Design blog Core77 has a fascinating writeup of Project Aura, a smart bike safety lighting system that creates POV light stripes on the wheels that change color depending on the bike’s speed.
In the three-part article, project founders Ethan Frier and Jonathan Ota describe how they came up with the idea as Carnegie Mellon sophomores.
By the end of the academic year, we had finished the prototype and made a video, which we posted online. At that point, we thought the project was done—that it would be a nice portfolio piece, to showcase alongside our other work. We both packed up and went back to our homes to Southern California and Baltimore. A week later, Core77 wrote an article about the project, and before we knew it, the video had 100,000 views. E-mails started coming in, asking when, where, and how it could be purchased. We were shocked, overwhelmed, ecstatic and scared.
One fascinating part of the story involves the guys attempting to turn their idea into a product and running into the limits of their knowledge; at the beginning of the project guys didn’t even know how to solder.
The new prototype required additional research into digital computation and battery power, as our first prototype detected speed with purely analog means, based on the voltage output of the hub dynamo. The new prototype was built on Arduino, a powerful hardware/software platform that grants non-technical people (such as ourselves) access to all of the possibilities of digital control in an easy programming environment. Switching to this digital model opened up a whole world of possibilities for the functions of the product, and it took a number of iterations to figure out all the electronics required. (Remember, we are just two design kids with no technical background.) For the longest time, we sat crosseyed, trying to decipher LED driver data sheets, debug grumpy poorly written code and hone our soldering skills. We have since hired people who are far smarter than us because we knew we were in over our heads.
Then there were business concerns like worrying about money and researching how to take out a patent. They received a number of grants that covered their early expenses, but now it sounds like they’re looking to partner with another company to bring the idea to market. If you’ve got an maker idea that you’re looking to turn into a product, you should definitely read this piece.