Posts with «interviews» label

Machine Learning with Microcontrollers Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, September 11 at noon Pacific for the Machine Learning with Microcontrollers Hack Chat with Limor “Ladyada” Fried and Phillip Torrone from Adafruit!

We’ve gotten to the point where a $35 Raspberry Pi can be a reasonable alternative to a traditional desktop or laptop, and microcontrollers in the Arduino ecosystem are getting powerful enough to handle some remarkably demanding computational jobs. But there’s still one area where microcontrollers seem to be lagging a bit: machine learning. Sure, there are purpose-built edge-computing SBCs, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to run AI models on versatile and ubiquitous MCUs that you can pick up for a couple of bucks?

We’re moving in that direction, and our friends at Adafruit Industries want to stop by the Hack Chat and tell us all about what they’re working on. In addition to Ladyada and PT, we’ll be joined by Meghna NatrajDaniel Situnayake, and Pete Warden, all from the Google TensorFlow team. If you’ve got any interest in edge computing on small form-factor computers, you won’t want to miss this chat. Join us, ask your questions about TensorFlow Lite and TensorFlow Lite for Microcontrollers, and see what’s possible in machine learning way out on the edge.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, September 11 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

[Federico Musto] of Arduino SRL Discusses Arduino Legal Situation

Recently we had the opportunity to sit down and interview Arduino SRL’s CEO, [Federico Musto], over a nice dinner. His company is one half of the Arduino vs Arduino debacle which has pitted against in a battle over the trademark on “Arduino”.

Given the tremendous amount of press coverage of [Massimo Banzi] and the Arduino LLC side of the story (, we were very interested in hearing how the whole situation looks where [Frederico Musto] sit ( In the end, we came away with what we feel is a more balanced and complete picture of the situation, as well as interesting news about future products from the Arduino SRL camp. [Musto’s] take on the legal proceedings, both past and present, is nothing short of fascinating.

A Quick Refresher

Unless you’ve been sitting under a large chunk of fused silicon, you’ve probably read or heard something about the battle of the two Arduinos. Founder [Massimo Banzi] and the rest of the Arduino crew planned to make an affordable, accessible microcontroller/physical computing platform based on the software project (Wiring) of one of his students, [Hernando Barragán]. In 2004, [Gianluca Martino], one of the Arduino founders, and [Daniela Antonietti], later Arduino LLC CFO, founded Smart Projects SRL and started cranking out Arduino boards. That much of the history of the Arduino is non-controversial.

Money started flowing in, Arduino LLC was founded in the US in 2008, and tensions started building between the software-and-documentation side (Arduino LLC) and the board-building side (Smart Projects SRL). In 2014 Smart Projects (in Italy) changed its name to Arduino SRL, was bought by [Federico Musto], and all heck broke loose, not necessarily in that order.

The Past, According to [Musto]

The central issue of the Arduino schism is who owns the trademark to the “Arduino” brand. In the USA this is currently Arduino LLC, although Arduino SRL filed a petition to invalidate this trademark and this isn’t likely to be resolved until early 2016. (Naturally, Arduino LLC has mounted its own counter-suit in the States.)

In Italy, Switzerland, and probably the rest of the world, the trademark appears to belong to Smart Projects, now Arduino SRL. This is because Smart Projects filed for the trademark in Italy in December 2008, just months after the legal incorporation of Arduino LLC, which only got around to filing in the Spring of 2009. This is, naturally, also being contested in Italian courts by Arduino LLC.

That’s the mess. How did we get in it? Arduino LLC claims that [Gianluca Martino] didn’t inform them of the Italian trademark until it was granted in 2010. Why would one member of the Arduino core team go rogue and trademark the name without telling the others? [Federico Musto]’s telling of the tale makes [Gianluca]’s preemptive trademarking action seem a lot more plausible, if still not entirely above-board.

2008 was the year of the big Arduino breakout. Sales had crossed over 100 boards per day and Smart Projects was having a hard time keeping up with demand. At this point, it started to look like there was real money to be made in Arduino, both for companies with scruples offering Arduino add-on shields, and for companies without scruples selling Arduino-branded knockoffs of the “official” boards. How to handle the clones and make money off of the Arduino brand was on everyone’s mind within the Arduino group, but there was disagreement about just how to do it.

