Arduino: The Robot Builder

By Ricky Ng-Adam and Kevin Chen

Local tech workshop Xinchejian shares with Talk Magazine some of its newest inventions. This month we learn about Arduino, the electronic brains behind a whole generation of robotic inventions worldwide.

Twittering plants, laser harps and robotic spy planes – these futuristic projects all have one thing in common: a tiny electronic brain called Arduino.

Arduino is a highly versatile chipset that combines a physical input/ouput platform with a simple software environment – think of it as a small computer ready to bridge the virtual and the real world. Arduino was invented in Italy, but has since become a worldwide phenomenon in the open-source hardware and software community, being inexpensive and available for purchase worldwide. Its schematics are available to all, allowing anyone to derive their own designs, and as a result, Arduino chips are becoming the standard for prototyping new products and are being used as introductory tools for teaching programming and electronics. In China, Arduino chips can be bought from DFRobot ( and Seeedstudios (

The simplicity of Arduino’s design and its flexibility has made it the favourite of a new generation of 'makers'. The TV B-Gone (, an infamous keyring device which allows its bearer to turn off any TV in a matter of seconds, was created using Arduino. It’s even been used to install a breathalyser in a microphone ( Want to know what songs you’re most likely to sing at KTV when you’ve had a few too many?

In Shanghai, the hackers at Xinchejian have found ways to use Arduino in many projects. Arduino has been used to program instructions for a 3D model designed on a laptop to print and create real plastic objects. It’s also been used as the intelligence behind self-driving robot race cars, ‘seeing’ the road and telling the wheels which way to turn.  

The possibilities of Arduino make it an exciting gadget, and Xinchejian offers introductory classes on how to apply Arduino to anything from insect robots to flying quadcopters (that’s a helicopter with four propellers). Let the programming begin!

For more information on Arduino, Xinchejian and its newest projects, log on to:

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