As a kid, I loved to take my toys apart. I would get bored with new toys in about ten minutes: I would push the button, the light would go on and the toy would work. That was it. The end. But I would feel guilty because I got bored with the new toy car, robot or whatever, so I then would take them apart a) to understand how they worked and b) to transform them into something more fun. Naturally, my toy-dissection abilities were not very refined, so I would just end up hammering at them. But I do remember that I didn't like the word "play;" it didn't seem right. I was doing something serious. Even work. Even if the result wasn't very creative.
I use this brief premise to say how surprised I was when I opened my Arduino Starter Kit. My entire childhood universe of small pieces and coloured wires finally had a name and an order. The toy I always wanted had finally arrived, but this time it was already disassembled. I remembered how much I liked to try to understand the innards of radios and then, with my imagination, transform the electronic components into artificial insects.
The box (to call it packaging would be extremely reductive) contains a book (a users' manual) and electronic parts contained in other small boxes that interlock inside the box like a tangram puzzle. There is an LCD display, a small motor, a bag with electronic components (capacitors, diodes, resistors, potentiometers, transistors, and various kinds of sensors), a USB cable, wires for a bridge circuit, and of course an Arduino Uno that is no more than a microcontroller or, in other words, a simplified computer conceived so that we can tell it how to interact with the other sensors, components (at least that's what the instructions say) and the pieces of cardboard which I still don't understand.
Arduino doesn't need much explanation. It gives me a sense of freedom, like being able to learn about something new in a very short time. Not that we all have to automate our homes, but I think that knowing how to — at least in principle — operate an electronic device, a "robot" that can respond to our commands, might be a fundamental skill for a person living in this century: just like being able to turn on a computer and surf the Internet. If that is computer literacy, then maybe we are talking abut robotic literacy when we refer to Arduino.
I had a true revelation when I leafed through the first few pages of the manual. Finally, I could see the electronic components that make up the anatomy of our hyper-prostheses: computers, mobile phones, stereos, printers, cars. Finally, all those coloured things inside the gadgets I use every day (to do just about anything) had a name; they were classified like in a book by an 19th century explorer. I don't know about you, but I always dreamed of taking a trip inside my amplifier. Now I maybe can decipher its topography — more or less. At least I think so.
For those of you — like me — who know little or nothing about electronics and little or nothing about programming, browsing through the Arduino Projects Book is first and foremost an aesthetic pleasure (an excellent job under TODO's artistic direction). With exceptionally comprehensive text and images, the manual guides the user through fifteen beginner projects organized in order of difficulty and the time necessary for their execution. But that's not all. The fifteen tutorials are also available in a video narrated by Massimo Banzi (co-founder and creator of the Arduino project) on the RS website, which of course wants to sell us electronic components just as soon as we enter this magical world where things do what we tell them to. The kit contains everything we need to enter this universe.
The 45 rpm recordings of Italian fairy tales once sang, "just a bit of imagination and goodness." In this case, though, a 45 is not enough — we need a computer and maybe some curiosity. But this fantastic world where things speak to each other is not a fairy tale — it's a concrete and beautiful reality. Antonio Scarponi (@scarponio)
Photos by Monica Tarocco.