Meanwhile [Gianluca Martino] and [Daniela Antonietti] at Smart Projects had just built out their production line to keep up with demand for the boards. Funding these investments wasn’t easy. Among other sources of money, [Daniela Antonietti] had mortgaged her house to pay for a professional reflow oven. It probably seemed very important to [Martino] and [Antonietti] to safeguard their personal investments in the Arduino project from the waves of unauthorized clones. They took matters into their own hands, allegedly behind [Banzi]’s back, and trademarked “Arduino”.

Substantiating all the details of [Musto]’s version of [Gianluca]’s story is impossible and probably devolves fairly quickly into he-said, she-said and hearsay, so we’ll keep it short here. But anyone who’s worked in a team knows how a single individual can come to dominate a discussion, leaving other parties feeling marginalized and isolated, and we can also understand the temptation to act in defiance.

We can imagine how this feeling must be multiplied if a disproportionate percentage of your investment is in play. [Musto]’s telling of the story is that the financial risk undertaken by the Smart Projects team was under-appreciated by [Banzi], and that [Martino] was acting in the financial equivalent of self-defense as the only production-side interest within the Arduino five and as the CEO of Smart Projects.

Arduino certainly wouldn’t be where it is today if [Martino] and [Antonietti] hadn’t taken the risk to pony up the money and build out the one assembly line that was turning out Arduinos in 2008. The key to Arduino’s success was the merger of firmware and documentation with a hardware-based physical computing platform. Both parts are necessary, but building the hardware required more capital and involved real financial risk.

So is Arduino SRL or Arduino LLC the “real” Arduino? We think both are. Unfortunately, nobody’s asking us; the question is playing out in Italian and US courts.

Laundry List of Lawsuits

Lawsuits have been the order of the day, and it turns out we only knew about the tip of the iceberg. Previously, we’d reported on Arduino SRL’s petition to cancel Arduino LLC’s trademark in the USA and on Arduino LLC’s tit-for-tat suit to cancel Arduino SRL’s trademark in Italy. But [Federico Musto] laid out for us a laundry-list of legal cases that we had no idea about.

When [Musto] bought out [Gianluca Martino]’s share in Arduino LLC as well as the Arduino SRL, he wanted to see the accounting of the companies that he had a 20% stake in. By this time, there was so much bad blood between [Martino] and [Banzi] that according to [Musto], they refused to show him the books. He took both the US Arduino LLC and the Swiss-registered Arduino SA to court and won, in separate cases in the US and Switzerland.

Remember that inclusion of a popup in the Arduino IDE that flagged all Arduino boards made by Arduino LLC as being “unofficial”? Until the various trademark cases get resolved in court, this is possibly libellous. [Musto] told us that Arduino LLC only backed down from this position after Arduino SRL took legal action. (And we gave Arduino LLC credit for backing down off of a bad idea on their own.)

Most recently, Arduino LLC filed an injunction in Italy to prevent Arduino SRL from selling its Arduino boards due to trademark infringement. This was recently denied, and we’ve read the ruling from the court in Turin, Italy. It makes mention of the impossibility of Arduino LLC having controlled the Arduino brand as early as 2005, when Smart Projects was producing the boards under the Arduino name.

We’re not (Italian) lawyers, but the denial of the summary injunction in Italy seems to cast further doubt on Arduino LLC’s ability to prevail in Italy and use the Arduino trademark outside of the US. Hence the pivot to the “Genuino” brand name for sales of Arduino boards outside of the USA.

Overall, [Musto] expressed a bit of dismay at having walked into a full-blown feud when he bought Smart Projects from [Martino], and stressed the defensive nature of many of the lawsuits — responding to being barred from seeing the firms’ books and the IDE popup in particular. On the other hand, Arduino SRL did initiate proceedings against Arduino LLC in the USPTO case, and [Musto] also mentioned that his lawyers don’t like the “Genuino” brand and logo, and may be forced to take action against it.

