Former Pixar Engineer Starts Her Own Electronics Company, Modulo

Maker News Technology
Former Pixar Engineer Starts Her Own Electronics Company, Modulo

MakerCon was developed for Makers like Erin Tomson, someone who has an idea to make something better and wants to learn the process of taking that idea and developing into a product that creates value for the Maker community. As Erin tells us below, she came to MakerCon last year and it got on her track for launching this week her new product on Kickstarter.

– Dale Dougherty, founder and Executive Chairman of Maker Media


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Like many Makers, I’ve been interested in electronics since I was a kid. At that time, building electronics often meant paging through datasheets and stringing together individual logic ICs on a breadboard. Microcontrollers were available, but they weren’t nearly as easy to use as they are today. Even once a circuit worked, taking it from a breadboard to a finished project was a drawn out and difficult process.

After college I took a job at Pixar as a technical director. I threw myself into computer graphics, working on Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille before moving over to Pixar’s internal software group. There I helped to build Pixar’s next generation animation tools from the ground up.

A couple years ago I started getting back into electronics again as a hobby. In doing so I became very aware of what had changed since I was younger. The landscape had been totally transformed by inexpensive, easy to use microcontrollers like Arduino and single board computers like Raspberry Pi. Where the behavior of an electronics project used to be painstakingly created with chips and wires, it could now be defined quickly and easily with a few lines of code.

Other things haven’t changed since I was a kid, and I found that even more interesting. Just like back then, most electronics projects are strung together on breadboards, a process that’s fragile and complicated. Though microcontrollers make it easier to control a project, careful attention must still be paid to mundane details like pinouts and supply voltages.

The difficulty of connecting components together stood in stark contrast to the power and flexibility of modern programmable electronics. After thinking about the problem for a while, I felt like I could apply what I had learned about building software for artists and animators at Pixar to make electronics easier for everyone. I quit my job at Pixar and started working on a solution to this problem.

At that point I was working alone and feeling pretty intimidated by the process of starting and launching a business. Last year, I attended MakerCon for some fresh inspiration and it was a really great experience. Sessions at MakerCon covered all the things I was trying to get my head around, like how to approach manufacturing and the ins and outs of crowdfunding. I also met some really great contacts and got a peek into what other professional Makers were doing.

Reinvigorated, I got back to work and was soon making steady progress. I call the system I’ve come up with Modulo, and today I’m launching it on KickStarter!

Modulo is a simple solution for building powerful electronic devices. Modulos are small interchangeable components that slide into a base which holds them firmly and connects them together. It can be programmed using the Arduino IDE or controlled from Python running on a computer or Raspberry Pi. With Modulo, I think I’ve addressed many of the difficulties that make building electronics so complicated and cumbersome.

As far as the specific Modulos themselves, I’m starting with versatile favorites like a microcontroller, an illuminated push button knob, and a color OLED display. Over time I plan to create a wide range of different Modulos that do all sorts of different things.

I chose to pursue this project partly because of the incredible Maker community. It’s so amazing to see people focused on what they can contribute and how we can all build each other up. I hope that Modulo can be my contribution and I can’t wait to see what people create with it.

Modulo is on KickStarter now, so please check out the KickStarter page and consider backing it to help me get it off the ground!

5 thoughts on “Former Pixar Engineer Starts Her Own Electronics Company, Modulo

  1. grace4585 says:

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  2. Rasmus says:

    This is useless. It ships only to the USA.

    1. notexactly says:

      You know, some people do live in the USA. I bet they find it useful. And even for those of us who don’t—including me—this is still a good thing, because presumably it will ship, or be sold by distributors, worldwide after it has been kickstarted. It seems like you’re considering Kickstarter a store that only sells things within short time windows. It’s not. It’s a platform for kickstarting things.

      1. Rasmus says:

        Very aggressive. Yes, I know people live there. A little under 5 % of the world’s population. And wonderful with your edit and the endearing accusations.

        Point is that the rewards for net blankes / non-americans are more expensive than the listed “regular price”. So it’s not a reward. It is better to not support the campaign, because Kickstarter is not a store. As you say. When the products arrive in stores, they will be sold at the regular rate.

        There’s no need to be condescending. I added my comment to this article, so 95 % of the world don’t have to waste their time going to the kickstarter page like I did.

        1. Sean Riley says:

          And they have now extended International shipping to all the tiers so 95% of the world can tune back in as long as they remember that Kickstarter is not a store.

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Erin Tomson

Erin Tomson has been working with electronics since she was a kid, starting with basic kits and radio shack tutorials in grade school and middle school, then PC-controlled robots in high school, and electronic art in college. A love of software and computer graphics took her to Pixar after college, where she worked as a Technical Director and Lead Engineer for over 12 years. Recently she left Pixar to focus again on physical computing.

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