Examples of commercial use?

I've been aware of the Arduino and it's community for some time, and have always been thinking in the back of my mind "I need to get one of the starter kits/boards to play with." However, I really had no excuse beyond curiosity to do so, so I haven't done anything about my curiousity until today. Primarily because a customer of mine came to me with an interesting problem, and in researching a solution for him, I found plenty of off the shelf solutions that almost worked. Ultimately, I realized that an Arduino board could fill his need more elegantly, and for a lot, lot less than any of the unweildy commercial solutions I could hobble together. Even including my development time. As a result, I also identified a niche I might be able to fill in my industry.

What I'm looking for at this point are some examples of how & where Arduino and Arduino compatible boards are being used commercially. This includes both finished product as well as support services for a finished (or mostly finished) product and paid support services for people who build their own boards for use in commercial or industrial applications.

I'm not tallking about companies selling kits or providing support to hobbyists. What I'm really looking for here is examples of people who have brought the open source mindset of Arduino to a specific industry, and how they are making it work for them. I'm not looking to get rich, just make a comfortable living for myself (I'm thinking by primarily providing support and installation services, rather than product sales), while filling a niche need in my industry.

Before anyone asks, I'm not ready to disclose my industry just yet. This is not out of fear of anyone "stealing" my idea, but simply because my employer may be reading this board, and I don't want to tip my hand until I have some solid info. I can't afford for him to get jumpy simply because I had an idea and wanted to check it out.

There is an Arduino variant in the MakerBot Cupcake 3d printers.

You will probably not find many industrial users shouting from the roof tops what they use so don't be surprised that you find little evidence of arduino usage. I have used them for test rigs in a commercial environment, and there are a few monitoring and control projects I have been involved with for clients. But for real mass production the arduino is not well suited because there are so many processors out there it is always possible to find a perfect match to any specific project to bring the cost down.

These guys

http://arduino.cc/forum/index.php/topic,61490.0.html

Look like they plan to use Arduinos, but I think it's just for test rigs not production gadgets.


Rob

Thanks for your replies so far, guys.

I should probably clarify things a little bit more - I would have in my OP, but IE was giving me fits, and I'd already rambled on. I'm not so much looking for commercial or industrial users of the Arduino, but people who are making their living supporting the Arduino in a commercial or industrial environment - IE, building test rigs for a manufacturing company, manufacturing really low volume niche devices, providing tech support for those buyers, etc. I really don't care about mass production.

The industry I'm in is dominated by just a few big players* on the manufacturing side, and then lots of smaller regional companies who provide installation & service support, as well as supplies. Many of the smaller regional companies try their hand at manufacturing. The customer base can be divided into two basic types - big corporate chains and owner/operators. The big manufacturers really court the big corporate chains.

A lot of the owner/operators get fed up with dealing with the distributors and manufacturers, and become DIYers, repairing and even rebuilding their own equipment. This isn't particularly hard, given that most of the stuff is off the shelf parts available at places like Grainger. However, there are certain devices that are fairly industry specific that are only made by one, two or at most, a handful of manufacturers. Or those functions are built into something that has far more functions than is needed by the DIYer. Most of them can easily be replaced by programming up a cheap PLC.

That was actually the suggestion I made to the customer I was doing the research for. He had a piece of equipment partially fail that is no longer supported by the manufacturer. He was looking at having to replace thousands of dollars of equipment just to fix one function. I advised him there were other ways to replicate that function, and began looking for the parts he'd need. In the end, I found a solution, but also realized that a small PLC could do the job as well.

And that's where I noticed a possible niche. There is a loose network of guys providing support to other owners using these PLCs on various industry forums - except every guy has his favorite flavor of PLC, and in many cases the cost of the PLCs, programming them, etc, isn't saving much over just buying the necessary parts.

That's when I realized that I could use an Arduino and perfboard to make a custom solution for my customer for less than a third of what the industry specific and off the shelf parts would cost, and less than half of a cheap PLC. That got me to thinking that maybe our industry needs to begin embracing the open source hardware movement, and the Arduino would be a good place to start.

That is kind of where I am at now. I'm designing and will shortly be building the sequencing function my customer needs using an Arduino. Once I'm done with that, I plan on posting it for our industry to see. After that, though, I'm wondering if I should pursue things further. And if I do, whether it should be as a side hobby, or full time employment.


