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Meet The Board Makers: KRTKL and Hackboard

KRTKL

Snickerdoodle FPGA mounted to a purple Scorbitron baseboard.
  • Website: krtkl.com
  • Key People: Ryan Cousins (co-founder, CEO), Jamil Weatherbee (co-founder, CTO), and Russell Bush (co-founder, CDO)
  • Number of staff: 5
  • Founded: 2014
  • Location: San Francisco
  • Key Products: snickerdoodle FPGA boards, piSmasher and breakyBreaky carrier cards

Their story:

Krtkl CEO Ryan Cousins grew up exploring, adventuring, and building electronic kits with his dad. He went on to study mechanical engineering at UCLA, where he became interested in the entrepreneurialism that drove the successful people behind the companies he studied.

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After graduating, Cousins worked in the medical devices field, and then in engineering consulting, where he and fellow coworkers
Jamil Weatherbee and Russell Bush decided to launch a company focused on its own product. The team spit-balled ideas from drones to educational robots before having the realization that every time they built a product for a consulting client, they were essentially rebuilding the same custom controller components. Why not turn that into their product?

The trio decided the resulting controller board should be versatile, but affordable. They wanted it to fit alongside Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and be attractive to professional-level hobbyists and engineers, hoping “they might just pick this up because it’s cool,” says Cousins.

Their first product, crowdfunded in 2015, was the snickerdoodle board, using the Zynq FPGA SoC platform (“a perfect fit”). Since then they’ve updated their lineup to include snickerdoodle one and snickerdoodle black FPGA boards, along with piSmasher and breakyBreaky expansion boards. Dozens of products now run on snickerdoodle boards, including Scorbitron (scorbit.io), a pinball-networking device that lets distributed players compete against each other, track high scores and more, on machines of any age.

Moving forward, Cousins finds robotics and edge AI interesting opportunities for krtkl, but plans to keep things in the physical world. “I don’t ever see the company turning into a cloud company. As painful as hardware is, we wouldn’t do this if there weren’t hardware. We build stuff, that’s what’s in our DNA.”

HACKBOARD

The Hackboard 2 single board computer
  • Website: hackboard.com
  • Key People: Mike Callow (co-founder, CEO), Jon Prove (co-founder, COO), and Dean Kline (VP, marketing and communications)
  • Number of staff: 6
  • Founded: February 2020
  • Location: Austin, Texas
  • Key Products: Hackboard 2

Their story:

Hackboard is a new board maker, launching with an Intel Celeron-based, Windows 10 Pro single board computer (SBC) called the Hackboard 2. The executive team, consisting of Mike Callow, Jon Prove, and Dean Kline, had previously worked together on different Raspberry Pi-based endeavors, including Kano and pi-top, and individually at technology companies like IBM, Element 14, and Dell.

Hackboard started when, due to the emerging Covid pandemic, Callow found himself stuck in China without a computer. Realizing he had access to components and pieces, he assembled a functional substitute to keep himself productive with work. Later relaying this experience to friend and former colleague Prove, the two realized there was an opportunity to create low-cost, fully capable computer options for students and communities that don’t have access to pricier consumer devices.

Callow and Prove brought Kline aboard and put together a test run of Hackboard 1 SBCs to get market feedback. Part of what they learned was that some backers, while appreciating the Windows 10 Pro access, still wanted the tinkerability of Linux, so they added that as a crowdfunding option. The board also carries an M.2 hard drive for up to 512GB of storage, and 4GB–8GB of memory, along with the GPIO pinout for further customization.

The team says that part of making Hackboard 2 accessible is keeping the prices down; the base option with Linux costs $179, while a maxed-out version with Windows 10 Pro is $299. “Our mission is to get computing into the hands of as many people as possible, with the power that they need,” Kline says. “And we know that to do that, there’s probably some profitability sacrifice that has to happen. We really want to make a difference in the world at this stage in the game.”

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Mike Senese is the Executive Editor of Make: magazine. He is also a TV host, starring in various engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, doing amateur woodworking, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza.

View more articles by Mike Senese