your product is that it reveals the place where it came, the materials and culture that come from the place of one’s own. We shall design locally for a global market.

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“Every industrial revolution is also a social revolution”: an interview with Peter Troxler

Open Source is a rather controversial issue, a central one in the debate about the new relations of production, and those who fight against it or stand up for it spend big doses of intellectual energy to prove their point. In such a crucial struggle, Peter Troxler is a renowned and respected leader of the Open Source thinking. As an independent researcher of Open Source business models, he has opened to many of us the doors to a new way of set out intellectual property relationships, and consequently to raise again the subject of how to develop a world with new intersections between producers and consumers.

During the last Replic_age Fest he made a brilliant speech about the meaning and consequences of the developing Third Industrial Revolution, that we summarized in a separate post. After his talk, he was so kind to give us some minutes to ask him some questions to discuss further some of his ideas. He was unaffected and clear, exuding authenticity and frankness.

P.N. You have made a deep insight on what it starts to be known as the Third Industrial Revolution, and you are a well-known promoter of Open Design… How do you consider that designers should interact with other field specialists in this new context?

P.T. Personally, I collaborate with designers and many different professionals from other areas (engineers, etc.) generating new movements and consciousness. Fab Labs are an excellent places for this kind of cooperation. But individual initiatives are also very important.

Peter Troxler on stage at Replic_age 2014
Peter Troxler at Replic_age 2014

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