Maker Pro Newsletter – 12/19/13

“You have to sell out (a little) to sell (a lot).”

From the editors of MAKE magazine, the Maker Pro Newsletter is about the impact of makers on business and technology. Our coverage includes hardware startups, new products, incubators, and innovators, along with technology and market trends.

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Google Makes Its Biggest Robot Buy Yet: Boston Dynamics

A rough-terrain robot from Boston Dynamics.

A rough-terrain robot from Boston Dynamics.

A Google self-driving delivery truck pulls up to the curb. How does the package get up your walkway, navigate your steps, and arrive at your front door?

Problem solved.

Last week, Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that specializes in terrain-savvy robots, became the eighth robot company that Google has acquired in the last year. It’s probably the best known. A video of Big Dog, one of its four-legged robots, has been viewed 15 million times since it was posted on YouTube in 2008.

But Big Dog is only one of more than a half-dozen Boston Dynamics robots — with names like Cheetah and Wild Cat — that are joining Google’s new robot team. Gizmodo has published a helpful video guide to the Boston Dynamics roster of robots.

For an overview of Google’s recent robot purchases, here’s a closer look at Big Dog’s new teammates, published just before the Boston Dynamics announcement.

Rethink Robotics Downsizes


Baxter, lead robot at Rethink Robotics.

Despite Google’s shopping spree, all is not bullish in the robot world. On the same day that Google’s purchase of Boston Dynamics was announced, The Boston Globe reported that Rethink Robotics had laid off 21 employees from a workforce of around 90.

Rethink, founded by robot legend Rodney Brooks(@rodneyabrooks), who is still chairman and chief technology officer, unveiled its first product a year ago: a $22,000 manufacturing robot, Baxter, that can be easily trained to do a wide range of tasks, and can work alongside humans.

Rethink CEO Scott Eckert told the Globe the layoffs are the result of Rethink deciding to focus on the market segments that have been most receptive to Baxter: plastics manufacturing, consumer goods, warehousing and logistics, and academic and corporate research labs.

On the Everything-Robotic blog, Frank Tobe (@ftobe) drilled down further, comparing Rethink’s Baxter to offerings from Universal Robots, a competitor based in Denmark.




A micro laser sintered 3D print from a new German project.

* MakerBot has launched 3D printing services in its 3 retail stores: in Boston; Greenwich, Conn.; and New York.

* Two German companies have launched a product to provide micro 3D printing, using laser sintering.

* A new Internet of Things consortium, the AllSeen Alliance,  has formed with more than a dozen major players, including the Linux Foundation, Qualcomm, Sharp, and Panasonic.

Low-cost titanium is on the horizon.

* Maybe you should be considering a smart ring, instead of a smart watch.

* How about 3D printing injection molds? Stratasys is on it.

* The Maker Pro Newsletter will not be published next week in honor of the Christmas holiday. We will be posting Maker Pro items on the MAKE blog the week of  Dec. 30, and we will be back with the newsletter on Jan. 9.

Behind the Hardware

Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky: It’s All About Software Now


The Pebble watch may go down in hardware history as the highest-funded project ever on Kickstarter, with a total contribution amount of $10,266,845 (the original goal was just $100,000), but these days Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky(@ericmigi) is mostly thinking about software.

It’s stage 2: Pebble managed to get their watches on 190,000 wrists; now the company has to feed the little beasts. Thus: the just-openedPebble Developer Portal and the just-announced Pebble appstore, coming in early 2014.

Read Engadget’s interview with Migicovsky to get an idea of what awaits smart watch projects — and many other connected hardware companies — after the first wave of deliveries.  There’s also a video version.

Shenzhen Strategies from Bunnie Huang

Bunnie Huang.

Bunnie Huang (@bunniestudios) is one of the best cultural translators in the hardware business. He has a gift for explaining how manufacturing works in cities like Shenzhen, China.

His presentation at last summer’s World Maker Faire New York conveyed a general sense of his approach.

Want to see how he is approaching his own, latest project? A recent blog post describes how he tackled some of the manufacturing issues around his new product, chibitronics.

Here’s MAKE’s early take on the results. 

A Fitbit Force Teardown


What’s inside a Fitbit Force

It took a few acetone baths and some careful work with a utility blade, but the Adafruit crew were able to take apart a Fitbit Force, the wireless activity monitor.

It’s their latest teardown, and like previous ones (we were especially interested in their dissection of the brainwave-sensitive cat ears we mentioned last week) it’s like checking out the latest hardware innovations — from the inside.

The Compromises and Tradeoffs on the Way to Raspberry Pi


The Raspberry Pi team didn’t launch two million units into the wild through dogmatic inflexibilty. On the contrary: the path to production was full of compromises and tradeoffs.

Co-founder Pete Lomas describes some of the shortcuts and accommodations in a behind-the-scenes account in Wired.

One tradeoff: the initial units were built in China, even though the team was committed to manufacturing in Great Britain (where they are now made).

Another compromise: to enable hacking, while preventing cloning, they published the Pi’s schematics, but held back the detailed Bill of Materials (BOM) and physical PCB design for a limited amount of time.

Lomas’ philosophy: “You have to sell out (a little) to sell (a lot).”

Standing Desk Maker — How I Made It in the US


Dan McDonley considered making his crowd-funded Ninja Standing Desk in China, but he decided to manufacture it close to his home, in San Francisco.

He explains how it’s working out, in Forbes.


Mini Maker Faires

Nearly a hundred a year to choose from, around the world. Check the Maker Faire Map to find the closest one to you.

Coming up:


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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


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