In short, there have been a number of legal victories for Arduino SRL, but the two biggest cases are still outstanding. Both [Massimo Banzi] and [Federico Musto] have expressed their weariness at the continuing lawsuits, but both sides seem willing to file new ones. Until there’s a final decision reached in both Italy and the USA, we guess they’ll both have to suffer through.

Community Splits and Code Forks

It was also interesting to hear [Musto]’s side of the story behind and the IDE’s code fork.

Because of their previous tight cooperation, [Gianluca Martino] and Smart Projects had all used the domain for their e-mail addresses. Arduino LLC, which had control of the domain, cut their e-mail off as in Fall 2014, leaving the entire Smart Projects / Arduino SRL team without business e-mail communications. They had to re-establish a domain and set up e-mail and business presences quickly once it was clear that Arduino LLC was going to try to shut them down. Hence

[Federico Musto] says he regrets the code fork, and wishes that Arduino SRL had just waited it out until the courts had forced Arduino LLC to remove their incendiary popup from the codebase. On the other hand, once Arduino LLC had shown that they were willing to play dirty with the IDE code, it hardly seems like a good idea to couple your livelihood to a (now-)rival firm that seems to be willing to single you out. (None of the truly counterfeit Arduino boards triggered the popup, only those made by Arduino SRL.)

In short, [Musto] explains a lot of the controversial actions on the part of Smart Projects / Arduino SRL as being a reaction to internal disagreements within the Arduino group, and subsequent aggressive actions by Arduino LLC. Contrary to the innocent picture of Arduino LLC painted by [Banzi], it’s clear that there’s been skulduggery on both sides of the aisle.

The Future

Until early 2016, when the USPTO ruling comes down, the two firms are in limbo. Ironically, this hasn’t really affected the end-hacker (read: us) at all. If anything, both firms have been doubling their efforts to sway us with not only their press propaganda, but also with their product and software offerings. How long will this last and what new stuff will the future bring? We asked [Musto] about Arduino SRL’s plans.

An Arduino Foundation?

Given that Arduino SRL and Arduino LLC may not ever settle their differences amicably, what is to become of the Arduino brand? [Musto] suggests a Solomonic solution: take control of “Arduino” out of the hands of any one person or company leave it up to a community-directed foundation.

[Musto] told us that he envisions an “Arduino Foundation” with clear and open balance sheets and a democratic governance structure. Think Mozilla Foundation mashed-up with Debian’s governance. The Foundation would be open to all stakeholders in the Arduino community. [Musto] said that he’s currently in the middle of paperwork, and that there will probably be announcements forthcoming. We discussed how such a foundation could also be used to funnel some money back to the Arduino community, because after all a lot of the success of Arduino is due to the code contributions of users.

New Products, New IDE

[Federico Musto] describes himself as a “software guy” with a penchant for radio frequency hardware. Given the former, he said he’s surprised at how much time they’re spending on new physical product development, but his RF roots certainly show through. His design for what became the Arduino Yún, a Linux WiFi SOC combined with an AVR microcontroller, was [Musto]’s entrée into the Arduino universe, after all.

In this context, we asked [Musto] our $64k question: given that the Yún and similar boards face pressure from products like the ESP8266 from below and the Rasberry Pi from above, what is Arduino SRL’s direction going to be in the future. Bigger or smaller? Or staying in the middle? He replied that they have projects going at each scale.

On the big end of things, we have the Yún and future Linux/microcontroller mashup devices, for which [Musto] and now Arduino SRL, is continuing development of its Linino distribution. Linino is an OpenWRT-based Linux distribution modified to play well with external microcontrollers. Linino’s killer feature, in our estimation, is the MCUIO subsystem, which gives low-level Linux driver access to the associated microcontroller(s) — pins on the micro appear as devices on the Linux filesystem. The marriage of a small embedded Linux with a microcontroller for I/O is clearly an interesting area right now, if only the communications between the two weren’t so difficult. MCUIO aims to change that.

On the smallest end of the spectrum, Arduino SRL is working on a new product line of tiny (think littleBits) interconnected devices, to be programmed using a visual, drag-and-drop interface. They’re also (all?) going to be wireless. This project is still in the beginning stages, but [Musto] suggested that he’d be interested in an early alpha release if folks were interested in developing code for the platform. We can’t wait to see it working.


