“People over megahertz.”
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A Day on the Frontiers of Hardware and Manufacturing
Hundreds of attendees, dozens of speakers, hours of socializing and networking — it was a full day at the New York Hall of Science as MAKE’s first New York Hardware Innovation Workshopconsidered the present and future state of hardware and manufacturing.
Dale Dougherty (@dalepd), founder and CEO of Maker Media, welcomed the crowd by observing that the maker movement is not defined by technology.
“It is really defined by the social interactions that happen, and are facilitated by technology.”
“These are the makers who have figured out that they have a good product or service that has a market.”
With that, the panels, presentations, and hardware adventure stories began.
Hardware and Manufacturing Stories
The day started off with stories: about projects, and plans, and assumptions, and wrong turns.
Peter Semmelhack, (@psemme) the founder and CEO of Bug Labs, which develops Internet of Things applications and services, told a few stories about adding machines like vehicles, health monitors, and appliances to your social network.
Semmelhack also challenged the audience to think about how a simple office chair could be made into a connected device, and then demonstrated a half dozen ways it could.
Vending machines were another common object that Semmelhack used to show how much connectivity is on the horizon.
He finished by paraphrasing President John F. Kennedy.
“Think less about what the internet can do for our devices, and more about what our devices can do for the internet.”
Aaron Horowitz, (@DiabetesBear) co-founder of Sproutel, kicked off his presentation by talking about how his team created a teddy bear to help children manage chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma.
Aaron’s stories about how children responded to Jerry the Bear as it underwent development showed how product iterations are about more than technology. He said we have to respond to the needs of the people who will use that technology.
The secret to his Android-based system: testing, testing, and more testing. The first 250 bears will be shipped in November.
MAKE’s Alasdair Allan (@aallan) talked about how he worked with a skunkworks team to set up data sensor networks at conferences.
Alasdair’s stories vividly captured the reality of real-time sensing, and the challenge of scaling up to cover large events.
Michael Heimbinder (@habitatmap), founder and executive director of Habitat Map, a nonprofit organization that uses maps to engage communities on the environment affects to human health, explained how his platform is used for sharing education and environmental information. Habitat Maps help people monitor their personal exposure to the environment, including noise pollution and air pollution.
The creators behind two of the most popular boards took the stage in a panel moderated by MAKE’s own Matt Richardson(@mattrichardson).Although makers might like to argue about which is the best platform, there was plenty of common ground for these two panelists.
“Every time you design a system to do everything, you end up with a system designed to do nothing,” Massimo said. “The challenge is to build a platform that solves a simple problem for a specific group of people: beginners, for example.”
That’s just what the Arduino Project set out to do.
“Our boards are not the most powerful, but they enable people to get ideas into products very fast. It’s people over megahertz,” Banzi said.
Jason was a chief technologist for one of the largest microelectronics companies out there, Texas Instruments. Now he is an open platforms evangelist at TI, in addition to his work at BeagleBoard.
It is also important to build a community where beginners can get help. “Everybody should know how to ask an expert a question,” Jason said.
Regarding any animosity between makers in one microcontroller camp and another, Massimo joked, “You have to manage the ‘bitchiness’ in any tech community.”
It’s amazing how hundreds of people can come together from all over the world for a single day — and common themes emerge.
One of those themes at the workshop was iteration — how products benefit from the ability to make new versions quickly.
Another theme that emerged was the importance of experience — how the real product in many hardware devices is the human experience of it. Carla Diana (@carladiana_), founder of the Smart Interaction Lab, talked about how smart objects can deliver not just data, but knowledge.
The two speakers from the home security device Canary, James Krause and Jon Troutman, hit the “experience” theme hard, advising hardware entrepreneurs to sell the vision and the experience first, not the features.
Later, Sean Petterson, president and CEO, Strong Arm Technologies, and Bre Pettis (@bre) of MakerBot, returned to the idea of iteration. The vest Petterson invented to help people lift safely turned out nothing like his early prototypes. The idea gelled only after his tested it, and tested it, and tested it.
“Get your end user to design your product for you,” he advised.
Pettis showed how his line of 3D printer products have evolved through frequent iteration.
“If you just listen, and iterate,” he said, “You move forward faster.”
Maker to Market
Technologies like 3D printing have emboldened makers to rethink manufacturing. But there are still many difficult steps on the road to the marketplace.
In fact, Dale Dougherty reminded the audience, “This is a prototype revolution more than a manufacturing revolution.”
That leaves a lot of uncertain terrain between a prototype and a product on retail shelves. That landscape was the focus of a cluster of panels and presentations.
Contract manufacturing is one change that has made a difference, he said.
Einsten also ran down a list of what investors are looking for in a hardware startup. He came up with four must-haves:
- A world class team
- Products or services that solve a big problem
- The ability to gain traction in the market
- A company with a bold vision
Dragon Innovation is a crowdfunding platform and accelerator in the business of helping hardware startups. Their client list includes Sifteo, Romotive, Pintofeed, Pebble, and of course, MakerBot. They bring years of manufacturing experience to the table.
“You can’t Google manufacturing information,” CEO Scott Miller said.
What you can do is listen to your backers. If you can build a community behind your product, you aren’t just getting funding, you’re gauging your market. “Crowdfunding is great for market validation,” Scott added.
Bunnie Huang (@bunniestudios) described the gap between making one unit and making thousands of units. There’s a high cost for initial injection molding, but the ongoing unit cost is an order of magnitude less than 3D printing.
Makers must ask themselves, “When do I make the jump across the gap?”
