Q&A: Home-made robots? DIY drones? How Arduino is democratizing electronics for thousands of hobbyists
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Arduino believes electronics, design, and programming should be for everyone. So it offers an open-source platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. In this exclusive interview Arduino’s CEO Fabio Violante tells us about the company’s mission and future plans…
Fabio was appointed CEO of Arduino in 2017. Prior to joining the company, he co-founded enterprise software firm Neptuny, before selling it to BMC Software and acting as its CTO for five years. Fabio is also a co-founder of The Moviri Group (which includes Moviri, Cleafy, Contentwise, and Akamas), and holds a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from Politecnico di Milano.
#1: Electronics is notoriously complex. Your mission is to make it simple and accessible. So how have you approached this challenge?
Accessibility has always been one of our top priorities. It’s in our DNA. We want to democratize access to complex technology. So we think about accessibility at every stage of the design process: software APIs, physical products, documentation and user experience. In fact, our team of interaction designers is involved from very early in every project.
Just as important, we always get our community involved and incorporate their feedback. For example, we recently launched a new initiative to make our tools accessible for visually impaired users.
#2: You have so much experience of hardware design. What are the key steps you recommend for any new project – and the most common pitfalls?
Needless to say, hardware is hard. Today’s tools allow engineers to implement new designs at incredible speed. But integrated processors, high-speed communication, peripherals and security – this is daunting, even for experts.
Furthermore, it’s easy to underestimate the time and effort required for testing and certification. Many projects get delayed or even cancelled because of this.
Another common mistake is not realizing that in most projects software and firmware are more complex than hardware: being able to put together a printed circuit board (PCB) does not mean you are done.
So Arduino gives customers a way to standardize whenever possible. Their teams can use modules and SOMs, so they can focus their energy on creating specialized and much simpler vertical expansion boards. This shifts their effort towards software and creating the best user experience possible.
#3: The Arduino platform unleashes users’ creativity. So what are the craziest things you have seen built on it?
That is a tough question. There are hundreds of thousands of projects to choose from. I've seen Arduino used to build educational satellites in space and deployed in the most remote areas of the planet to monitor endangered species. It’s been used in precision farming: to build tractors, robots and automated guided vehicle systems.
But just as important, Arduino has been the foundation for some hugely successful startups in areas such as 3D printing to drone manufacture. This has been life-changing for many people.
#4: What’s your vision for Arduino in the near future? Which electronics design limitations do you want to overcome?
I think the next few years will be really interesting for our industry – mainly because of the combination of AI and IoT that is transforming so many sectors. The world is starting to understand the huge potential of spreading intelligence and connectivity to the edge, and all the new efficiencies that this makes possible.
We are embracing this. We now have a fantastic range of connected products with powerful and low-power microcontrollers, capable of running sophisticated AI tasks.
For the future, we expect to see more enterprises using Arduino products. Their work will create an industrial-grade open-source software and knowledge base, which should replicate for professionals what we have seen in the prototyping landscape. We look forward to making this transition happen.
#5: Arduino is a collaborative company with lots of partners and suppliers. How does Arduino work with Thales?
Thales is a leader in many industry sectors, so it’s an important partner for us. We started developing products together in the area of long-range, low-power communication, and we hope to strengthen our collaboration in the future.
We also work together on the technical side to simplify and democratize access to complex technologies. And then there’s the go-to-market mission, where we hope to embed more Arduino-based technology in Thales solutions for enterprise customers.
People love to make things. Why shouldn’t they be able to make things with electronics? This was the question four engineers were wrestling with in 2005. Their solution? Make pre-assembled components so hobbyists can focus on their creativity rather than complex technical tasks.
Since then, many thousands of projects have been created using Arduino open-source hardware and software – from everyday objects to complex scientific instruments. A worldwide community, comprising students, hobbyists, artists, programmers, and professionals, has gathered around the platform.
The company says: “Our mission is to enable anyone to enhance their lives through accessible electronics and digital technologies. There was once a barrier between the electronics, design, and programming world and the rest of the world. Arduino has broken down that barrier.
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