How did the Arduino board come about?
Massimo Banzi was a teacher at the Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea, and his students complained that they could not find a powerful but inexpensive microcontroller to manage their robotic art projects. In the winter of 2005, Banzi was discussing the problem with David Cuartielles, a Spanish engineer specializing in microchips, who was a visiting researcher at the school at the time. The two decided to create their card and called David Mellis, one of Banzi's students, to write the programming language. In just two days, Mellis wrote the code. Over the next three days the card was completed. They called her Arduino, named after a bar that was nearby, and among the students it had an immediate success. Almost everyone, even if they didn't know anything about computer programming, managed to use the Arduino to do something beautiful, such as responding to sensors, flashing lights or controlling engines. Then, Banzi, Cuartielles and Mellis, together with Gianluca Martino, put the electronic schematics online and invested around 3 thousand euros to produce the first batch of cards.
"We made 200 copies, and my school bought 50 copies»Says Banzi. "We had no idea how we would sell the other 150. We thought we weren't going to do it». But the rumor spread among designers around the world and a few months later orders for hundreds of other Arduino units arrived.
Thus, the inventors of Arduino decided to set up a company, but with a particularity, that is, the projects would remain open source. Since copyright law, which governs open source software, is not applicable to hardware, they have decided to use a Creative Commons license called Attribution Share Alike. Anyone is authorized to produce copies of the card, to redesign it, or even to sell cards that copy the project. It is not necessary to pay any rights to the Arduino group or ask for permission. However, if the reference project is republished, recognition must be given to the original Arduino group. And if the board is modified or changed, the project must use the same Creative Commons license or a similar one, to make sure that the new versions of the Arduino board are equally free and open. The only intellectual property element that the group reserved for itself was the name, which became its trademark. If someone wants to sell boards using this name, he has to pay a modest commission to Arduino. So that the brand is not damaged by poor quality copies, say Cuartielles and Banzi.
The various members of the group had slightly different motivations for opening the design of their appliance. Cuartielles describes himself as a leftist scholar, less interested in earning money than in inspiring creativity and making sure that his invention is used widely. "When I recently gave a conference in Taiwan, I said, "Please copy it!"" He says with a broad smile. Banzi, on the contrary, is more like a shrewd businessman; he has almost completely retired from teaching and manages Tinker.it, a hi-tech design company. But he had sensed that, if Arduino had been opened, it could inspire more interest and receive more free publicity than a closed piece of hardware could get. Enthusiastic geeks would have hacked him and, like Linux supporters, would have sought the Arduino group to offer improvements. They would benefit from all this free work, and each generation of the card would improve.
More or less, that's what happened. In a few months, geeks suggested wiring changes and perfected the programming language. A distributor offered to put the cards on the market. In 2006, Arduino had sold 5 thousand units; the following year 30 thousand. Enthusiasts use them to create robots, to reduce the consumption of their car's engine and to build models of unmanned airplanes.