*big players in our industry. Small fry in the grand scheme of things

That is kind of where I am at now. I’m designing and will shortly be building the sequencing function my customer needs using an Arduino. Once I’m done with that, I plan on posting it for our industry to see. After that, though, I’m wondering if I should pursue things further. And if I do, whether it should be as a side hobby, or full time employment.

Well it sounds like you are describing you moving into a role of as an independent supplier of custom solutions for your customers. You can provide a ‘black box’, which is a combination of a microcontroller and your own custom interface components and software, for your customers. I suspect your customers are not too interested in what hardware you select or to understand your custom software/hardware, but rather that is solves a problem they are having at a price less then others can offer. So I don’t see it as a Arduino saves the world type situations, you would be free to utilize an arduino or some other better future controller as tools you use to help solve your customers problems.

So mostly I think you are asking do we think you can make a success of this of this kind of endeavor if you chose to enter the field. I don’t think Arduino is central to answering that question. It’s more of are you ready to take the risks of moving from being a employee to being an independent businessman question. Or are you thinking of suggesting to your boss that he lets you move into this new role but staying an employee?

Lefty

retrolefty: Well it sounds like you are describing you moving into a role of as an independent supplier of custom solutions for your customers.

No, not really. I don't really want to be a supplier - that puts me in direct competition with my current employer, and a lot of the companies that could otherwise become good customers. What I'm really good at is troubleshooting. Sometimes that involves custom solutions, but mostly it's just figuring out what's wrong.

I was thinking more along the lines of trying to become a central hub for all these DIYer owner/operators. The guys that are already going it alone - get them working in some sort of concert with each other to design open source solutions. That's easily done as a side hobby - I found that the obvious domains for such a community are available, and I'll be picking them up soon - as soon as I find a CMS and host that I can afford.

Beyond that, though, I was wondering about the feasability of providing paid phone and email support services for people using the open-source solutions. Possibly selling pre-built and tested boards based on the open source stuff, but for the most part, just supporting the entire idea.

I should probably mention that I've been searching here, and other various forums looking for examples like I asked for. I'm really just trying to either a)boost my confidence that this can be done or b) give up on the idea as an enterprise, and just have fun. At this point, my own research is still leaving me on the fence.

I do appreciate your answers and help, but you should know I'm not looking for you to spoon feed me anything, either.

I dunno. If you're going to make more than about 20 units, you're probably designing your own PCB anyway, so you just plunk down an appropriate ATmega chip in an otherwise custom design, and maybe make it "Arduino compatible at the software level." Then maybe you start to get nervous about the status of LGPL-licensed code in deeply embedded systems, and convert those Arduino library calls to use privately written code, leaving you with not much more "Arduino-like" status beyond a compatible bootloader (if that.)

The thing about Arduino is that it's not really a "big" thing. It lowers the "barrier to entry" of microprocessors to a whole bunch of people (apparently), but the height of that "barrier" looks a lot lower from the "pro" side of the barrier than it does from the "beginner" side. If you look at the derisive complaints about Arduino on a forum like AVR-freaks, a lot of them boil down to "there's not much to it; I can't believe that people are unable to program AVRs without such simple crutches!" And to a significant extent, this is correct. From a Software or Hardware Engineering perspective, the Arduino is not all that impressive. (Although from a Computer Science Education perspective, it IS impressive. Do you know how many projects there have been that were supposed to make "computer programming" more "accessible"? Do you know how few of them have actually succeeded to an extent similar to Arduino?!)

westfw: I dunno. If you're going to make more than about 20 units, you're probably designing your own PCB anyway, so you just plunk down an appropriate ATmega chip in an otherwise custom design, and maybe make it "Arduino compatible at the software level." Then maybe you start to get nervous about the status of LGPL-licensed code in deeply embedded systems, and convert those Arduino library calls to use privately written code, leaving you with not much more "Arduino-like" status beyond a compatible bootloader (if that.)

The thing about Arduino is that it's not really a "big" thing. It lowers the "barrier to entry" of microprocessors to a whole bunch of people (apparently), but the height of that "barrier" looks a lot lower from the "pro" side of the barrier than it does from the "beginner" side. If you look at the derisive complaints about Arduino on a forum like AVR-freaks, a lot of them boil down to "there's not much to it; I can't believe that people are unable to program AVRs without such simple crutches!" And to a significant extent, this is correct. From a Software or Hardware Engineering perspective, the Arduino is not all that impressive. (Although from a Computer Science Education perspective, it IS impressive. Do you know how many projects there have been that were supposed to make "computer programming" more "accessible"? Do you know how few of them have actually succeeded to an extent similar to Arduino?!)

