“It takes a certain attitude”: Interview with Arduino’s co-founder and Coronavirusmakers organiser David Cuartielles

This time I had the opportunity to speak with David Cuartielles, co-founder of Arduino, an open-source electronics platform, which enables users to create interactive electronic objects. Arduino has grown into a company with over 100+ employees and has bases in Malmo, Budapest and Italy. On top of that, David is also a professor at the Malmo University, teaching interactive technologies at bachelor, master, and PhD levels.

A man of many hats, David has somehow managed to find time to be one of the minds behind Coronavirus Makers, a citizen-driven initiative, where people collaborate on a voluntary basis to solve the protective equipment shortage using 3D printing. Created by a group of Spanish makers on March 14, when the current crisis started to accelerate, it now has more than 18,000 members that have already produced a large quantity of material. Tens of thousands of protective gear items and face masks have been distributed to hospitals and other structures in need.

Hola David, it’s great to have you here. What’s your story? Have you always been a maker and a creator?

I have always been interested in hardware. Since I was a child I wanted to be an inventor. My dad was a technician and my room was built on his former “DIY room”. We shared a shelf he made where half of it was packed with his tools and manuals for different things he wanted to learn and maintain. I guess it was only natural I became a maker over time.

For those that don’t know already, could you explain what’s possible to do with Arduino? How has the original idea evolved?

For the non-technical person, Arduino is a platform made of software, hardware, and documentation, for people to learn about digital technology and create any kind of projects from controlling the temperature in a room using sensors and a fan, to making an autonomous drone.

Technically speaking, Arduino is an open stack (software) that can be used on top of any family of microcontrollers from any vendor. In this way you can, with the same software, run the same kind of function on different types of microcontroller boards.

The concept of Arduino has evolved over the years, when we started we only had one board and a software that worked only for that board. Currently we have 4 families of boards, some of them are specialized in complex subjects like IoT, while others are dedicated to education, etc.

So, what does it take to create an open-source movement?

It takes a lot of work, having a certain attitude, and keeping the conversation going. There are a lot of misunderstandings and therefore there are things that need to be talked through. Also, you have to listen to people and figure out how to come to a set of common goals and ideas. The development requires being structured and welcoming for new perspectives. It is a really hard job where people with different capabilities have to be represented.

You are working on so many interesting initiatives! What does your typical day look like? How do you combine your role as a teacher at the Malmö University with the other projects that you are involved with?

The university is very important to me. I meet people that range from the complete newbie in tech to the super expert. I am challenged all the time, which I like, and I have to be figuring out how to present things, how to talk about tech, how to present complex concepts, etc.

The company is a great way of reaching out to a lot more people. The work I do at the university translates into ideas for content, products, etc. that the company builds on and brings out to the whole world.

I prioritize my teaching, in terms of scheduling, and then I move into company meetings. I work from 10am to midnight everyday. But I don’t feel like it’s work, mainly because this is what I love to do.

One amazing thing happening in this complicated period is the makers’ community getting together, to help with the current medical shortage. You are one of the organizers of the Coronavirus Makers in Spain, could you explain a bit about that?

The CoronavirusMakers initiative is a community-driven effort to bring tools to those that need them. I am just volunteering with my knowledge and contacts to help that happen. It is the effort of thousands of people that make it possible. I am just one more.

3D printing is now suddenly reaching a whole new level of awareness. Do you think the work of the Coronavirus Makers community can continue even after the shortage of face masks, protective gears and ventilators, will be over?

There are already thoughts about how to move on. There is so much more to do and people are very driven by solidarity towards others. Right now we are reaching out to other countries to see how we can learn from each other’s experiences.

If someone reading this wants to get involved and help, how can they do that?

Simply visit world.coronavirusmakers.org … or join one of the Telegram channels, there are over 120!!