Why the Arduino Matters (article)

You guys will like this...



10 bucks is expensive?

sad ...

Thanks for posting that link. It brings back fond memories.

I built one of the first Altair 8800s. In addition to being an unbelievable amount of fun it started me off on a long and mostly pleasurable career as an embedded processor hardware and software design engineer.

Now that I'm retired with plenty of time I discovered the Arduino and just had to have a couple. Still having fun....

Funny how coincidences happen. Just this morning I watched the documentary “Triumph of the Nerds” (on YouTube). It was a history of the microcomputer starting with the Altair.

At the moment there isn't the same household or business demand for capabilities offered by microcontrollers as there were for capabilities offered by microprocessors back in the 70's. So there won't be as much of an explosion in microcontrollers in terms of investment and innovation as there was for microprocessors of the 70's and 80's.

But that will change once new commercial applications for microcontrollers are developed which offer low-cost everyday "usefulness" to businesses and households. And I think the recipe of attributes that will take us a step closer to a genuine microcontroller "boom" are:-

  • low(er) cost
  • low(er) power
  • miniaturization
  • wireless control via 3G

We already have an Ethernet shield, and a WiFi shield, and they have been made possible "in part" because of the lower cost of components and modules. So it's only a matter of time before a low cost 3G shield makes an appearance, and that will turn the world of remote sensing and control "upside down" as intermediary devices, like routers, cables, or short distance BT and RF modules, won't be needed for an Arduino to communicate with your home or business computer.

Imagine owning a block of land 100km from your apartment and being able to plant a stick in the ground and reading the pH level of the soil from the comfort of your home computer. And imagine being able to buy a device with that capability for just a few bucks. And imagine how attractive that device will be to "everyday people" if accessing the device is as simple as visiting a web site.

Plug n play remote sensing and control over the www I think presents a great deal of new commercial opportunities that will hasten a microcontroller "boom" - much like the microprocessor boom of the 70's and 80's...

.. and a new generation of nerds will rule the planet mwhaha ha ha ha ha!

Watch this space = )

It's a nice article, but I think they're pretty fundamentally wrong. The Altair and related microcomputers were important because they brought rare and (formerly) expensive technology down to a price and availability level where individual experimenters could buy it. Arduino brights common and cheap technology "out" to a point where individual experimenters can experiment with it. I mean, if you want a blinking LED, send your $1 off to China and enjoy the fruits of a generation of evolving high technology. If you want to have an LED blink "just exactly so", you used to be out of luck (without substantial training/education/knowledge), but now you can use an Arduino...

And there's a thriving community of people busily using it to do all the useless, fun, creative things they'd always dreamed of

useless? some people just make me sick

Putting the words "useless" and "creative" in the same sentence is a bit of a contradiction.

So I don't think the author set out to insult anyone. "Everyday people" would view some of the things done here as "useless", but thats because they don't understand incremental hands-on learning.

Someone's blinking LED today, could be a stage sound and light show of tomorrow... or the worlds most efficient electric car.

You know, there's a big picture which some people can't, or don't try, to get their heads around. So they struggle to find the words to describe what they don't understand.

I'd call the stuff I've done useless, but that doesn 't stop it being fun, interesting, educational and possibly a step on the way to something useful. Useless in a useful way...


"You know, there's a big picture which some people can't, or don't try, to get their heads around. So they struggle to find the words to describe what they don't understand."


Mr. John_Ryan, How would you connect to the internet the device measuring the pH level on the block of land 100km away? I am sincerely interested in a practical solution. Thanks.

Mr. John_Ryan, How would you connect to the internet the device measuring the pH level on the block of land 100km away? I am sincerely interested in a practical solution. Thanks.

Hope that plot of land gets cell service?

“The device”

The device measuring the pH level would be the Arduino, connected to an analogue pH level transducer … I’m assuming there’s such a thing.

“How to connect the device to the internet”

Once HSDPA 3G modules become less expensive then it will be practical to build a 3G shield, just like the Ethernet and Wifi shields that are presently available.

“on the block of land 100km away”

3G has theoretical global coverage in a local sense. Therefore:-

  • the Arduino with
  • a pH level transducer
  • can be accessed over the www from the IP assigned to the 3G module, or SIM card which acquires the IP address, from any location on the planet, provided
  • the 3G module is in range of the local 3G network, and theoretically, that could be 100km or 1000km.

Right now I can buy a Linksys WRT54G3G 3G/UMTS Wireless Router for a few hundred dollars. Power it using a battery pack. And connect an Arduino to it over 802.11 using the WiFi shield.

If you take a look at:


You are connecting to an Arduino with a WiFi shield powered by a battery that is sitting on the coffee table in our lounge room.

If I attached a pH level transducer, then the web page you see could tell you the pH level of the soil in a pot plant sitting on the coffee table in our lounge room = )


3G coverage in New Zealand is about 97%, so the theoretical range here is an area the size of the state of Colorado, about 268,021 sq km.

I don't know about the rest of the world.


A monthly allowance of 500mb would cost an additional 50 bucks, about 30 bucks US. But with increased competition and proliferation in 5 years the costs should be considerably less.


The concept is not new but a 3G/HSDPA shield would be a new add-on for the Arduino, although I don't think it's a practical solution right now if that's what your looking for because (at a quick glance) 3G/HSDPA modules are expensive and data plans are "up there" too - keeping in mind that 3G/HSDPA requires a SIM Card and an internet data plan subscription from a GSM provider.

Nevertheless, after a bit of digging around I found the link below where the author is using a cell phone with 3G/HSDPA to control a robot. So all we would be doing, is replacing the cellphone with an 3G/HSDPA shield (like the WiFi or Ethernet shields presently available for the Arduino) and using the Arduino as the microcontroller.


Rather than "controlling servo's" we would be reading sensors - although I can think of better uses for a 3G/HSDPA capable Arduino.. such as; long-distance remote control of model aircraft or boats, complete with streaming video.

So once 3G/HSDPA modules get to the same pricing level as WiFi modules, then I'm confident it won't take very long for a shield for the Arduino to make an appearance. Then if it's practical (or not) would depend on the cost of a data plan, and how much your wanting to spend.

To simply monitor the pH level of the soil on a farm 100km away might only require a few bytes per day, so the data plan needs would be the lowest plan available - currently that's 500mb, but that could all change in 5 years from now = )

Thanks John_Ryan. I understand all the points. My only concern was the price to pay (that's what I meant by practical) to get the data (regardless if that's pH level or something else). As they say, everybody has their own price. If that data is really important to you, it may be worth paying 10-20 bucks per month. For example, there are house security solutions out there (e.g. ebay) that use a cell phone (SIM card) to call preset numbers in case of break in. Still, you have to pay a few bucks for the service, even if you don't use it. Now I realize that my definition of "practical" does not include "monthly fees".

You're very welcome.

Perhaps in 5 years GSM providers will have an "innovation sponsorship program" that allows technologists to purchase special SIM cards with a token monthly data cap at a one off price.

I'm sure if inventors around the globe formed a "data cooperative", then deals like that would bring 3G/HSDPA a step closer to our idea of practical.

The ability to remote control and sense a small, inexpensive, low-power, battery-powered device, at a theoretical local global range via a web interface, presents some "very" exciting possibilities.

Or use WiFi and connect to a network to transfer data, you don't always HAVE to use GSM of course. This device is great for that - http://www.tdc.co.uk/index.php?key=nanowireach

Or maybe here even