Arduino Prototyping & Open-Source Electronics

This article provides a general overview of the world of Arduino & open source electronics. I have provided some examples of a couple of interesting interactive projects to get you going. Author: Mark Butt


The world of technology and art used to be mutually exclusive fields. This was due to the technical resources and massive capital investment needed to develop new hardware and software products. Arduino is one of the first companies & products to address this problem by developing open-source microcontrolers and the cross platform Arduino programming environment .

Other microcontroler platforms also offer similar functionality such as:

 NetmediasBX-24,ParallaxBasicStamp,Phidgets,TexasInstrumentsLaunchPad, andMITsHandyboard. These project kits make hardware programming so easy and inexpensive that anyone can experiment with these micro-controllers and sensors. The two big advantages of Arduino come from its cross platform and open-source nature of the project.


From Arduino:

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. The microcontroller on the board is programmed using the Arduino programming language (based on Wiring) and the Arduino development environment (based on Processing). Arduino projects can be stand-alone or they can communicate with software running on a computer (e.g. Flash, Processing, MaxMSP).

The boards can be built by hand or purchased preassembled; the software can be downloaded for free. The hardware reference designs (CAD files) are available under an open-source license, you are free to adapt them to your needs.

Arduino received an Honorary Mention in the Digital Communities section of the 2006 Ars Electronica Prix. The Arduino team is: Massimo BanziDavid CuartiellesTom IgoeGianluca Martino, and David MellisCredits



Since the software is cross platform and open-source, not only can it be used on any Windows, Mac, or Linux operating system, it can also be shared with anyone in the world. This allows other to dissect and learn from code that has already been created. Also, anyone can build upon the programs written by others, provided they share their code with the community as well. For example, GitHub user jPiroshky (JohnPierceParker) shared some code he found posted on Clarencesblog and now you can use it for your own project. This concept of learning from and sharing code written by others is not new to the world of computer software. However it is something very recent to hardware design.

Open-Source Hardware

If not the first, Arduino is certainly the most popular open-source hardware development platform. In the same spirit as open-source software, Arduino is working to make hardware development free. That’s free as in freedom, allowing the greatest number of people to have the opportunity to participate. In the case of open-source software, that participation comes in the form of writing code and using programs. Open-source hardware allows users to put blinking LEDs on anything they wish (pillow,gangboxclock, and a 21st century telegraph). Art is found in all the flashing LEDs of open-source hardware. Open-source ideals allow for the exploration of new ideas which, in some cases, lead to innovative products.


Here’s an interesting open source electronics project:

Light Painting

In this project The Mechatronics Guy explains and demonstrates how to paint with light. This Persistence of Vision (POV) light painter can be used to write messages in the air which are visible using extended exposure photography. Also, it’s kind of a two for one project which can be modified to map WiFi signals.


First, you create an image on your computer. The image is converted to reduce the number of colours because the light bar can only display a few RGB colours. However, dithering is added to simulate a larger colour pallet. The image can then be converted into a light bar output file.

Light Bar

The image is then transmitted to the light bar and drawn out with colorful LEDs. The program calculates the time it will take for the entire image to be shown on the light bar and creates an output file. This allows you to gauge the camera exposure time and your walking speed for the image.


The computer sends the output file to the light bar after a preset delay which allows you to enter the frame of the image before the light bar begins. The camera captures the changing LEDs and an image is drawn in lights over your photo. When this is done right, it looks as though the message is floating in the air.

WiFi Mapping

The POV light painter was inspired by a previous project that mapped WiFi signals in Oslo. The light bars used in each project were quite different. However, the colorful light bar used in this project can be used in the WiFi project with some code modification. In addition to using colorful LEDs, the light painting project uses a 2 meter LED strip while the WiFi project used a 4 meter LED strip. So, the output will also require some scaling.


 Another Project: Interactive Arduino Powered Music Poster.


Michael Robinson works in an office with music playing in the open, and sometimes people didn’t agree with the currently-playing music track. To enable some democracy and office mayhem with regards to the choice of music, he created the “Change the tuner” poster. Simply this is a poster which has a piezo knock sensor behind it – and once an object hits the poster, the sensor sends a signal to an Arduino board which changes the track of the music player via USB. For example:

Although not fully documented, the project can be easily replicated. A piezo can be measured with an Arduino analogue input, and then send commands as a keyboard via USB as described in this article. Apart from using one of our range of Arduino-compatible boards, you can bring this project to life with our SOUND: sound and buzzer module which is perfect for knock detection:


Change the tune from Michael Robinson on Vimeo.


For more information and inspiration, visit Michael’s site here


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