There is no way to overstate how big of an impact Arduino development boards have had on engineering and making. While microcontrollers have existed for decades, Arduinos made it easier than ever before to work with them. As such, an Arduino is almost always the first choice when you need to prototype an MCU-based device. But that doesn’t mean programming an Arduino is easy for everyone, which is why a team of researchers from Germany’s RWTH Aachen University have developed a novel new visual programming system called Flowboard.
Most people program their Arduino boards using the fantastic open-source Arduino IDE. The code to do so is essentially a modified version of C++, which is extremely robust but also has a fairly steep learning curve. For non-programmers, that learning curve can make working with Arduino boards seem overwhelming. There are visual block-based programming tools, like MIT’s Scratch, that can help make the process more approachable, but even those require a certain kind of logical thinking. Flowboard is designed to test whether a new way of thinking about embedded programming can be beneficial to some people.
Flowboard consists of an Arduino, an Apple iPad Pro, two breadboards, and a frame to house those components. It’s designed to be used with a custom visual flow-based programming app that runs on the iPad. That app bridges the gap between the hardware and the code to make it work. For example, a user could attach a button to the breadboard on the left side and connect it to one of the I/O pin. On the opposite side, they could connect an LED. To make the button turn on the LED, they can setup a connection between the two within the app. Doing so is a lot like making a flowchart, and should be more intuitive than other visual programming tools.