Ten years ago if someone had asked you to prototype a device that could, for example, take a photo of anyone stealing biscuits from your secret stash (a very important project, we feel, for maintaining a happy home) or build a robot that would follow a line, you’d have been hard pressed to design and build such a device…
Well, unless you had invested in a degree in engineering that is. How things have changed. The hobby of fabricating and designing your own electronic projects has exploded in recent times and the increasing number of hackers is thanks to the Arduino range of boards which were released The Arduino was created with art students in mind as many had little or no programming knowledge or any first-hand skill with electronics. The Arduino was also Intended to be sold at a price that matched a “good meal”, giving students a choice to miss a meal but learn new and important skills.
The first Arduino board, which was called simply Arduino quickly found its niche among a small community of artists. Over time this market began to grow, thanks in part to the merger of the hacker and art communities who adopted the boards into numerous projects as artists began creating installations that included robotics, audio and even weather stations from one device. The Arduino UNO, the most popular board in the range, is now seen as the definitive micro-controller development platform and has organically created a massive community of makers and projects.
The Arduino opened up the world of programming to artists and creatives thanks to being really easy to work with. Largely because it provides a more user-friendly layer between the raw hardware and the user, which enables anyone to experiment and invent with common components.
But the Arduino isn’t the only platform of choice: the Raspberry Pi, released in 2012, has quickly created a passionate and knowledgeable community of hackers and makers all keen to tinker with the device. The Raspberry Pi was introduced to address the issue of declining computer science skills in schools around the UK and started life as a device the size of USB flash drive and comparable with the Arduino for performance.
The form factor that we see today was realised after a meeting with Pete Lomas, who devised the GPIO pins of the Pi. Now we see many different types of projects powered by the Pi, from simple traffic lights using Scratch to complex robotic projects using servos and motor control.
But these two boards are not the only ones available, although it might feel that way with the amount of coverage that they both receive. This feature looks at five alternative boards that are on the market now and their potential as the base of your next project. Over the years we have seen many boards introduced, all looking to get a share of the market and enable anyone to learn and hack.