Why not Arduino?

photo – equinoxefr

This is something we hear a lot. People don’t understand why we’ve opted for such a powerful computer at the core of the Light.

Right at the very beginning, after my first meeting with Kean Maizels – who has since become our genius hardware designer – I was asked why I wanted such a powerful computer at the heart of the Light, when a simple microcontroller – a la Arduino – would be cheaper and easier to implement.

Here’s my response:

One of my guiding maxims in my work is a line from William Gibson: “The street finds its own use for things, uses the manufacturers never intended.”

The Light  is a general purpose computing device.  That is the reason the company is named MooresCloud.

It is intelligence: raw, unfiltered, capable of anything it puts its mind to.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t constraints.  There always are.

But the Light is perhaps best thought of as general purpose computing device with a very low-resolution display.

A ‘smart’ appliance isn’t smart enough.  A ‘smart’ appliance has a microcontroller capable of some pre-programmed tricks.  The Light should be capable of anything thrown at it, up to the limits of its CPU and memory.  Because we are creating a platform, we simply do not know, can not predict, and do not want to artificially limit the kinds of wild ideas people will implement on it. Uses the manufacturer never intended.

Creativity must be channeled, this is very true, and that means strong developer guidelines & resources, app review policies, and all of the subtle control-freakery that both Nintendo and Apple are famous for – without the underlying humourlessness.  Creativity is handmaiden to chaos, no doubt about it, and people will want devices that ‘just work’. This creates a natural and fertile tension both in the design of the device and in its use.

I would like us to pick our points of compromise carefully.  And the points upon which we will not compromise, because in them the whole of the design is reflected.  I believe this is one of those points.

That what I thought in the beginning of September, at the very start of this whole process.  I continue to believe it. Now, on the other side of the design process, I have some numbers to back it up. The difference in the Bill of Materials between an Arduino sophisticated enough to handle WiFi and a few basic REST commands, and our fully-fledged Linux ‘Lamp with a LAMP stack’?

Less than seven dollars.

Given this tiny differential in costs, the enormous gains in power and interiority – having a device that can think for itself, rather than just enact commands delivered by other devices – more than justify the increased component cost. This is the kind of feature creep we value in our design, because it multiplies potential disproportionately.

6 thoughts on “Why not Arduino?

  1. Agree totally with you. The internet of “Things” is upon us and any device that can’t communicate over WiFi and doesn’t have its very own web page is doomed

  2. Just saw this post :) I still think that if an Arduino can run an Autonomous airplane (http://diydrones.com/) it would be possible for it to run a light (even 52 of them), Arduino’s can connect over WiFi (or 3G), can run a Web Server and would be able to do everything else that I have seen MooresCloud used for.

    Since there is only 52 lights that can be used as output (And maybe the accelerometer angle) I don’t see what processing can be done on this light that would require that much processing power. I understand the argument that no one knows what will be done in the future with technology, but just because it can be done (run a maths solution application on the MooresCloud for example) – does not make sense.

    The $7 saved from using Arduino over the LAMP stack is a 15% saving on the component costs – which over time adds up. It would reduce the price from $46.66 to $39.66.

    • The Wifi on the Arduino has its own CPU — which is costly. The Web server has its own CPU — which is costly. These things add up. If you add a WiFi shield and a Webserver and all of that together, the cost comes to something *much* greater than the $12 in components we use to give ourselves all of that and much, much more.

  3. I was wondering if something like the arduPi library could be supported on your hardware based on the oLinuXino?


    I’m curious how I could develop applications for the Light. I would be nice if I could unleash my creativity and program something in higher level languages (like Processing, Arduino script, Javascript). Could you shine a Light :) on that?

    • The final Light hardware will have a chipset similar to the OlinuXino Micro, but the similarities will end there.

      Within a few weeks (fingers crossed) we’ll release the alpha version of the RESTful API for the Light, and then start producing copious examples of how to write apps for it in numerous other languages.

      Already we have the Sing framework – which is available through our GitHub – that is very similar to Processing.

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