A very interesting view point indeed, and I tend to agree with you.

But look at the Arduino from my point of view : I'm a newbee tinkerer (part time coder) , not an experienced electronics expert. I want to tinker with a few magnetic contacts, temperature sensors, drive a few relays and LEDs, etc. Having an Arduino to start from as a base, I can do what I want. But if you said to me I have to assemble a board from a long list of parts, I probably wouldn't try - too much hassle, too many unknowns, out of my field of possibilities (atm), many unknown components and too daunting a project for me to consider.

Give me a few months of getting comfortable with my Arduino, and things will probably change, but right now, if it wasn't for the Arduino, I wouldn't have started to tinker at all.

In my opinion, it is a masterpiece.

In my opinion, it is a masterpiece.

I think we generally agree, and that's why I like playing with Arduinos as well, even though I'm (theoretically) an expert programmer.

My comments were shaped by the original question: I don't think it's likely to see an Arduino, AS an Arduino, in a commercial product. The effort required to create a commercial product (especially with the additional restriction of "not a commercial product aimed at hobbyists") is so large in other non-technical areas, that overcoming the "arduino vs bare AVR" barrier is comparatively easy. (In fact, there's probably a consulting niche in there, to take a device that someone has designed using an arduino, and convert it to a manufacturable product.)

Of course, you have to be pretty careful how to define "commercial use." A major point of arduino-like devices is to allow devices to be created that offer "custom" behavior in quantities far below "mass produced." A lot of people make a living selling custom-built (or nearly so) lab equipment, movie and stage props, and "art" on a scale that is moderately large, but probably doesn't meet the original poster's definition of commercial. (6000 DEFCon Badges? NNN DucKon Blinkies? (Neither has been Arduino based, as far as I know.))

The http://macetech.com coloborations with http://www.tangibleinteraction.com/ are probably a good example ? I don't think those were particularly Arduino-based, either, but macetech is pretty involved in Arduino circles...

(sorta like: is a LinkSys wireless router a commercial product? Certainly! Was the cisco Systems AGS router a commercial product back in 1988 or so when the first few were sold to select customers? Um... I guess eventually they convinced the venture capitalists that they were...)

I met this guy yesterday and his job was working for the Science museum in London. His job was replacing the PLDs in interactive exhibits with arduino boards.

Yes; I've been particularly thinking that museums would be well positioned to take advantage of an open-source thing like Arduino, even contemplating an "open museum tech" project that would try to "standardize" on some inexpensive open-source hardware that would be, um, more robust than the frequently-broken devices I see in museums. (with modern technologies like touch and optical sensing, it ought to be possible to do better. The things that seem to break are the things that they let the patrons touch; the switches and knobs. The very concept of trying to create something that 8-year-olds are going to pound on 6 hours/day, 300+ days per year is rather daunting, but the new technology ought to get rid of all the moving parts, and that should help...)

I've been wondering the same thing, and I'm particularly wondering how/if the licensing is a promoter of the community.

I posted some of my thoughts on the license here: http://arduino.cc/forum/index.php/topic,65842.0.html

After reading westfw post, I'm more inclined to think the license has almost no effect on commercial products that aren't meant to be an arduino prototyping platform. I also think westfw's idea would be a wonderful addition to the arduino community (not to mention a good business idea) to take an arduino-based product and commercializing it on the avr platform. This would give people a lot more confidence that they could start with the arduino, and go commercial if they get somewhere. Especially, now that google has sorta given some credence to arduino for their accessories.

One would only break the license if they were a small niche producer. Therefore, not only would you probably not know about it, but if there was a suit against the producer, it would be cheaper to recode all the core/libraries that the product used than go to court.

And if you were a bigger producer, you would find cheaper and more suitable parts for your product to begin with.

The arduino hardware currently is so limited, and the amount of total logic that you can put on the arduino is so limited, that there is almost no amount of complexity that would create enough incentive (beyond the novice) to stick with a GPL-like license in a commercial product.

With something like linux, you can use the kernel through your commercial app since there is enough computing resources to have an abstraction layer for apps. This is not true with the arduino.

This leads me to conclude that the wrong license was chosen for the arduino (at least outside of the prototyping community). It should be something more akin to the bsd or apache license for other purposes. I guess that might be too tricky and the arduino group just doesn't care about small niche products, so they just rather not deal with it.

Maybe a tenable position would be stating that if a unit is listed as arduino-compatible (or arduino anything) one would have to open source everything, but wouldn't be obligated if it wasn't listed as such.

