While creating an Arduino-based art project, Guido Bonelli realized there was a need for a special test shield to help debug his system. A Kickstarter project was born.
Almost a year ago, I was shopping for a unique piece of artwork for a main feature wall of my new home. Unfortunately, the closest I could come to "unique" was something from a box store that was, well, not that unique. In fact, there were probably thousands of these pieces in homes throughout the world. "Well, that's not very special," I thought. At that very moment, I decided I wanted to make something that was truly one of a kind -- something that would invoke a feeling of "Wow! What is that?"
I wanted something very abstract that would be a talking piece for my guests. I've always had a fascination with clocks, especially mechanical ones, so I knew my creation had to move. Also, as an engineer, I've always been fascinated with lights, so LEDs were a must-have. But there was still something missing -- something that I wouldn't realize until I was almost done creating the piece.
Armed with my 3D rendering program and MakerBot Replicator 1, I began to make countless variants of a spinning artwork. I wanted an exposed cog that would indirectly drive multiple rings. This piece also had to encompass my love of trees. After months of toiling, my amazing kinetic artwork, Orbis, was ready for fabrication. I used Pololu's wood-cutting service to have all the pieces made. I worked for weeks, carefully staining each piece.
When things finally started coming together, I thought, "I better get moving on the electronics." As someone who has a BSEE an MS in software engineering and who has worked in the industry for more than 15 years, I began to look at the plethora of random kits I've accumulated, each with a promise of "I'm easy to use, so use me, use me." But I realized that each of them had some shortfall, whether it was poor tools, a lack of certain hardware features, or the fact that it simply didn't work. In each case, something screamed quite contrary to the vendor's claims.
Then I remembered all those Arduino articles I've read. So I ordered my first Arduino kit. Much to my surprise, it was as the vendor suggested -- easy to use, fun to play with, and (most importantly) hassle free.
I dug right in with the exuberance of a child on Christmas morning. Within minutes, I had the compiler running and a LED blinking. If I had done this with any of my other tools, forget it. Installing the compiler alone would have taken hours. What a great platform. Over the course of the next few weeks, I began to write increasingly complex code. Arduino effortlessly swept away my ones and zeros into a delicately balanced light show, which Orbis now proudly displays.
I then moved on to the motor control section. Once again, with minimal effort, I had my pancake motor whirling away. I stood in awe of my creation, which had come out exactly as I had envisioned it.
At this very moment, it struck me that I was missing a key element. How should I control it? This was a classic what-if moment that all makers have when a new idea paralyzes their being. What if Orbis had an equally unique controller that I could hand to my guests -- something that would allow them to interact with her. Wouldn't that be cool?
I anxiously ran back to my desk to design a controller that had the look and feel of a past era meshed with modern times. A phone dialer was a must. Some knobs and switches would be equally important. But how was I going to communicate with Orbis from the control box? An ugly wire simply wouldn't do, but WiFi seemed to be a bit of an overkill, especially if my network ID changed. Thus it was that I opted for XBee.
As I began to write the code and verify the interactions, I realized that testing Arduino projects was not quite as effortless as one might hope. My ones and zeros were caught in a menagerie of tangled wires. The only way to set them free was to assault my tower of shields with an arsenal of invasive tools, including my DMM, oscilloscope, and RS-232 shield. But where and how was I going to connect this to my equally unique hardware?
Any time I needed to hook up a probe to my megalithic tower, I was forced to mutilate one of my precious resistors. I would rip away a limb and shove it into my Arduino stack, only to discard it when my test was complete. Then and only then could I connect my probe to my board. Over and over this situation would occur. The familiar rant: "There must be a better way," came ushering over me.
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