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“There’s no better time to start a robotics company.” – Lemnos co-founder Jeremy Conrad
Machine Learning for Maker Pros
Chipmaking is a notoriously expensive endeavor, with some estimates putting the price of bringing a new unit to market at around $120 million. But a new analysis by The Next Platform floats the intriguing idea that machine learning — design, that is, that’s trained on existing semiconductors to devise the next generation — could bring that price down to a more accessible level.
It’s not hard to imagine a maker pro revolution in machine learning. A Purdue University (@LifeAtPurdue) spinout called FWDNXT is working on a low-power processor called Snowflake that aims to bring computer vision, powered by neural networks, to everyday robotics applications.
“Everybody was looking for a solution like this,” said Eugenio Culurciello, an associate professor at Purdue. “We have a special computer that can operate on large data very fast with low power consumption. Our mission is to propel machine intelligence to the next level.”
Lessons From Layoffs
It’s been a tough period for hardware startups — as we pointed out in last week’s newsletter, offbeat robotics company Sphero (@Sphero) was forced to let go of 45 employees, and item tracking system Tile (@TheTileApp) is reportedly laying off another 30.
But Business Insider’s Peter Newman took a sober look at the news and came away with lessons for startups that want to avoid similar contraction. The key takeaway: a business model based on one-time purchases is a tough road for any venture — but selling products as a service rather than a discrete purchase is likely more sustainable.
Food Maker Frontiers
Make: correspondent Chiara Cecchini (@ClaireCecchini) is back with more information on Funghi Espresso (@FunghiEspresso), a delightfully-named startup that sells kits for growing mushrooms out of coffee grounds.
This time, founder Marco Vitale builds out the ambition of the company with instructions for creating a burger from the kit’s mushrooms — not just the patty, remarkably, but also the bun.
“For me, it’s thinking about how to obtain a long lasting product that can be commercialized all over the world,” Vitale said. “Easily accessible ingredients is also important so that the burgers can provide nourishment and be reproduced anywhere on our planet.”
Speaking of food maker pros, don’t miss this interview with Taiwanese maker pro Oscar Chang (@ChingYenChang), whose startup Alchema (@Alchema21) makes a smart fermenter for homebrewers who want to turn their favorite fruits into cider.
Papier Machine Goes Pro
Silicon Republic has an epic roundup out of European hardware ventures to watch. The whole thing is worth a read, but standouts included:
In Spain, Drone Hopper (@DroneHopper) makes heavy-duty drones to assist in fighting wildfires, pest control and crop management. It’s an old idea, but these things can lift — each unit, pictured above, can reportedly pick up 79 gallons of liquid.
In Germany, Lilium (@Lilium) is working on an elegant flying taxi that looks like something from a science fiction film.
And in Ireland, Sonarc says it’s invented a new type of speaker that uses plasma instead of a vibrating cone — a technique it says can get better frequency response out of a smaller unit.
Humble Book Bundle: Sous Geek
Learn to cook for geeks, astronauts, medieval marauders, rock stars, and even Alexander Hamilton with this new collection of $400+ worth of thought-provoking cookbooks featuring Make:‘s own Edible Inventions and Make: Like the Pioneers! Good through 10:59am PT on Feb. 7, get books on the Instant Pot and cocktail mixology; air-frying and burgers; paleo-spiralizing and bento boxes; and more. Best of all, with Humble Bundle you always decide what you want to pay!
Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web
From the moment it launched its epochal Kickstarter campaign in 2012, smartwatch Pebble (@Pebble) inspired a rare devotion among fans. Of course, that made its 2016 shutdown and subsequent acquisition by Fitbit (@fitbit) a bitter pill for its die hard community. But at least Fitbit has handled the legacy equipment with unusual grace — it just announced that it will continue to support Pebble hardware for an additional six months.
Etsy maker pros and fashionistas of all ages take note: Adafruit (@adafruit ) has a terrific new guide on how to make ceramic pins out of copper PCB material with a Bantam Tools (@bantamtools) CNC. Make:’s Gareth Branwyn(@garethb2) has more.
Jeremy Conrad, the co-founder of hardware venture capital outfit Lemnos(@lemnoslabs), has announced plans to step down as general partner in order to start a robotics startup. He’ll remain a venture partner with Lemnos, which plans to invest in the new company. “There’s no better time to start a robotics company,” Conrad said.
Longtime Xbox executive Phil Harrison (@MrPhilHarrison) has announced plans to jump ship to Google — and while Microsoft (@Microsoft) and Alphabet (@alphabetincUS) are large companies, analysts say Harrison’s skill set could lend itself to his new employer’s ongoing virtual and augmented reality research, an ecosystem ripe for innovation by maker pros.