So what is that thing?

It has been a while since I’ve made a post. Plenty of projects are going on that I could be documenting, but right now I just need to focus on turning the wrenches. I did have a moment worth discussing, however. Last night, my wife asked me a question that has stuck with me since I have yet to come up with a good answer. Of all topics, I thought this would be a great one to write about.

As I was surfing around some of my favorite diy sites, I stumbled across an article on something or another that was based on an Arduino. Having seen this word and heard me refer to it many times in the past, my wife asked, “What is an Arduino used for?”

This seems like a question that should have a very simple answer, but yet I can’t find it. Unlike duct tape, the Arduino is not meant for one single purpose and then used for a million other things, nor is it like a hammer which is really only good at pounding in nails. The Arduino wasn’t made for any given purpose. It wasn’t designed to solve a specific need. In a case like this, how do you describe the purpose of something to someone who doesn’t have a concrete understanding of the field when the object at hand doesn’t solve a specific need?

The best I was able to muster was a high-level description of what a microcontroller was. It is the brain behind the robots that build cars and the thermostat that controls the heat in the house. It is the computer that electronics use when they don’t use the kind of computer that sits on your desk at work.

I’m interested in what others have to say about this. How would you describe what an Arduino or any other microcontroller is to someone who hasn’t studied electronics?