Good manufacturing partners can help with that judgement and more. A partner that uses sub-contractors is a good thing. They are picking from their partner ecosystem to select the right manufacturer. This is better than a partner who feels locked in to using their own factory.
Bunnie also explained the importance of avoiding a designer vs. manufacturer relationship. “Design with your factory,” Bunnie said.
Pick the right size partner for you. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. “If you are not having dinner with the CEO of your factory partner,” Bunnie explained, “you are nobody to them.” Your partner should share their bill of materials including the cost of each item. “Light is the best disinfectant,” he joked.
It’s difficult to access the manufacturing capacity in U.S. and China.Nick Pinkston (@nickpinkston) of Plethora has a plan to address that.
“Manufacturing really hasn’t changed in 100 years,” he said. “A Ford plant that produced the Model T looks pretty similar to one today that produces the F150.” Nick thinks we can use software to make manufacturing easier.
What if we could apply some of the highly iterative software development methods to hardware manufacturing? Plethora’s manufacturing process is accessible through a custom CAD system. Customers use their CAD system to design their parts.
The system identifies errors in red (can’t be done), problems in orange (expensive to do), and potential failures in yellow. The system also automatically adjusts costs of the design on the fly as you pre-correct these design mistakes.
Zach Kaplan (@zkaplan) sees the world going through a new Renaissance. The exclusive ability for large corporations to produce a product is changing. Individuals and small companies have a growing place in the market.
Inventables calls themselves “the designer’s hardware store.” They allow companies to buy parts and materials in small quantities. This helps plug the gap that companies face when developing small productions runs.
Kaplan demonstrated how open source hardware can speed the development of new products by showing how a CNC mill project was able to use open source sliding rails to dramatically reduce costs and development time.
Emile explained that it is important to create a community for your hardware idea before you manufacture. You must also understand what kind of product you are going to bring to market. Will it be a finished product, assembled component, or a kit? Decide before you productize.
Equally important is having a feeling for your expected sales before you start ordering.
For crowdfunded projects, Emile advised, “Be open and transparent with your mistakes; your followers will understand if you admit to them up front.”
What Makes A Successful Hardware Project
“Hardware is hard” was a frequent refrain at the Hardware Innovation Workshop. That’s one reason why the audience was here — to identify the land mines on the way from idea to product.
But it’s also helpful, and encouraging, to focus on successful initiatives, and ask their founders to reflect on why they’ve succeeded.
David Lang, co-founder of OpenROV and author of Zero to Maker, told the audience, “There’s a lot of power in having fun and inviting people to be part of it.”
Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO, littleBits shared how she has launched a global company.
“It’s not about opening a new market. It’s about creating universal objects, building a global supply chain, and designing a platform rather than a product,” she said.
Maxim Lubovsky, of Formlabs, referenced a common theme at the conference: the importance of design.
“The first person we brought into the company was an industrial designer. Everyone says make design a priority, but that’s easy to say.”
Creating community was an important factor in a successful hardware launch, according to the panelists.
“Tone is really important,” said David Lang. “Always be inviting people in.”
Dulcie Madden, co-founder and CEO, Rest Devices, said that rapid prototyping was a key to her company’s success: “We probably went through a hundred different designs,” she told the audience.
Madden said its also important to focus on usability.
“Our baby monitor needed to keep working even if a baby poops or pees on it,” she said.
But the most important factor in success, David Lang said, is starting. He quoted Arduino’s Massimo Banzi, from a talk Massimo gave two years earlier in this very room.
“Don’t let not knowing what you are doing stop you from getting started,” he said.
A Proclamation, and New York’s Next Top Maker
The workshop closed with a proclamation from the mayor of New York declaring it “Maker Week” in New York City. A representative from New York City’s Economic Development Corporation delivered the proclamation and presented it to Dale Dougherty and Sherry Huss of Maker Media at a reception after the workshop’s last session.
Also at the reception: the winner of New York’s Next Top Makers competition was announced. And the winner was…
PowerClip, a compact unit that provides an efficient and inexpensive power source to charge appliances via USB from a car battery.
As the Grand Prize winner, the two creators of PowerClip will be awarded an $11,000 cash prize.
The competition was launched late last year, when New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) challenged the city’s makers to compete in a year-long New York’s Next Top Makers Challenge.
PowerClip provides an efficient and inexpensive power source to charge appliances via USB from a car battery.
The goal of the challenge was to support design-driven production, promote a culture of innovation, and to foster the development of new businesses in New York City.
Fifty-five ideas were submitted and evaluated by a panel of judges; the public was also invited to vote. A few months ago, six finalists were named. All six completed a five-month studio residency, with assistance and mentorship from a wide variety of New York City-based businesses.
The setting for the announcement was appropriate. The winners, and the five finalists, simply joined the ongoing discussions as a Mexican dinner was served.
As the workshop attendees, and the speakers — and now the New York makers — moved amongst the taco and burrito stands, the telling of hardware adventure stories continued into the night.
World Maker Faire New York
The show starts – tomorrow! Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21–22.
Take advantage of a new deal we’re offering with our friends at Engadget. A single $50 ticket gets you into Maker Faire andEngadget Expand NY 2013, Engadget’s consumer technology event that will be held Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9–10 in New York City.
Featured Maker Faires
Start making plans to participate in the first Maker Faire Rome, Oct. 3–6. It is for Europe at large, and will attract an international crowd from all over Europe and beyond. (You can watch a sneak preview here.)
Mini Maker Faires
More than 70 are currently scheduled for this year, around the world. Check the Maker Faire Map to find the closest one to you.