From time to time we get questions asking about the differences between BUG and the Arduino. Having done my graduate research on the Arduino and new media art for the past two years, I thought I'd take a stab at answering the question.
Photos by JB Labrune
While both platforms are open source and exceedingly useful there are some key functionality differences that set them apart. The first and core difference (no, literally) is that the BUG is an embedded computer, and the Arduino is a microcontroller. Whereas BUG runs Linux and has an ARM11 processor, the Arduino's brain is an ATmega168 or 328 (depending on the version). Both systems are programable via USB and have their own integrated IDEs, BUG is based on Eclipse while Arduino mirrors Processing. BUG has pre-made modules that allow a user to build by snapping them into the base, though BUG also has the vonHippel module, which is a breakout board in case a user wants to build external circuitry. Arduino allows users to wire up circuits on a lower level. Arduinos have many different versions and modifications from their community, this speaks to the ease at which Arduino is simplified, taught and documented. Soldering up your own BUG with all the surface mount pieces encased in our base would be next to impossible.
Because the functionalities differ, the applications differ as well as the price. Arduino is significantly cheaper than BUG. As a Linux box with 725 components on a 12 layer board, it adds up. Arduino has two significant advantages of being inexpensive. It takes the fear out of destroying your first microcontroller for beginners, and more people can afford to permanently embed Arduinos into their projects. BUG has the advantage of prototyping and running applications that require more power and memory. BUG has the capabilities to power LCD touchscreens, cameras and projectors as well create directories and files. BUG can handle playing a few games of Quake, being used as a wifi hotspot, or drawing on images fresh off the camera simply with snapping in a couple modules. Arduino champions the areas of sensor data input and output, wearables, and LED displays. This is certainly not to say that either platform could be used for similar projects, such as robotics, home automation, or sensor networks, but the scale and scope would be relevant for the suitable platform.
The purpose of opening up hardware design and empowering individuals to make their own electronics is a dear concept not only for the builders of BUG and Arduino, but also within their communities. Both Arduino and BUG have an economic impact on the way innovation and manufacturing are morphing in the current state of DIY. No longer are individuals confined to the choices manufacturers and marketers make for us. With the advent of accessible DIY platforms like Arduino and BUG, it is possible to prototype and bring new products to market in a fraction of the time with significantly reduced costs. Individuals want the ability to personalize things more and more right down to manufacturing their own devices. People are closer to the influence of their products and systems. Scale is broadened, growing outward from human scale; environments are expanded with passive smart dust and ubiquitous computing. Thanks to open source hardware projects of all types, individuals are free to choose the scale and environments which these technologies enhance. Although different in functionality, both BUG and Arduino are leaders in the open source hardware revolution and empowering user based manufacturing.
Some sources to learn more: Eric von Hippel's research and book Democratizing Innovation and the Sources of Innovation, Karl Ulrich's Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, Peter Semmelhack's gadgetocracy blog, and Chris Anderson's Free.