Arduino is an open-source prototyping platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs - light on a sensor, a finger on a button, a Twitter message, detect an obstacle - and turn it into a signal to activate a motor, turn on an LED, publish something online or stop moving before hitting a wall. Hundreds of sensors have been developed to work with an Arduiono, each providing a signal that can be acted upon. You can tell your board how to react to inputs by storing a set of instructions on the Arduinoon the board. To create these instructions, you use the Arduino programming language (based on Wiring), and the Arduino Software (IDE), based on Processing.
The LilyPad was designed by Leah Buechley as a set of sewable electronic pieces designed to help you build soft interactive textiles. A set of sewable electronic modules–including a small programmable computer called a LilyPad Arduino–can be stitched together with conductive thread to create interactive garments and accessories. A LilyPad can sense information about the environment using sensors inputs like light and temperature sensors and can act on the environment with outputs like LED lights, vibrator motors, and speakers. It's durable and waterproof... in fact, most components are designed to be be hand washed!
Thanks to its simple and accessible user experience, Arduino has been used in thousands of different projects and applications. It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. Teachers and students use it to build low cost scientific instruments, to prove chemistry and physics principles, or to get started with programming and robotics. Makers, of course, use it to build many of the projects exhibited at the Maker Faire, for example. Arduino is a key tool to learn new things. Anyone - children, hobbyists, artists, programmers - can start tinkering just following the step by step instructions of a kit, or sharing ideas online with other members of the Arduino community.
Arduino simplifies the process of working with microcontrollers, but it offers some advantage for teachers, students, and interested amateurs over other systems:
- Inexpensive - Arduino boards (especially LilyPads) are relatively inexpensive compared to other microcontroller platforms.
- Cross-platform - The Arduino Software (IDE) runs on Windows, Macintosh OSX, and Linux operating systems. Most microcontroller systems are limited to Windows.
- Simple, clear programming environment - The Arduino Software (IDE) is easy-to-use for beginners, yet flexible enough for advanced users to take advantage of as well. For teachers, it's conveniently based on the Processing programming environment, so students learning to program in that environment will be familiar with how the Arduino IDE works.
- Open source and extensible software - The Arduino software is published as open source tools, available for extension by experienced programmers. The language can be expanded through C++ libraries, and people wanting to understand the technical details can make the leap from Arduino to the AVR C programming language on which it's based. Similarly, you can add AVR-C code directly into your Arduino programs if you want to.
- Open source and extensible hardware - The plans of the Arduino boards are published under a Creative Commons license, so experienced circuit designers can make their own version of the module, extending it and improving it. Even relatively inexperienced users can build the breadboard version of the module in order to understand how it works and save money.
Why LilyPad Arduino?
While Ms. Buechley's vision was a sewable platform, the LilyPad Arduino's low cost, multi-platform IDE, physical size (about the size of a silver dollar) and function (identical to an Arduino except for number of inputs and outputs) make it an excellent candidate for teaching programming and logic in universities, public library programs, elementary and secondary schools and after school programs. Makers all over are using LilyPads to make their motors spin and robots sense.
In addition to sensors designed specifically for LilyPad, virtually any Arduino Sensor can be wired to work with a LilyPad. If a Sensor doesn't exist, a LilyPad Prototype board can be used to fabricate one.
Teaching With LilyPad
LilyPads can be instrumental in teaching coding, mathematics, basic electricity, electronic circuits, science and engineering, while adding a unique artistic design element. In addition, students can immediately interact, in the real world, with their programmed system.