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“[T]he best way to grok this stuff is with your hands, just rolling up your sleeves and diving in.” — Sean Michael Ragan, author of The Total Inventor’s Manual
Lily Drone Folds, But Does Right by Backers
Back in 2015, Lily Robotics (@lily) wowed the world with a splashy demo video of its eponymous drone, which it said could intelligently follow adventure seekers as they snowboarded or kayaked to capture smooth, adrenaline-fueled footage. The company quickly racked up $34 million in pre-sales and another $15 million in investments.
But now the startup has unexpectedly announced that it’s shutting down — and a lawsuit in California alleges that Lily’s demo video last year misled buyers by showing footage captured with a GoPro (@GoPro) camera and DJI (@DJIGlobal) drone.
The good news: Lily says it will refund all pre-sales.
Q&A: Sean Ragan
In The Total Inventor’s Manual, longtime Make: contributor and editor Sean Ragan (@seanragan) takes an astonishingly broad look at product development, from the earliest conceptual sketches through marketing, customer service, and whether to consider an IPO. This week, he answered some of our questions about how to become a maker pro.
Make: What unique opportunities do you think this era offers for inventors?
Sean Ragan: The internet has revolutionized pretty much every stage of the product development process. The maker movement was mostly about prototyping: There was this explosion of free know-how and affordable tools available online and suddenly you didn’t need an expert to do this for you anymore. Ditto with raising money, as well as marketing. And though I can’t say I’m excited about Trump, I think there’s good reason to believe that his administration will create a favorable environment for small businesses and particularly manufacturing.
M: Is there a particular step where most maker pros trip up in bringing an invention to market?
SR: Manufacturing. Yes, it’s easier to find a factory than it used to be, but there’s still this cult of expertise around tooling up and design for manufacture. And that’s an iceberg-sized stumbling block. In a month, you can bang out a prototype that looks and works like something you might see on a shelf at Best Buy, and that’s so exciting that it’s easy to forget about the 90 percent still lurking below the waterline.
M: Your 75-year-old dad has registered 30 patents. How has he inspired you?
SR: Dad taught me to do things myself instead of paying somebody else. If something breaks, don’t buy a new one — fix it yourself. And to do that you have to understand how things are made and how they work. Study and theory have their place, sure, but the best way to grok this stuff is with your hands, just rolling up your sleeves and diving in.
HAX Heats Up
Maker pros of all stripes pitched their concepts to HAX (@hax_co) last week when the Shenzhen-based accelerator held its ninth Demo Day in San Francisco. Startups that took part were fascinatingly diverse: TechCrunch reports that they included Amber Agriculture (@grainsensing), which is creating a bean-shaped sensor to monitor corn in silos, a meditech outfit called Japet that’s working on an exoskeleton to relieve back pain, and a company called Beetl that’s working on swarm robots to do yard tasks.
Things are heating up for HAX (formerly known as HAXLR8R) as the world takes notice of Shenzhen’s growing role in the global hardware ecosystem. In a recent interview with Silicon Valley Robotics (@svrobo), HAX founder Cyril Ebersweiler (@cebersweiler) waxed philosophical about what he anticipates will be a near-future explosion in robotics.
“I think the tipping point for robotics is going to happen when robots start creating jobs,” he said.
Build Your Own Mars Rover
Molecular biologist Erica Tiberia (@robotiberia) never anticipated working with robots. But last year, she ended up entering the Sample Return Robot Competition, a $1.5 million NASA (@NASA) Centennial Challenge in which participants build proof-of-concept rovers that can recover items here on Earth — but without using navigation tools, like GPS, that wouldn’t be available on Mars.
Tiberia’s saga is extraordinary. You can read her account on the Make: blog.
Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web:
Check out Cecily Benzon’s (@cecilybenzon) Make: teardown of CES 2017 (@CES). Benzon saw endless variations on smart and connected gadgets, but it ultimately left her feeling empty. One bright spot: holograms as a content delivery system.
We eulogized Google’s Project Ara last year, but there may be hope yet for the concept of a maker-friendly modular smartphone: Android creator Andy Rubin is going into hardware with a new venture, called Essential, that will create high-end, upgradable handsets.
Josh Winkler’s (@cocrip) spinal cord is damaged at the fifth and sixth vertebra, which severely limits his use of his limbs. But that’s never stopped him from making, and he’s now documenting the ways he operates in the shop on a YouTube channel called Cripple Concepts.