Judy Castro doesn’t have a background in engineering. But with Arduino, she doesn’t need one to make her sculptures move, light up or breathe fire. The San Francisco artist uses the microcontroller and software program to create interactive works of art — something she once might have paid an electrical engineer thousands of dollars to do.
Arduino, the 6-year-old, user-friendly microcontroller, is emerging as a powerful, popular tool for artists and others in the Do-It-Yourself community. Arduino can be as small as your pinkie finger and can cost less than $30, but it can light up a few LEDs for the beginning programmer or, with the help of amplifiers and mechanical parts, turn on a hydraulic ram that will lift tons, ignite a flamethrower or create a light show that can illuminate a stadium.
“When I started tinkering with Arduino, it was very easy to understand,” she says. “It’s actually a lot of fun to work with without being frustrating so you can focus on the aesthetics of your piece rather than the coding.”
In addition to its low cost, Arduino’s open source nature — which allows people to share their work — is moving the microcontroller out of the realm of hackers and artists and into the hands of hobbyists young and old, says Make Magazine Associate Publisher Dan Woods. Unlike other tools, he notes, Arduino wasn’t made for geeks.
“They created it for artists and others who didn’t have a background in programming. If someone has a project in mind, they can be up and running and doing something pretty basic in about an hour. They can see what a microcontroller does.”