SparkFun Gets Back To Their Roots With SparkX

Way back in the before years when there were still interesting concepts for reality TV, Nate Seidle blew up a power supply in his dorm room. Instead of finding replacement parts, Nate decided to start a company. For the last decade and a half, SparkFun has grown immensely, been an incredible resource for makers and engineers alike, and shipped out hundreds of thousands of their iconic red boxes.

Being the CEO of a company means you need to do CEO stuff, and a few summers ago Nate the CEO became Nate the Engineer once again. SparkFun is still doing great, but now we know what Nate has been up to these last months. He’s getting back to SparkFun’s roots with SparkX. This is the newest stuff SparkFun has to offer, there is zero documentation or support, and they’re only developing products because Nate wants to.

In a series of blog posts on the SparkFun blog, Nate goes over what is involved in building a new brand for the latest and greatest SparkFun can produce. This involves setting up the SparkX lab, getting the OtherMills pumping out circuit boards, and  inevitably the occasional containment failure of the blue smoke.

The first product in the SparkX lineup, Product 0, is a breakout board for the MLX90393 magnetometer. This is a pretty nifty magnetometer that Ted Yapo over on hackaday.io has used to characterize magnets. Really, though, the SparkX Product 0 is exactly what it says on the tin: a breakout board that is just an experiment, comes with no guarantees or support. It is the heart of what Sparkfun set out to do twenty years ago.

31 thoughts on “SparkFun Gets Back To Their Roots With SparkX

    1. Oh my no! Breakout boards let me FAST do my own idea… without being forced into THEIR idea cause they designed a thingy. It’s like Coke straignt up without the cherry flavor they thought was good.

      For an innovative device I want to tinker…. If I don’t buy a breakout board, I build my own.

      Yah.. is sleepy sleepy boring product… see you! Ni Nite! But it’s what I buy or build to take the first looks.

    1. Oof, that’s pretty much the last thing the community needs. Sparkfun and Adafruit are both phenomenal companies (with whom I spend hundreds of dollars each year!), no need for a public feud!

      1. 8$? That sensor is 15€ even at Aliexpress – but you can get the breakoutboard for 18€ there. Very similar to the sparkfun, also purple, but other resistors (array) so no clone.
        So there is again 50% markup on the breakout board.

      2. What makes me angry though is that this is not even a CO2-sensor like they’re advertising! It doesn’t measure CO2. It measures volatile organic compounds (VOC) and derives the “equivalent CO2” levels from it, which can be very misleading.

    1. For the SparkX MLX90393 breakout there are literally three paragraphs of information (including a link to Ted Yapo’s incredibly detailed characterization of this and other magnetometers), as well as a ZIP file of example code, a link to an Arduino library, an easily-accessible PDF schematic, and the source files for the board itself so you could literally replicate it in moments.

      For the SparkX CCS811 sensor, the product page includes five detailed paragraphs on this sensor, links to 15 highly-relevant and specific documents detailing it’s operation, mechanical mounting requirements, burn-in requirements, use, and regulatory issues, as well as a ZIP file of example code, an Arduino library, and similarly an easily-accessible PDF schematic and the board source files. You literally could ask for no finer set of documents to be introduced to the detailed characterization of these sensors, and could be using them in moments, or manufacturing your own boards in moments, from the resources Sparkfun has provided.

      I worked with Nathan on developing the library and some data analysis for the MAX30105 particle sensor that he designed directly before this. He worked tirelessly to fully develop the driver, explore it’s usage in several modes (even pulse oxygen sensing!), and develop an extremely detailed set of learning materials for someone completely new to electronics to make use of this sensor ( https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/max30105-particle-and-pulse-ox-sensor-hookup-guide ). There is no finer source of documentation out there, and this is literally the model of an incredible and devoted set of individuals working dutifully to make it as easy as humanly possible to fully make use of their products. Even the “limited” support and resources that are claimed on the two SparkX product pages are *miles* away from what nearly every other company provides, and is second only to themselves.

      Some folks above mentioned SparkX’s somewhat terse reply to pt’s unusual blog post about them ( https://blog.adafruit.com/2017/02/14/sparkfuns-former-ceo-chipaddict-starts-spark-x-sparkfun/ ). The Sparkfun and Adafruit folks seem like they’ve been good friends and colleagues for ages (the Sparkfun folks show up often enough with drinks in hand on the Adafruit Ask an Engineer show). While the first part of pt’s post starts very kindly ( https://blog.adafruit.com/2017/02/14/sparkfuns-former-ceo-chipaddict-starts-spark-x-sparkfun/ ), the last paragraph is unusual, and seems to make negative conjecture about the purpose of having a fast-run prototype addition to Sparkfun’s offerings, going as far as to suggest that it’s causing the company to compete with itself, or just a distraction meant to keep people busy. That’s an unkind and I’m sure hurtful thing to say, especially between friends/colleagues, whether it was meant so or not (perhaps apologies have since ensued). I thought sf took the high road by sending them a valentine, giving away free products, and then getting back to the great open design work and product development that they do, and literally helped build the open source hardware industry on.

