Arduino, open source and curiosity: a 14-year-old’s journey


FOURTEEN year old Aidan Temple will be presenting a Master Class on the Arduino at the Powerhouse Museum on 6 June 2013, as part of the Vivid Sydney Ideas program.

The “Master Class in Reverse” program, according to Lily Katakouzinos, the manager of contemporary programs at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, acknowledges a paradigm change in the way knowledge about technology is disseminated today.

Young people today are more adaptable to technology, and the Internet has enabled interested and motivated self-learners to boost their knowledge outside of the traditional school-based educational framework.

“Things have changed and kids can really teach us adults new ways of thinking and doing,” said Katakouzinos. “We thought it would be cool if adults could be taught about new technologies like Arduino and Raspberry Pi.”

This led to the crafting of a unique program offering opportunities for adults and teens to learn about the new generation of development platforms from young masters.

Aidan is a gamer, blogger, heavy coder and video editor and producer. An avid supporter of indie music and games, he runs, where he indulges in his passion for open source hardware and software.

Electronics News sat down with Aidan and his mother Paula to talk about the Master Class and his journey thus far.

The Master Class

Aidan says his Master Class will appeal to an audience who is new to the Arduino, or who know a few of the basics of the platform.

“When you go to an introduction to something, you don’t really want to know too much about it,” he explained. “If you know too much,  it will be boring, and you need to wait for everyone to catch up.”

Besides the basics of the Arduino, Aidan will demonstrate its capabilities by providing attendees with a piece of code which has some errors.

“When they compile it, run it and test it on the Arduino, they can hopefully debug and make it work,” he said.

On the hardware side, attendees will learn the basics of circuitry, voltages, components, and how they work with chips and boards.

“We will work with breadboards, and an open source software called Fritzing, which allows you to design your own circuit boards using breadboards, schematics or perfboard,” Aidan said.

Achievements in Arduino

According to Aidan, out of the cornucopia of different open source prototyping platforms, he was drawn to the Arduino mainly due to the community behind it. He participates in the Tek Syndicate forums, and also peruses the Arduino forum and blog.

“If you want to ask a question, you can just go on one of the many forums, ask the question, and someone will have the answer,” Aidan said. “Or you can just try Googling it and someone will have most likely come across the problem or issue already.”

Additionally, he found the Arduino to be much more developed than the more recently-released Raspberry Pi and some ARM-based platforms. He also liked the fact that it is cost-effective.

“You can take out the Atmel chip and use it in other builds, which is the nice thing about Arduino – you don’t have to use the board, because it’s a 30 dollar board, but a 2 dollar chip. You can program the chip and leave it in the project,” he said.

Using the Arduino, Aidan has made a synthesiser for his father (a scientist with a passion for music), which has two tones, and adjustable pitches, gains and frequency steps, controlled via five knobs.

He has also made a 7 x 7 RGB LED matrix as an art project. This project had a screen which would display the amount of light being emitted by the LEDs. Users could change the level of light with buttons, and set it to fluctuate between different levels.

During the course of the project, he ran into a bug where a button press caused the fluctuation to reset. He searched through the forums to confirm the right approach to coding the solution.

Aidan plans on expanding the concept this year with a LED matrix-based interactive artwork which would progressively light up based on audience members’ answers to questions.

He is also planning to enter the RoboCup with a friend, which will involve building a robot, albeit not via the Arduino board.

Roots in curiosity

Aidan found out about the Arduino through Youtube, after viewing a video of a project based off the platform. After buying an Arduino, he taught himself about the platform and its applications using the Internet.

Aidan’s interest in the internal makings of things started at a early age.

“I mainly got started on tech because my dad built a computer when I was really young,” he said. “I really liked the fact that you could build your own stuff; you don’t have to just go out and buy it. That’s what got me started on hardware, and from there I moved on to software.”

Especially appealing for Aidan was the fact that it was possible to take things apart, and make systems do things beyond their default capabilities. This eventually led him full-circle, back to open hardware.

According to his mother, Paula, Aidan is a self-starter.

“He’s pretty much done it for himself,” she said. “Because I work in digital and tech, we talk about things, but he’s set up his blog himself, and he made his own video for the TEDx Youth Day.”

At the age of 11, Aidan was selected to present a TEDx talk, where he stressed the need for schools to teach more technology and science.

This is a topic which is dear to his heart, as his school does not offer a technologically-rigorous curriculum – the closest his schoolmates have gotten to electronics involved a copper wire, a battery and a lightbulb.

While Aidan does not have a firm idea of what he would like to do in the future yet, he said he would like to turn his Mixchew blog into a company. His interest in experimental electronics, and web and software development could also end up influencing his career choice.