Maker Pro Newsletter #13

“The maker community is about capabilities.”

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, innovators, along with technology and market trends. Please send items to us at Click here to subscribe to this newsletter!

Special Hardware Innovation Workshop Edition

For the first time ever, no emails were exchanged in the creation of this newsletter. All the reported Maker Pro activity took place live, in person, at the two-day Hardware Innovation Workshop.

An agenda was distributed each day, but they hardly seemed necessary. For two days participants simply flowed between a darkened, packed theater and a sunny promenade that housed the Innovation Showcase and the Prototype Pavilion.

The Innovation Showcase and Prototype Pavilion

The HIW Theater

Before the main event even got started, MAKE founder Dale Dougherty (@dalepd) kicked off a special sold out focus session led by Chumby co-founder Bunnie Huang (@bunniestudios), who dazzled an audience of budding hardware entrepreneurs with a highly technical, and yet highly entertaining (and informative) tale of caution for anyone trying to spec out a project for production in China.

Bunnie Huang’s “master class” for makers kicked off the first day of the Hardware Innovation Workshop with a sold-out crowd.

The stories about the possibilities and pitfalls of contract manufacturing overseas were eye-opening. If there was a theme to the talks from the morning session, it was that in the world of hardware fabrication, anything is possible, and may not be as expensive as you think, as long as you ask the right questions, and go the extra distance to find people who will work with you, rather than for you.

The conference ramped up in the afternoon with a first presentation by Robert Faludi (@faludi), from Digi International, who spoke on the inspiration he found from Walt Disney for creating the best products by thinking about the guest, or end user, first. Robert’s invocation to the diverse crowd of eager creators was: Whenever there’s a decision to be made, choose the one that will lead to the best user experience, and you can never go wrong.

A panel on “Getting Started: Case Studies in Success” brought together a half dozen hardware startups to share stories and compare lessons learned. Tim Darosa, “marketing guy” at gaming startup Ouya, shared how his small company has been creating, and refining, their device in public, since it was launched as an idea on Kickstarter less than a year ago. David Merrill (@merrill), of Sifteo, which adds interactivity to everyday objects, offered advice on user interface innovation, the future of play, and entrepreneurship.

“Get to the second generation of your product as soon as possible,” he advised.

Five finalists in the event’s Pitches with Prototypes contest took the stage to, well, pitch their prototypes. Attendees had ballots and voted for their favorites.

And the Winner Was…

LightUp, an electronics learning system that combines physical circuits and an online interface into a compelling educational ecosystem. LightUp garnered half the votes, confirming the community’s interest in educational projects.

The day concluded with a great panel discussion with VCs Eric Klein (@sircoolio) of Lemnos Labs, Trae Vassallo (@trae) ofKleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, K9 Venture’s Manu Kumar (@ManuKumar), Renata Quintini (@rquintini) of Felicis-Ventures, Ryan Kottenstette from Khosla Ventures, and Rob Coneybeer (@robconeybeer), managing director at Shasta Ventures.

The discussion started out focusing on what they looked for in evaluating startups as investments, but meandered delightfully, and fruitfully, to the subject of telepresence, the quantified self, and other emerging technologies that might or might not be “overheated” in the current market. The future of consumer 3D printing, in particular, was a subject of considerable, intelligent, and extremely well-informed debate.

In the Innovation Showcase

The amazing thing about HIW’s first afternoon, and the Workshop in general, was how fluid the connections were between and among the participants: speakers left the stage to spend an hour touring the new products in the Innovation Showcase; exhibitors took a break from behind their tables to participate in a panel, and then returned to visit other vendors in the showcase area.

Bunnie Huang, who taught a morning master class in manufacturing, spent a few hours afterwards touring the showcase area. He was particularly impressed, he said, with the software of Othermill, the computer controlled, 3-axis machine designed for milling custom circuitry.

Alice Taylor (@wonderlandblog), of custom doll makerMakieLab, left her post behind her display table to participate in the Case Studies in Success panel. Afterwards she said she intended to visit the Electric Imp table in the showcase area to see if some of their technology might work inside her dolls.

HAXLR8R’s Zach Smith

Zach Smith (@hoeken), Program Director of HAXLR8R, who spoke at a morning session on manufacturing in China, said he was particularly impressed with exhibitor Dash Robotics, which makes innovative cardboard origami robots.

“It’s inspiring to see how mastery of a simple technology like origami can make something very complex,” Smith said.

Day Two

Hardware is hard, the quip goes, but there’s never been a better time to be prototyping and launching hardware projects than right now. That seemed to be the consensus as the second and final day ofMAKE’s Hardware Innovation Workshop wrapped up.