This leads me to conclude that the wrong license was chosen for the arduino (at least outside of the prototyping community). It should be something more akin to the bsd or apache license for other purposes. I guess that might be too tricky and the arduino group just doesn't care about small niche products, so they just rather not deal with it.

Correct license or not, aren't you missing the key point that the Arduino platform is comprised of many 3rd party components (Processing, Gcc, AVRDUDE, etc) in which the Arduino firm has no control over what license was used and could not change it even if they wanted to ? They simply don't 'own' all the software components used in the platform.

Simply put, Arduino is in no position to take action on your re-licensing idea even if they agreed with it.

Lefty

retrolefty: Correct license or not, aren't you missing the key point that the Arduino platform is comprised of many 3rd party components (Processing, Gcc, AVRDUDE, etc) in which the Arduino firm has no control over what license was used and could not change it even if they wanted to ? They simply don't 'own' all the software components used in the platform.

Simply put, Arduino is in no position to take action on your re-licensing idea even if they agreed with it.

Very good point! I wasn't really thinking along those lines.

Processing doesn't really come in to play, cause that's only for the IDE. But, yes the arduino IDE makes the most sense to stay under GPL.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but just using gcc to compile your code doesn't mean you have to release your code.

AVRDUDE is under a BSD license, but I see AVRDUDE much like a compiler. It's difficult to imagine that it would restrict arduino core & libraries from being released under any license they choose. In fact, they should be able to release it under multiple licenses.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but just using gcc to compile your code doesn’t mean you have to release your code.

Not sure, but there are lots of gcc or other 3rd party C/C++ libraries also part of the package and not written by the arduino folks and I’m sure also enter the licencing question at hand. Not an expert, don’t even really care, to me it’s just all free software for me to use in my hobby projects. :smiley:

Another thought on this vein that I've considered is the viability of "Webinars" or telepresence lectures. If you look in the "Gigs" and "Education" sections of the forum, you'll frequently see requests from groups looking for an "Introduction to Arduino" lecture. You don't get the "hands on" impact of a physical lecturer in the room, but then again, requests come from from everywhere- with some of the locations physically difficult to get to cheaply, etc. Though less than ideal, a Videochat type system would work.. at least it would be interactive rather than a canned YouTube video.

Telepresence education is common these days; I wonder how often the word "Arduino" is uttered via online lectures- and if a business of sorts could be driven from simply assembling a decent 2-3 hour "Arduino 101" curriculum and presenting it well. When I say "Simply", that's not a really good term.. having been a teacher, that right there is enough content to found a career. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs there is, even when the students are willing, engaged participants.

As for a commercial product, it's just too easy to avoid the issue if you wanted to. If you skip using a bootloader on the finished product, and lock the chip for read operations (isn't there a fuse for this? I thought there was, in the 328) it'd be practically impossible to prove what you did to build your code. Then, if you use a chip other than a 328 (like an atTiny), it's even more obscured. What I'm saying is that if you wanted to be dishonest about it, it would be simple to do so.. atmel sells these by the millions, Arduino is a tiny fraction of that.

I guess if something became a real hit and immensely popular and profitable it could become a problem; however I think if I were in the position, I'd WANT to give reference back to the Open Source foundation of my product and also give back financially to the project. I think what you'd really need to fully answer this would be a patent attorney-- because that's what's in play, protection of intellectual property.

I've wondered to myself what I might do if I built something and posted it, and then found some company making a ton of money off something I designed while not paying me a cent.. that's a risk we all run in posting the code and such. I'd not be happy, that's for sure.. at some levels it's the same question. I think I just settle with "This is a hobby for me, and if I get lucky I'll deal with that bridge when I get to it, if I need to..."

I think that it's usually "fairly" safe to post a project, you've got two possible groups: those who are willing to undertake all the grief to make what you did, for fun (these are hobbyists, etc.. the target audience) and those who might try to steal a design for profit. Though hardly ironclad, it does occur to me that posting a project is a form of publication, with a verifiable date of origination. When it comes to intellectual property, being able to prove origination is the key.

The other thing is that any manufacturer wants to avoid the whole mess; the potential legal costs far outweigh the cost of simply buying/licensing a design from a designer.. in that way, it's much like media- very few companies are foolish enough to use jacked-copyrighted photos in their ads, or copyrighted music-- that gets expensive really fast. It does happen- but thankfully it usually gets caught pretty quickly. The question then becomes (in my mind) if your design gets bought by someone, how much should you donate back to the Open Source and Arduino community projects?