Maker Pro News: Lessons From CES, Speech Recognition for Kids, and the Humble Mastermind of Roku

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Maker Pro News: Lessons From CES, Speech Recognition for Kids, and the Humble Mastermind of Roku

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Making clothing out of kombucha isn’t all that different from cheese-making. In both cases, we are using the alchemy of the fermentation process to render a raw material timeless. – Kombucha Couture founder Sacha Laurin

Lessons From the Makers of CES

Once again, CES (@CES) was an extravaganza not just of tech titans but also the homegrown companies that are the lifeblood of the maker pro community.

Some of the most visible maker pro companies at the event were 3D printer manufacturers. LulzBot (@lulzbot3D) launched an “Aerostruder tool head” that wowed Make: Digital Fabrication Editor Matt Stultz (@MattStultz). And XYZPrinting (@XYZprinting), known for its Da Vinci printers, launched a scanner that can digitize not just shape but color.

HAX (@hax_co) partner Benjamin Joffe (@benjaminjoffe) jotted down his impressions of the event, and it’s a worthy read from a close watcher of hardware. Takeaways: business-to-business startups are a growth area, there was an unusually strong international showing, and the support ecosystem for hardware startups is “better than ever.”

The Make: staff shared their takes as the event progressed in a post you can read here. Highlights: robot suitcases with facial recognition, self-driving cars by Nvidia (@nvidia) and Volkswagen (@Volkswagen), new strides in virtual reality, and crowdfunding updates from edutech startup Makeblock (@Makeblock).

“CES is overwhelming!” Montgomery told us. “Take a friend and be sure to capture contact information from everyone who is interested. When you get home? Execute, execute, execute. Reach out, get in touch and work to turn interest in your product into income for your company.”

The Humble Mastermind of Roku

new feature in Variety looks at the humble origins of Roku (@RokuPlayer), a startup that has gradually taken the crowded smart TV market by storm with a quality product — and at its quirky founder, an auteur programmer and maker named Anthony Wood (@rokuone) who has single handedly created much of the software that runs the system.

“It was kind of a side project,” he said. “Just for fun. Like a hobby; something I worked on for a few years.”

Speech Recognition for Children

SoapBox Labs (@soapboxlabs) is an Irish company working on speech recognition for children — an enormous technical challenge, since children speak very differently from adults, and can be more easily frustrated — and a technology that could be of great interest to the makers of smart assistants, edtech ventures, and more.

Behind the project is Patricia Scanlon, a Bell Labs (@BellLabs) alum who’s been building up a new dataset of children’s speech patterns to power the project. The team is currently crunching through the data with deep learning software, and Scanlon is already teasing collaborations that could be announced as soon as next month.

Food Maker Frontiers

Make: contributor Chiara Cecchini (@ClaireCecchini) is back with two new stories about the frontiers of food maker tech:

First is about the excellently-named startup Kombucha Couture(@KombuchaCouture), which is making clothing out of the live active cultures in the popular fermented beverage.

“Making clothing out of kombucha,” said founder Sacha Laurin(@sacha_laurin), “isn’t all that different from cheese-making. In both cases, we are using the alchemy of the fermentation process to render a raw material timeless.”

And second is a technical dive into Mixartista (@mixartista), a stylish robot bartender with ornate Victorian stylings made from crystal and 24 karat gold. Bottoms up!

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

The Atlantic looks at online retailers that advertise goods they had no hand in creatingAlexis Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) actually ordered a coat from one such service: “It was, technically, the item I ordered, only shabbier than I expected in every aspect,” he wrote.

new Make: guide by Becky LeBret (@beckylebret), the executive director of Next Ed Research, looks at ways to create community makerspaces on a tight budget. The key, according to LeBret, is in nailing down a short- and long-term budget so that goals and expenses can be planned around them.

Tulip (@tulipinterfaces) is an app that connects every component on a factory floor to a computer system in order to collect data and tighten the operation — and which, according to founder Natan Linder, could help give the domestic manufacturing market a competitive advantage. Backers include Boston heavyweights New Balance and Merck.

Taiwanese startup SmartPower wants to kill the old-fashioned phone charger with new wireless charging tech — and to do that, it’s going to need to be fast. “A customer isn’t going to put it on the pad for four hours,” said founder Tank Huang.

How’s this for an exit? Hardware startup Redux, which was working on a system that turns a display screen into a speaker, was acquired by Google for an undisclosed sum — and the possibility that the technology will be integrated into an upcoming Pixel device.

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DC Denison is the co-editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

DC manages customer stories at Acquia, the digital experience company.

View more articles by DC Denison

Jon Christian is the co-editor of the Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection between makers and business. He's also written for the Boston Globe, WIRED and The Atlantic.

View more articles by Jon Christian


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