The strength of that system is clearly built around new technologies and the ability to scale up, several speakers said, but also the open community that supports it.

Chris Anderson (@chr1sa), founder and CEO of 3D Robotics andDIY Drones, kicked off the day with a great maker pro story about how the guy with the most smarts about drones turned out to be a teenager from Tijuana Chris met over the internet. Together, and almost to his surprise, he and Jordi Munoz are building a manufacturing company that competes with the best aerial drone companies from China … all engineered and manufactured in North America.

Chris Anderson, founder and CEO of 3D Robotics and DIY Drones

The second keynote from the workshop featured Carl Bass (@carlbass), CEO of Autodesk. Carl is a maker at heart, but his interests can also be found in his desire to empower makers to “make things” through innovative software. In his talk, he described a new revolution in computer aided design (CAD) which will address the lack of the “D” or the design aspect of CAD.

Traditional CAD software is more about the documentation of a product rather than its design, he said. Typically the computer does not actively participate in helping make design decisions, but Autodesk hopes to change that with Autodesk Fusion 360. Now makers can not only document their project, but they can build true digital prototypes, Carl said.

Bass offered participants a chance to get in the beta, and also revealed that pricing for the suite would be free for enterprises generating less than $250,000 per year.

A New Product — Maybe a New Class of Products — Launches

The new Handibot, from ShopBot Tools.

One of the news highlights from HIW was the announcement of “a whole new class of digital tool” called the Handibot by ShopBot Tools, based in Durham, N.C.

The new machine can do precision cutting, drilling, machining, and carving, just like a standard CNC router, but it’s compact and mobile, and it can work with an evolving library of task-oriented apps.

One of the unsung heroes of the “new industrial revolution,” the CNC (computer numerical control) router combines agile cutting power with computer-controlled, robotic smarts.

ShopBot Tools, which has lowered the price for an entry-level CNC router to around $5,000, is responsible for seeding workshops around the world with nearly 6,000 CNC routers.

ShopBot’s Handibot will be initially priced at $2,500, but the company is hoping that the price will float down over the next few years.

A crowdfunding campaign for the first batch of Handibots is targeted for June, which will get around 50 Handibots out to an early group of adopters. Wider distribution will roll out a few months after that.

ShopBot founder, CEO, and president Ted Hall said that the new device is “more than a product, it’s an innovation platform.”

The major advance of the Handibot, Hall said, is that it will enable users to take CNC-style precision cutting “to the material” — to construction sites, for example.

The Internet of Things and 3D Printing

Pinoccio’s Eric Jennings and Sally Carson discuss the Internet of Things.

The growth of the Internet of Things from concept to reality was one of the hot topics of the event. Eric Jennings (@erictj) and Sally Carson (@fixpert), the creators of Pinoccio, described the birth of their product, which came about after the need to monitor squatters in a neighborhood home. In conjunction with their wireless hardware, they created online tools, an API, and a community portal. Their goal? Help makers connect anything to the web.

The 3D printing session opened with a talk by Peter Weijmarshausen (@weijmarshausen), co-founder and CEO of Shapeways, who talked about new opportunities in manufacturing, enabled by rapid prototyping, at the emerging intersection of traditional mass production and user customization. Nervous System, a very successful Shapeways-based jewelry designer, was held up as a new model for start up businesses.

“The top 1,000 Shapeways sellers are making serious money,” Peter said. “I am on the lookout for the first Shapeways millionaire.”

Printrbot’s Brook Drumm offered another great maker story.

“I’m just a guy,” he said. “I have no degree. I was a pastor for years and years, then I started making stuff. First I was making websites. Then I wanted to make something that you could hold in your hand.”

He bought an early MakerBot kit, and enjoyed assembling it with his children. But he wanted something easier.

Enter Kickstarter. Printrbot’s spectactular and unprecendented success on that platform completely changed Drumm’s life. Their goal was $25,000. They made more than $800,000.

“Before, I was a guy who had a hard time making his house payment. First year, we had $2.4 million of business in gross sales.”

For Drumm, the future of 3D printing is about expanding access, especially for kids and educational institutions. Printrbot is working on a new, even smaller fused-filament printer design. They’re also, he revealed, developing a DLP-based resin printer project, which produced its first print just a few days ago.

Incubators and Accelerators

“Makers need partners,” was the way Dale Dougherty introduced the panel on “Incubation,” and all four presenters validated his point, although each approached the challenge from a different angle.

