A-Z of Programming Languages: Arduino's Tom Igoe

Part of Computerworld Australia's series of investigations into interesting programming languages. This time around we speak with Arduino's Tom Igoe.

What prompted the development of Arduino? There were a handful of schools teaching microcontrollers to non-technologists using a method we called "physical computing." We all needed tools to teach that were simpler than the engineering tools that were out there. The Basic Stamp, and later the BX-24 from NetMedia, were OK, but they really didn't match up to the tools we were using to teach programming (Hypercard, Director and later, Processing). Then at Ivrea in 2002, they started to do something about it. They developed Programa2003, then Wiring, then Arduino.

The Arduino developer team comprised Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, Gianluca Martino, David Mellis, Nicholas Zambetti and yourself. Who played what roles? Massimo developed the Programa2003 environment for PIC. It was a simple PIC programming tool on the Mac (most of the Ivrea students were Mac users. It made it easier to teach his class. That, combined with the Processing IDE, served as an example for Hernando Barragán to develop the Wiring board and environment. Shortly thereafter, Massimo (faculty at Ivrea), David Cuatielles (researcher at Ivrea), and Gianluca Martino (local engineer, hired to develop hardware for students' projects) developed a smaller, less expensive board, the Arduino board. Working together with Mellis and Zambetti (students at Ivrea at the time), they improved on the Wiring model and came up with a board and an IDE that could be used by the outside world. I joined them in 2005, helping to beta-test it with another school (ITP has a large student body relative to Ivrea, so we could give it a bigger test), and later, helping to develop documentation. I also introduced the team to some of the early U.S. distributors so we could build a market here as well as in Europe.

Nowadays, Gianluca and Massimo do the bulk of the hardware design, Dave Mellis coordinates or writes most of the software, David Cuartielles works on software as well as testing on Linux and maintains the Web site, and I work on documentation as well as testing, to a lesser degree. We all work together on the direction of the project, manufacturer relations and new development. Gianluca manages all the distributors, and his company, Smart Projects, is the main hardware manufacturer. Zambetti has left the cores team, but is still an occasional contributor when his professional life allows.

Were you trying to solve a particular problem? We wanted a tool to teach physical computing, specifically microcontroller programming, to artists and designers, who we teach. The assumptions of those coming at it from a background other than computer science (CS) or electrical engineering (EE) are quite different, and we wanted tools that matched those assumptions.

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