Arduino meets the Moomins!

My friend Leslie Kauffman is homeschooling her son and daughter. (Her blogs DIY PRESCHOOL and DIY KINDERGARTEN are awesome.) Recently, Leslie and her family visited the World Maker Faire (a MAKE Magazine-driven event for crafty inventors, artists, technology enthusiasts, tinkerers, hobbyists, and other makers) in Queens, N.Y. Doing so catapulted her son Desmond into a whole new set of projects.

Here is Leslie’s story.

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“Mommy, my electronics components are getting excited about meeting Mr. Arduino and his friends! The ICs are especially excited about meeting the AT Mega 328 chip in the Arduino.”

Meet my son Desmond. He just turned 8 1/2. His half birthday fell last weekend, on the second day of Maker Faire. Having earned some money recently by taking part in a brain-imaging study, he bought himself an Arduino Uno and a bunch of microcontrollers there.

I don’t totally understand myself what an Arduino is, but Desmond explains that it’s sort of like the brain of a robot. With it, you can write computer programs that control the actions of physical objects: make an LED fade on and off and change colors, for instance, or make a motor go when a sensor senses light.

Desmond has always loved gizmos and gadgets and, as soon as he could read, began studying everything he could find about how they work. A few months before his 8th birthday, he got a breadboard, a multimeter, and a bunch of electronic components — resistors, capacitors, potentiometers, and more — and started building circuits.

Then a few months ago, he turned his attention to computer programming. He played with Scratch for a few weeks, then began teaching himself Python, modifying a bunch of existing games and creating things like a three-dimensional model. He started reading Linux manuals, downloaded the Arduino software on his computer, and started experimenting with the code.

Because these passions of his are the passions of an 8 year old, the magic of the technology is combining with the magic of imagination in sweet and beautiful ways.

The first evening he played with the Arduino, he wrote a program to control a simple robot he built on his breadboard — a face with LED eyes, nose, and mouth — while his twin sister Nini told stories about the robot and his life.

They’ve got big plans for Mr. Arduino in the days to come. First, of course, he needs to meet all of Desmond’s other electronic components; the formal introductions began this morning.

But soon Mr. Arduino and his friend the Mini Breadboard have an important task, Desmond and Nini tell me. The Moomins — characters from Tove Jansson’s beloved children’s books — need some technological assistance. Mr. Arduino is charged with controlling a special light for Snork Maiden’s Survival Kit, which she and Moomintroll use, I’m told, when they go exploring in dark caves or rocky mountains. Snork Maiden already has a mining drill (built by Desmond), some handy rope, and a good supply of noodles (bits of stripped wire insulation).

And after that, who knows? I’m watching with great delight.