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Arduino crosses over from hobbyists to professionals

16 May 2016  | Jacob Beningo

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First, a developer examining the Arduino website, arduino.cc, will discover that there is some really strange language going on when it is talking about software. Arduino has invented a concept for the general public known as sketching, which to a professional developer is "writing code." A sketch is really nothing more than a software project but the terminology sketch comes from the fact that Arduino was originally developed as a rapid prototyping tool for individuals who knew little to nothing about software or electronics, artists for example.

Next, a would-be Arduino developer will discover that the Arduino programming language is used to program Arduino devices. Never heard of the Arduino programming language? That is because the Arduino programming language is actually nothing more than C/C++. The "Arduino language" as they refer to it is actually just a collection of libraries that provide a consistent set of APIs for controlling MCU peripherals.

As a professional developer, the Arduino libraries can provide a fast track for rapid prototyping. For example, API calls for controlling a digital input/output pin are digitalWrite() and digitalRead(). There are loads of different library functions for internal MCU peripherals and external device control such as EEPROMs and motor controllers. Developers can choose to use these libraries or instead write their own. Many of the library calls tends to be inefficient and not optimised for speed or size, though, so any development effort needs to pay careful attention to the real-time response of the built-in libraries.

Arduino Uno R3 Standard Pinout

Figure 2: Arduino Uno R3 Standard Pinout (Source https://github.com/Bouni/Arduino-Pinout)

The Arduino software is open source and can be used for any purpose, but developers and managers need to keep in their mind that the software was developed for prototyping purposes. The code is not written to be fault tolerant, secure, or be used in any production-intent environment. A developer will still need to go through the whole production process to take a product to market. But Arduino can at least be used to prove early on that the system could work, rather than spend months only to fail.

Conclusions

Professional developers can leverage the Arduino ecosystem to rapidly prototype and prove out an embedded system concept. Existing Arduino libraries can be used for quick and dirty development but many developers will find the software development environment wanting and will likely choose to use their own development tools and environments. Despite the professional deficiencies in the software platform, though, the use of the Arduino shields and hardware environments offer a great opportunity to help accelerate development through the use of readily available shields. Just don't forget that Arduino is meant for rapid prototyping rather than developing production-intent systems.


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