Scott Miller, the CEO and co-founder of Dragon Innovation, tapped his experience launching the iRobot Roomba robot. He explained that although prototyping has gotten easier, manufacturing is still a challenge for many entrepreneurs. One reason, he said, is that manufacturing is “experienced based.” You can’t just query Google: “how to manufacture in China?” You need to work with people who have learned their manufacturing skills working with factories.

Quality is not sexy, he added, but shortcomings in this area can bankrupt your company. That makes it important to spend time choosing exactly the right factory, a process that generally takes Dragon Innovation four to six weeks.

“Picking your factory is the single most important thing you’ll do,” he said.

Zach Smith of HAXLR8R gave a vivid tour of Shenzhen, the Chinese manufacturing city where he lives and works. According to Zach the value of working in Shenzhen is that you can radically increase your iteration speed, because you’re so much closer to your factories. The more back and forth you can have with your manufacturer, the better your product will be.

Like Miller, Zach emphasized the importance of choosing the right factory. Another benefit of working in Shenzhen, he said, is that you can usually find a factory with experience in your product, whether it’s bicycle handlebars, household lighting, or a vibrator.

Jeremy Conrad, a founding partner of Lemnos Labs, said one of the aims of his accelerator is that they want to make it easier for engineers to be entrepreneurs. It’s important to get early expert advice on a hardware startup, he said, because you make many decisions in the first six months, and you’ll be living with those decisions for the next two years.

Finally Brady Forrest (@brady), of PCH International, which helps companies with manufacturing, described the company’s dream to “become the AWS of hardware,” referring to the way that Amazon Web Services enabled many software companies to scale quickly.

Arduino’s Massimo Banzi

Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi kicked off the “Board Building” session by talking about his personal background as an electronics hobbyist, and how it ultimately led him down the path to Arduino.

He cited Dieter Rams as a major inspiration both in practice — Banzi himself had one of Braun’s “Lectron” kits as a child — and in theory. Rams’ principles of design would heavily influence the development, design, and branding of Arduino and the entire Arduino line.

“We started to apply design principles to bare circuits; usually, circuits are inside an enclosure and it doesn’t matter what they look like.”

The session wrapped up with Eric Weddington, Open Source and Community Marketing Manager at ATMEL, which manufactures the AVR microcontroller chips used in the Arduino board family. Weddington had some pithy advice for firmware developers about the effects of software on board design.

First, don’t optimize too soon — prototypes just have to work, and optimizing code in a prototype will likely waste resources, he said. But be prepared to optimize when the time comes — both to meet product specs and for the possible economic benefits.

“Think scale,” he said. “I work for a semiconductor manufacturer, and they always think in terms of scale. When you’re building a billion-dollar fab, you have to.”

The last two sessions brought home many of the themes of the conference. In Partnering to Get it Made, Bunnie Huang and John Park, chief operating officer of AQS, which runs three Chinese factories, shared practical tips to create a fruitful relationship with a factory.

“The maker is just a small part of an ecosystem,” Huang said, adding, “there’s always a lot to learn in the world of making.”

In the final session, Tales of Evolution, Windell Oskay (@oskay), of Evil Mad Science, gave an informative and wryly humorous talk about how his enterprise, and the idea of open source hardware, has evolved since the first Maker Faire.

Finally, MAKE founder Dale Dougherty brought the Workshop to a close by drawing a parallel to what many participants had been hearing about working with factories.

“Over the last two days we’ve heard that factories are about capabilities not products,” Dale said. “The maker community is also about capabilities, and we are all learning from each other.”

Note: Stay tuned to MAKE for slides and videos of the Workshop.



Maker Faire Bay Area is… this weekend!

You can browse the makers coming to this year’s Faire by category here. You can also check out the stage presentation schedule here.


The fourth annual Maker Faire Detroit is taking place this summer, on July 27-28, at The Henry Ford. The Call for Makers is open now through June 7.

World Maker Faire New York is Sept. 21-22, and the Call for Makers launches in June.

Also, start making plans to participate in the first Maker Faire Rome, Oct. 3-6, 2013. Event curators Massimo Banzi (@mbanzi) and Riccardo Luna (@riccardowired) are producing the event with World Wide Rome, a Rome Chamber of Commerce initiative, but the fair is really for Europe at large and will attract an international crowd from all over Europe and beyond. The Call for Makers is open from now until June 2. If you’re a maker, performer, or presenter, Maker Faire Rome wants to hear from you.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

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

The former technology editor of The Boston Globe, DC is also interested in ebook experimentation and content management systems.

One of the places where can be found online is Google+ (which I'm adding here only because I want to see if by adding "rel=author" and "rel=me" to those two links I can get Google to display my picture in its search results.)

Hey, it works!

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