And then in the middle of things, [Federico Musto] mentioned that there would be a forthcoming “Uno-plus” board with a yet-to-be-disclosed ARM chip on board coming out in the fall. The goal is essentially a supercharged Arduino form-factor board at a reasonable price.

We talked a lot about WiFi versus sub-GHz radios for IoT projects. Our experience is that the current crop of WiFi devices (the Hackaday-darling ESP8266 included) are power hogs, and not something you can run off batteries. [Musto] mentioned some new WiFi devices he’d seen, that aren’t yet in production, that will significantly help the WiFi power budget when they become available. Arduino SRL is looking to incorporate them into an IoT-style device when possible. Stay tuned.

Hardware aside, both Arduino LLC and Arduino SRL are coming out with new IDEs, and they look a lot better than the previous incarnations. The Arduino SRL version is based on Javascript and Node.js, and uses Adobe’s Brackets editor. In short, it’s all caught up with today’s new hotnesses for web coders, which is probably a good thing. (Finally, code completion!) It’s still in alpha, but you’re welcome to check it out.


The Arduino vs Arduino courtroom drama makes for good popcorn time for us, and it’s undoubtedly nerve-wracking for the twin Arduini and all directly involved. But we’re also glad to see that both companies are continuing to innovate on the hardware and software fronts.

In retrospect, our question of market niche was off-base. Arduino SRL’s focus isn’t on a device scale as much as on the general merging of wireless technologies with microcontrollers, and developing the support software for Linux/microcontroller integration in a wireless context. As far as Arduino LLC’s new product directions seem to be wired and/or wearable, we wonder if there isn’t room in the hacker economy for both firms to flourish despite the trademark woes?

Filed under: Featured, Interviews, slider

Maker Faire Detroit: Mind Flame Interview

Maker Faire Detroit is almost upon us, kicking off tomorrow, July 28, at 9:30, and running through the weekend! The excitement is building as makers are putting the finishing touches on their projects and preparing for showtime. To wrap up our series of interviews with Detroit makers, we chat with Matt Oehrlein, president of i3 Detroit hackerspace, and co-creator of the red-hot Mind Flame project.

1. Describe the project you’re bringing to Maker Faire Detroit this year. What are the components and how does it work?
The piece is a brainwave-activated flame effects display called “Mind Flame.” Two participants wear EEG headsets that read electronic pulses from their brains. They measure your intensity of concentration, and when it is at a certain level, the display erupts with huge jets of flame. The EEG headsets are off-the-shelf headsets from a company called NeuroSky. They measure small electrical pulses that originate from neurons “firing” in your brain, and translate those pulses into measurements like “concentration” or “attention,” which can be read wirelessly from your computer, or an Arduino.

The flame effect part involves some propane tanks for the fuel, some empty tanks as a gas accumulator, an electronic solenoid valve, and a hot carbide igniter similar to something you’d find in a gas clothes dryer. The electronic valve is opened by a relay controlled by a microcontroller, the propane gas whooshes out of the accumulator, past the red hot igniter, and creates a pretty satisfying fireball or flame jet.

2. What inspired you to make it and how long did it take from concept to creation?
After seeing all the awesome flame effects pieces at Maker Faire Detroit 2011, I wanted to do a flame effects piece for 2012. I really like to do projects that participants can interact with, so brainwave activation was my choice for implementing that in a you-don’t-see-that-every-day fashion. I had the opportunity to get help from Josh “Bacon” McAninch, who does the flame effects work for the very popular Gon KiRin fire-breathing dragon, and my friend and fellow i3 member, Ed Platt, who is a smart software whiz in general. It took around a month to go from concept to creation. Maybe 40 hours total. A huge chunk of time was just spent on me getting educated on how to safely do flame effects, and shopping for those hard-to-find plumbing parts.

3. Does your project work off the combined electronic pulses from the two headsets, or can you host dueling headsets?
The project supports dueling headsets. Actually, the entire project is two mostly independent flame effect systems sitting right next to each other. I thought it would add an interesting element of competition to have people try to out-concentrate the other participant. The end game is to have a duel of some kind where the participants try to burn down the opposing player’s little wooden house, or wooden stick figure, or pop a balloon, or something like that. We are still experimenting on what is the most fun and still cost effective for a large event, but just sending huge fireballs through the air is still pretty satisfying.

