Massimo Banzi is an interaction designer, educator, open source hardware pioneer and TED speaker. His background is in electrical engineering, but he spent most of his early career as a software architect before spending four years at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea as an assistant professor.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
HT: Your name will be mentioned as a sponsor of Maker Faire, and this is a natural place for you. Have you been involved in Maker Faire for a long time?
Massimo Banzi: We are not sponsors in the traditional way. I was part of the group of people who brought the Maker Faire to Rome, so for many years I was one of the curators of the event. In a way, they are very kind because they put us on the sponsor list, but in practice our sponsorship is the energy that we bring and what we do here. We also try to help by telling them what they should watch.
In general, Maker Faire is a concept that originated in the Bay Area in the United States. I’d say there were a lot of “fun projects” and mostly nothing that could become some sort of innovation. It was just a fun event for the family with lots of people doing weird things. But I thought there was a lot of interesting value there that shows people’s ingenuity, innovation. So we organized the event exactly 10 years ago in a place near Rome’s central station. And a lot of people came to that conference, and we realized that there was interest in this topic. So we, along with the Rome Chamber of Commerce, talked to the people at Make magazine in California, and they said to us, why don’t you do a European edition here? And that’s it, since then the Chamber of Commerce has organized the whole thing. And this is Maker Faire in a sense, and it’s grown every year.
Before the pandemic, we had 120,000 visitors in three days, which was more than the people who visited California, so that was crazy. Well, we had a slightly different model because we are connected to the Chamber of Commerce, we were always interested in looking at people who either have a business or an innovation that they would love or dream of becoming a business one day. Even kids in schools coming up with ideas that could one day become some sort of innovation. So that spirit made this version a little different than the others, and in my opinion, more successful.
HT: I assume you feel really good when you go around and see that many of these prototypes are using Arduino?
Massimo Banzi: It gives me great, great satisfaction to see this because we wanted to create tools that allow people to be creative with technology without a huge background in programming or hardware. And I think after many years it’s very satisfying to go around and see so many different things built with our tools.
HT: So how did that happen when if you go back to the moment when you founded or founded this company, what was the inspiration or the idea?
Massimo Banzi: We started working on this project when I was teaching at this design school in northwestern Italy, in Ivrea, which is the town where Olivetti was from. I worked on different tools to make it easier for students to build prototypes of electronics without having to know much about electronics. So we worked on different projects, and what became the Arduino is kind of like a third-generation internal experiment. For a while this was mostly just an open source project. We didn’t try to do business with it. And after a while there was a lot of outside interest from other schools and people who had started experimenting. So we started a company. I think it’s interesting because over the course of the company’s history, the things we looked at have changed. When the world kind of changed. People were interested in different technologies and different tools, and we kept adding new things or changing direction. That’s why we started the experiment as a tool, and now we have these process products that are intended for companies to use in industrial applications.
HT: How has the company grown? How many people work for you?
Massimo Banzi: I think there are currently 152. And that’s a lot of people. We are scattered in different countries. We have a large office in Turin, Italy, where we do a lot of product development. We have an office in Malmö, Sweden, where we mainly do things related to schools and integration. We have a smaller group in Switzerland, where I work and live, and then we have people in the US.
HT: How much is the company’s turnover?
Massimo Banzi: We won’t reveal it, but you can imagine that with 152 people it’s significant.
HT: How do you come up with a new project? Is it like an internal process or do you look at what is needed in the market?
Massimo Banzi: It is always a collaborative process. We observe what people do with our products and listen to what they say. We also receive requests from users. For example, we receive a lot of feedback from companies about professional products. So in a way it’s a mixture of internal “inspiration”, external feedback and actual requests.
HT: Where did the name Arduino come from?
Massimo Banzi: (laughs) When we developed the product with my founders, I was in Ivrea. There are many things called “Arduino” in Ivrea. Because Arduino was one of the kings of Italy in the year 1000. So we needed a name, and there was a deadline, and basically what happened was that I said, Okay, you know what, let’s call it Arduino, like a bar. where do i go to drink And so we called it that because it was the first random name that wasn’t adopted. I wanted something vaguely unique and somehow messed it up thinking we could always fix it later. In the end it remained Arduino,
HT: What is the best selling of your versions and products?
