The Future is Arduino

Where is Arduino now and where is it going in the future?

What the Arduino platform has done is to take what was once a fragmented and expensive market for robotics and microprocessors and become the major platform, largely by virtue of much lower cost and ease of use, leading to higher volume and popularity, and community support behind it. Arduino has made it simple to program their boards with any computer via USB and simple to integrate with a wide array of sensors and devices.

The Arduino is great for hobbyists, prototypers, and people just starting out in robotics because of its low cost, ease of use, and large following online. It's easy to learn and teach people to be able to do basic things with the Arduino, yet it's capable enough to do fairly sophisticated things if you as a developer have the capability to take advantage of it. It's allowing people to develop projects inexpensively to build and control their own devices, such as sensors that send data to the Internet and control systems for all kinds of things. It's also reducing the cost of development by allowing companies to develop prototypes much more quickly and with less initial investment.

So what does the future hold for Arduino?

At this point in time many businesses haven't heard of and aren't using the Arduino, but I believe that will change pretty quickly as businesses eventually hire people familiar with Arduino.

One of the major things Arduino is going to be able to do for business is to reduce the cost of prototyping, allowing companies to iterate more during development, leading to better, more functional products.

The Arduino is going to enable businesses to do things that aren't commonly done today with remote sensor networks. This could lead to entirely new control strategies for making buildings more comfortable, saving energy, and reducing maintenance costs for equipment.

The Arduino is going to allow businesses to develop products that are more easily upgradeable. Right now if you buy a product, such as a microwave, there's no way to change the functionality. If the microwave used an Arduino board, you would be able to change the interface or the way that the microwave cooked food to suit your desires.

The Arduino is going to reduce the minimum volume necessary to include a control and sensing system with a product. Instead of spending large amounts of money to build hundreds of inflexible circuit boards, the Arduino will allow businesses to bring many more unique devices to market at lower breakeven volumes. We'll see a lot more lower-volume customized products.

The Arduino is going to allow developing countries to do things that they couldn't in the past. From medical devices to low-cost PLC controllers, the Arduino is going to open up a whole host of options and capabilities for medicine and manufacturing in areas where regulation isn't as stringent.

Proprietary electronics like the boards that control your washing machine could certainly be disrupted by the Arduino. Instead of being held hostage by a company that wants to charge a lot of money for a replacement, you might alternatively be able to replace a failed component with a custom Arduino board. Or you might be able to use an Arduino board to diagnose exactly what's wrong with your washing machine much more easily than otherwise. Maybe the company building the washing machine will sell you a "glider" and the open-source community will develop a control system for it. So we'll likely see control systems for consumer appliances that are much more customized and user-friendly developed by the open-source community and networkable. Things will be much easier to use and do what we want without us having to figure out which 20 buttons to push. And you'll be able to monitor and control your appliances remotely.

Specific applications that the Arduino could disrupt include:

PLCs - Programmable logic controllers are notoriously expensive and have very limited functionality in terms of what they can do. The Arduino, while not currently hardened for industrial environments, is much more capable in a lot of ways.

SCADA systems - often SCADA systems have expensive and proprietary equipment in remote locations. The Arduino could do monitoring and control in a much more cost-effective manner.

Troubleshooting and diagnosis - having the ability to network many sensors together and analyze the data could provide us with insights that are currently unavailable.

In short, the future for Arduino is very bright, and it's probably about where programming and the Internet was about 20 years ago. We've had a lot of people who were just hobbyists dabbling with programming and the Internet, and now we have huge open-source collaborative projects and game-changing functionality that was unavailable 20 years ago.

-Brian Feldman