4. Do you have any records set yet by concentration ninjas?
I’m not sure. Ed is definitely better than me at controlling his brainwaves, but not a lot of people have tried it yet. I have a feeling people who meditate regularly will do well at this game. We are still tuning the rules of the concentration portion of the game, so no one has really gotten a chance to really hone their tactics yet.

3. Have you exhibited at Maker Faire previously?
I haven’t! I am actually fairly new to the Maker Faire/maker scene. It’s been a little over a year now since I joined a hackerspace and really dove in. I volunteered last year just to help out i3 Detroit (hackerspace) members and get a feel for the event.

Matt Oehrlein (left) and Ed Platt (right) and their Mind Flame device.

4. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I’m a 20-something-year-old engineer. As a kid, I didn’t really fit that common narrative of taking apart everything I could get my hands on. I definitely built a lot of things, but my weapon of choice was definitely my K’Nex set over Legos or dismantled toys. I was into computers throughout high school, but I think a major milestone in my life was my first microcontrollers class in college. Being able to program something that I could attach sensors or motors to and have it interact with the physical world was huge for me. I felt like I could give little bits of intelligence to things that would ordinarily behave very predictably, or not move at all. By the end of that class, I had stocked up on electronics, a soldering iron, and other tools, and had my own little electronics lab setup in my bedroom.

As far as inspirations go, I generally don’t have role models that I want to emulate as a whole, but I do find specific characteristics in people that I admire. Right now, a characteristic I am trying to get better at is just raw, unrestricted creativity. I believe thinking creatively is one of the most important skills for success, and I see a lot of people at hackerspaces that are able to just generate a lot of really great, attention-grabbing, wacky ideas that have the potential to make you go, “Huh… It never even crossed my mind to do something like that, but that’s really cool!” I think getting a degree in science or engineering can kill creativity in people because students (especially undergraduate) are taught to find the one right answer following a very concrete process, and not to think of multiple solutions or how to reframe a problem. You could say I have some un-learning to do.

5. You’re the president of i3 Detroit hackerspace. What makes i3 distinctly Detroit?
Manufacturing. There is so much infrastructure and community here to support the automotive and manufacturing industry. Because of this, there are abundant resources for people who want to weld or machine parts. It’s so awesome to be able to have members who can teach you how to build something out of steel or brass, and actually be able to just walk down the street to one of many industrial equipment or materials suppliers to buy everything you need. I have yet to visit a hackerspace with a better-equipped machine shop than ours. The economic struggles of the Detroit area are, overall, a benefit for a hackerspace. Our rent is comparatively low, and we can pick up high quality used equipment for a huge discount from local companies that are liquidating.

6. What’s your favorite tool at the hackerspace?
I’m mostly an electronics guy, and am most comfortable around a soldering iron, wire strippers, and multimeter. However, I think it’s pretty hard to beat a good laser cutter. Cutting things with light is tough to trump for the coolness factor. I could watch that thing go for hours.

7. What’s your day job?
I am an R&D Control Theory Engineer for Eaton Corporation. The group I work in does all kinds of cool simulation, modeling, and optimization of complex systems. Things like how to use machine learning to optimize hydraulic controls in construction equipment for better fuel economy, or how to predict and prevent data center outages using statistical modeling. It’s a great gig and I love it.

8. What do you love most about Detroit?
The people. I’m not a Detroit native, but people here are the most down-to-earth people in the world. People from Detroit leave their egos at the door. They won’t talk at you about their new mobile/web/social media startup flavor of the week they are working on and how they will be the next Facebook if they could just get some venture capital. They don’t look down on anyone for being from the wrong type of family, tax bracket, or neighborhood. They are humble, sympathetic, and real. They can recognize their strengths and their faults, and are amazing friends.

To test your concentration ninja skills and check out a plethora of other creative maker-made projects, come join us at Maker Faire Detroit this weekend!

Filed under: Arduino, Hackerspaces, Interviews, Maker Faire