      1. hi @peter ! a fast-run prototyping SPARK X is what i wrote about and sent the news tip to hackaday (and they posted this up, but did not include the link to the article on adafruit) – https://blog.adafruit.com/2017/02/14/sparkfuns-former-ceo-chipaddict-starts-spark-x-sparkfun/

        “Maybe it’s a return to something familiar that put SparkFun on the map for its founder. Regardless of the reasons, it would be careless to ignore, SparkFun paved the way for Adafruit and many other maker companies – SparkFun was always the bigger, massive company that had more resources, people, equipment, space and more – they made a lot of electronics accessible to people and were (and are) one of the leading open-source hardware companies. We’ll be watching SPARK X to see if ultimately this is what SparkFun becomes by competing with itself, or if this was this a distraction and a way to keep some cooks out of the kitchen.”

        in our weekly video show, last night, i also talk about the interesting approach SPARK X is going for on video here too (time code: 29:57) – https://youtu.be/GAgg9id0W4w?t=1797

        disclaimer: :) i founded hackaday, wrote about sparkfun for years each week at MAKE about their new products each week and work with adafruit with ladyada).

      1. For me too, shipping from USA to Europe is so much more expensive than from China. OSHpark being a remarkable exception as it also offers free shipping. Of course you could get 10 boards from china for the price of three from OSHpark. But if I only need two and want ENIG surface, then…

  1. Zero support and docs, that sounds like you are prasing them for doing what you have in the past said was not good for the comunity. How many dev boards have popped up that have been rubbished for not having docs/support/forums. Does hackaday have split personalities?
    I think need to revisit your old articles , they at least had content aimed at hackers and tinkerers. I mean sparkfun could not even get the bus pirate right (the special cable uuur), dont get me wrong, i own many sparkfun products and without the bus pirate i would have a drawer full of devices with firmware issues.

    1. The docs are the datasheets for the part that’s being broken out. They (presumably) put a lot of effort into creating tutorials and docs for their mainstream breakouts, so there’s lag when an interesting part comes on the market. SparkX seems focused on long tail sales, where the target market is more interested in getting a breakout for a specific part rather than hype and a vibrant community.

  2. I sort of get the feeling this is a “make something, shove it on the marketplace with nothing, and hope that the “ESP8266 effect” takes hold and the community writes docs makes libraries and provides support”.

    Which would be totally ok, as long as the price is on the “ESP8266” level and the products were as in demand or likely to cause that buzz…. but the trouble is, it’s not priced at that level and the products are not buzz worthy so far.

  3. No documentation, huh? They’re really doubling-down on their biggest weakness: half-assed, quickly done schematics and stuff that was seemingly barely looked at before it went out the door.

    I buy a lot of stuff from Sparkfun, but cranking out stuff with no supporting material isn’t exactly turning a corner for them.

    Also, Sparkfun has been around for 12ish years, not 20! My first order was in 2006, with an order number in the 5000s range.

  4. Amazing! A CEO designed huge breakout board! It usually takes me 10-115 minutes to copy reference design from datasheet directly to PCB software (who needs schematics?), and then export gerbers for manufacturing. Clearly Nate Seidle is much better at this than me and we all should praise his mad engineering skills the way Mr. Benchoff does…

    As to people criticizing lack of documentation and support, you can find it here:
    https://www.melexis.com/en/product/mlx90393/triaxis-micropower-magnetometer
    I googled it for you, you lazy nitpickers. If you pay me 1000USD, I’ll read it aloud too, and give away as free audiobook. I’m here to help people who can’t use google or read datasheets. And I’ll read it this way:

  5. SparkFun has languished for a Looong Time! Adafruit is so difficult to do business with (their payment control system BANNED my U.S. address as untrustworthy on my very FIRST purchase attempt no matter what payment method I tried, and Adafruit’s customer service was Nasty basically saying I was a Thief with ZERO evidence or explanation!!) Heck I sent an Email direct to SparkFun months ago asking why they were not offering any LoRa based stuff while everyone else was. No reply to date, not even an acknowledgement. What a mess. Get the MBA’s and greedy Trial Lawyers out of the fulfillment loop, embrace your Customers again, and especially SparkFun, do something NEW for a change. That’s the best way back.

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