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This Arduino project is counting to a billion

Arduino TeamJune 14th, 2021
Counting to a Billion is probably the longest running Arduino project ever.

Good design counts for everything

Designer Che-Wei Wang built a simple Arduino project that’s counting to a billion, and has been doing so for over 10 years. Could this be the longest continually running Arduino project in the world?

Che-Wei has a background in art, architecture and industrial design. He now runs a boutique design studio with is wife Taylor, called CW&T. But it was during his time at university that he first discovered his love for Arduino.

“I first started using Arduino when I went to [the Interactive Telecommunications Program] at NYU in 2007,” he explains. “I got hooked the moment I got an LED to blink and went on to build a fuzzy GPS robot that guides you to places around the city.”

Even now there’s a clear technological slant to his design work. As you look through the products CW&T has created, more than a few have embedded electronics at their core. He also has a rare eye for the beauty of minimalism, both in terms of design and function. Which is probably why one of his first Arduino projects is both simple, and stunning.

“As a kid, I would challenge myself to count to as high of a number as possible,” he laughs. “I don’t remember how high I got. Probably not past a few hundred. So I built this device as a way to fulfil my childhood dream of counting to an insanely high number!”

The Counting to a Billion project

Back in 2009, Che-Wei created his next project to help him achieve that childhood objective. Counting to a Billion has an Arduino board with a text-to-speech converter and a speaker that continually reads out the next number. When it gets to billion, it’ll stop.

“It lives in our basement, so every time you go downstairs, there’s a voice just counting away.”

Che-Wei clearly gave this a lot of thought in his initial designs. Like a lot of minimalist product designs, there’s a lot of work needed to make them look so simple. Counting at one number per second, continually, you’re looking at over 31 years to get to a billion. That means this apparently simple project needs to be incredibly robust.

Counting to a Billion is encased in a machined aluminium housing for safety. It writes the last number to EEPROM, in case of catastrophic power failure. And there’s a rechargeable backup battery so it keeps counting whenever the devices needs to be moved or unplugged.

It was activated at 9AM on May, 9th, 2009 and is still happily running, without interruption. It’s hard to imagine there are many other Arduino projects that have been running continuously for this long. If there are, we definitely want you to tell us all about them!

Down for the count

“I still use Arduino all the time,” Che-Wei continues, “for work, for home projects, and gifts.”

The Counting to a Billion project has actually provided inspiration for CW&T’s current products. In their shop is a strangely attractive device, called Nothing Lasts Forever. This sealed glass capsule has an e-ink display that counts up ever time you press the button on the machined aluminium cap. If and when it reaches 999,999, the device will stop functioning. Although the electronics are custom, it still uses the EEPROM method developed for Counting to a Billion to keep track of the number.

So, you’re probably wondering what number Che-Wei’s project is currently at? To recap, at the exact moment of writing, it’s now been running continuously for 12 years, one month and five days, or:

  • 145 months
  • 631 weeks
  • 4419 days
  • 106,046 hours
  • 6,362,764 minutes
  • 381,765,878 seconds

“As of right now, on June 8th, 2021, 10:42AM,” Che-Wei concludes, when we spoke about his project, “the count is at 47,684,610.”

Have you built a project that’s been running for a long time? We want to hear all about it! Share it on the Arduino Project Hub, in the comments, on social media, or over on the forum.