Massimo Banzi: It’s not easy to say. Some products sell really well. Apparently we still sell a lot of “Arduino Uno” which is the original product we made and has become the standard in schools for teaching and use. So it sells really well. But for example, we have these other smaller products when you want to shrink your project that has been very successful. The things we do for schools are becoming more and more popular, and so are the things we do for businesses that are slowly taking over.
HT: Do you make them yourself or do you have contract manufacturers?
Massimo Banzi: We use a couple of factories located in Italy. We do not manufacture in China. We do it in Italy. They are basically about 45 minutes away from our R&D office. So whenever there’s a problem or you need to move production very quickly, it’s very simple, you can just drive to the factory and do it. I think this is a big advantage. Because during the lockdown, many people who make things in China had the problem of not receiving goods because there was a blockade in Shenzhen or the shipping company did not ship.
HT: When there was a shortage of components, did that affect you too?
Massimo Banzi: Yes, it affected us too. This affected any company that builds anything in electronics, because sometimes you might forget a certain component, and it could be a 10 cent component or a $1 component. like a really, really simple component, but you can’t replace it with something else. And if you want to redesign the product with different parts, it’s incredibly expensive. You could have a very expensive product that is stuck because a 10 cent component is missing. We managed to survive well. We had quite a few products that people were waiting to receive because parts were missing, but in general we handled the problem better than other companies.
HT: Were you the first to invent such single-board microcomputers?
Massimo Banzi: Such a product existed before. But it is always designed for professionals. So for people who want to start something, it was always kind of a steep learning curve. People looked at it and thought, Okay, this is complicated, I’ll never understand it. So they would just give up. One of the things I’ve learned working with students is that if you can get something up and running in 15 minutes, that’s incredible value and people love it. It’s kind of a starting point for us to build something different from existing solutions: you get it, you connect the cables, you download the software, and 15 minutes later it’s up and running. We made it accessible and democratized it. Also, the way we explain the concepts is very understandable to a wide audience.
HT: But now there are competitors. How have they affected you?
Massimo Banzi: Because some of our products are very successful, unfortunately, even if you try to protect your products in every possible way, there have been many Chinese cloners. Cloning people in China can clone anything, including Arduino. It’s not that we are poor, but it affects us in a way that we could earn more. Sometimes I wish people would realize that buying an original product that isn’t incredibly expensive helps the original makers and is a great value.
HT: By cloning do you mean they even use your name?
Massimo Banzi: Yes, they copy the whole thing, which is fine, but then they put our name on it. So we have to tell them to stop doing this. And we have a group of people who spend their time blocking cloners who try to use our name inappropriately.
HT: So do you have any means of taking legal action?
Massimo Banzi: Yeah. Our name Arduino and the product names are registered as trademarks practically all over the world. But it’s a bit like a video game; every time you stop someone, someone else starts. But apart from this we have been reasonably successful. At least people who want a copy won’t put a name on it now. But it still affects us, if someone wants to buy a cheaper product, they always do. They never think that the standard product was 20 euros so it’s not incredibly expensive, but some people will always buy the cheapest product, even if the difference is one euro, so it doesn’t matter what you do.
HT: Do you have any patents?
Massimo Banzi: Our products are open source. So this means that anyone can build on top of them. We’d like people to use them and learn and build on them, but we don’t misuse our name. So just do your own thing.
HT: What are your plans for the future? Are you satisfied with the company’s operation or do you have big ideas for change?
Massimo Banzi: Well, one of the things we’ve started to do a lot is build a lot of different software platforms. Because initially we focused more on building and selling hardware. But obviously now that everyone is building product projects and products that are interconnected, they need software to connect devices or connect a device to a phone or a computer and build, which is not easy. Because even if you’re trying to build something secure that can’t be hacked; it is complicated. So we created this cloud software that allows you to build connected projects very quickly. In seven minutes you can get something up and running very, very quickly. And that, I think, is another value. Many people are starting to use our software that we also built on hardware that we don’t make. That’s a big change. And I think another big change is to build projects for companies and industry to use in agricultural and other industrial products.
HT: Do companies contact you about these products?
Massimo Banzi: Yeah! Some people buy some of our products online, and they maybe build a prototype, and then they come back and say, you know, I’m trying to build this machine, I made a prototype with an Arduino, but now I have to industrialize it. , and we help them do it. We are also building a network of different partners. So if someone says, Hey, I need to build this thing, and we can tell them, talk to these guys, they use our products and they can build you a solution.
Some companies contact us directly; Some we run into and talk to, and others, they use our technology and write to us.
Source: The Nordic Page