With today’s Arduino Day festivities, the co-founders made three announcements for their users: First, the Arduino MKR1000, a tiny, feature-packed board initially introduced at the tail end of last year, is now shipping. But alongside that, and potentially much more significant, Arduino announced both their next generation community project platform, and their next generation development environment.
The new Arduino MKR1000
The MKR1000 dispenses with the traditional Arduino form-factor — and that controversial header offset.
Based on the Atmel ATSAMW25, a Cortex-M0+ 32-bit ARM chip intended for low power environments, the MKR1000 offers built-in Wi-Fi, a LiPo charging circuit, and onboard cryptographic support. In other words, it’s targeted squarely at the burgeoning Internet of Things market.
Arduino announced the board last December with a 1,000 board giveaway in partnership with hackster.io and Microsoft. The competition, dubbed the “World’s Largest Arduino Maker Challenge” offered the chance to win trips to Maker Faire Shenzhen, New York, or Rome, as well as $500 gift certificates to Adafruit. Entries are now closed, with winners from amongst the (just under) a hundred projects entered due to be announced later in the month.
The Arduino Project Hub
The Arduino community is what sets the board apart from most of its competitors. The huge amount of code, community support, and other free and open source resources built around the platform means that if you have a problem you can probably find someone else that’s had it first and already solved it. That support, and community, is what has made Arduino the default platform for getting started with microcontrollers and physical computing.
However it also means that change, especially change that might threaten the community, is something everyone has to be wary about. So today’s announcement of a new community platform is actually a much bigger step than it seems on the surface. Like the “World’s Largest Arduino Maker Challenge” the new tutorial platform is powered by hackster.io, and while there was already a lot of Arduino projects hosted there, it’s going to be interesting to see what giving official support — telling the community that this is where projects are supposed to be shown off — will do for the growing social platform.
The Arduino IoT Manifesto
But it’s not just the new MKR1000 board — designed for networking — that makes Arduino’s push towards the Internet of Things really obvious in today’s announcements. Amongst the new web properties is Arduino IoT, hosting a collection of tutorials and guidance for people wanting to get started with the Internet of Things.
However, the most important thing on the site might not be the tutorials or example projects. Instead it could well be the new Arduino “IoT Manifesto.” This sets out not only how Arduino will tackle the Internet of Things, but also how they intend to develop tools for it, and how they think others should approach building their own things for the Internet of Things.
Borrowing from the slow food movement which was born in the same region [of Italy] as Arduino, we propose these three principles for the future of this burgeoning industry: Open, Sustainable and Fair!
At the heart of that push is the new Arduino Cloud. Designed around the new MKR1000 board, although it also supports the more modern of the official Arduino Wi-Fi Shields — which like the MKR1000 has onboard cryptography support — the cloud allows you to connect your Arduino using MQTT directly to the internet, and to each other.
A very early alpha release, the current Arduino Cloud has “one percent of the features” of the final product. While right now it may be limited, it’s going to be interesting to see how the effect of having cloud capabilities baked into the Arduino core platform will have on environments such as the Particle Cloud.
Around the middle of last year I argued that we might be heading towards some sort of consolidation phase in the microcontroller market. But this consolidation will be totally unlike the same phase in the desktop computer market, where the diversity of different models just faded away, and we were left with only a couple of hardware approaches. Instead we might be looking at a consolidation at a cloud API and tools level, not at the hardware level.
Personally I think the Arduino Cloud environment is the next building block of that argument. We were already seeing a consolidation of board support into the Arduino development environment, with the addition of the board manager functionality in the new Arduino IDE release. Now there’s also a default cloud platform for all those boards.
The Arduino Create Environment
Perhaps the biggest announcement from Arduino is around the Arduino Create platform. While the new development environment is still in private beta, with the team refining the web-based code editor based on feedback from the beta cohort, we were told today that it’s almost ready.
When it arrives its promise is to replace the venerable Arduino development platform we’re all used to using — which inherited many things, both good and bad, from the Wiring platform on which it is based — with a modern, flexible, web-based tool chain.
Using a browser plugin the new environment will allow you to write code and upload sketches to any Arduino board connected to you computer directly from the browser. It will also both store you sketches, and allow you to connect to services, in the cloud.
While taken separately today’s announcements could look scattered, if you pull them together you can see a thread running through them, and the future of the Arduino platform starting to take shape.
When the Arduino was originally conceived, making a microcontroller accessible to the average Maker was an amazing achievement. It might not have been first, but arguably Arduino was one of the things that started the growth in physical computing and along with it the Maker Movement.
However as the success of the ESP8266 over the last couple of years has illustrated, the future of physical computing is all about networking. There was a time when the computer on our desktop stood on its own. Now, at least for most people, a computer without a network connection is as useless as one that is turned off.
Our lives are tied up with the network and the cloud, and soon, so will be our things. If Arduino can reinvent itself, and democratise the networked things to the same extent it managed by putting a microcontroller on every Maker’s desk, then that’ll change a lot of things for the better.
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