Fail of the Week: OpenMV Kickstarter Project Hits Manufacturing Snag

Making stuff is hard, especially when you are making lots of stuff. The OpenMV Cam project knows this, because it has hit a problem while putting together their cheap machine vision module. The problem is with the BGA solder balls that connect the image sensor to the main board.

openmv-thumbWe’ve covered this intriguing project before: the aim is to build a small, cheap module that can run image processing algorithms to easily give robots sight. The sensor is a Ball Grid Array (BGA) package, which means there are a grid of small solder balls on the back that form the electrical connections. It seems that some of these solder balls are oxidized, preventing them from melting and fusing properly with the board. This is called a head-in-pillow defect, because the ball behaves like your head when you lie down in bed. Your head squishes the pillow, but doesn’t merge into it. There are 38 balls on the OV26040 image sensor and even a single bad link means a failure.

The makers of the project have tried a number of solutions, but it seems that they may have to remake the ball links on the back of each sensor. That’s an expensive process: they say it will cost $7 for each, more than the actual sensor cost initially.

A few people have been posting suggestions in the comments for the project, including using solvents and changing the way the sensors are processed before mounting. We’d like to see them overcome this hurdle. Anybody have any suggestions to quickly and cost effectively move the manufacturing process forward?

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Why Starting a Kickstarter Could Kick Your Butt

So you’ve come up with a great idea and now you’re thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign – and why not, all the cool kids are doing it. Now, let’s say you already have a working prototype, or maybe you even built a small run for friends online. You’ve made 10 here, or 20 there. Sure it took some time, but making 1000, or 10,000 would be so much easier once you get all the orders in, right? Wrong.

Before you even think of setting up something like a Kickstarter, we would like to invite you to have a seat and watch this series of videos covering the things many people don’t know about manufacturing. It’s going to cost you 7 hours of sofa time, but if you’re serious about getting something to production these seven hours will pay in spades. Dragon Innovation has had many notable clients over the years – Pebble, Sphero, Makerbot, to name a few. They help startups find their way through the manufacturing mine-feild, for a fee of course. The founders are former iRobot employees, and have quite a bit of hard fought, yet free knowledge to share.

You’ll learn about how important decisions early on can make huge impacts on the success or failure of a product. There’s quite a bit of raw technical info on injection molding, design for manufacture, testing, pricing and everything under the sun. So do yourself (and everyone else) a favor, and before you click submit on that Kickstarter campaign, sit back and enjoy this free seminar.

We’re really enjoying the manufacturing oriented videos which have been popping up. Just a couple of weeks ago we came across a pair of hardware talks from [Bunnie Huang] that were a pleasure to watch. At 20 minutes this might be a good primer before you take the plunge with the playlist below.

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Skarp Laser Razor Kickstarter Suspended, Jumps To Indiegogo

An irritation-free razor that gives a close shave has been a dream for thousands of years. [Gillette] came close, and with multiple blades came even closer, but all razors today are still just sharpened steel dragged across the skin. This is the 21st century, and of course there’s a concept for a laser razor pandering for your moola. We recently covered the Skarp laser razor and its Kickstarter campaign, and today the campaign has been shut down.

The email sent out to all contributors to the Skarp campaign follows:


This is a message from Kickstarter’s Integrity team. We’re writing to notify you that the Skarp Laser Razor project has been suspended, and your pledge has been canceled.

After requesting and reviewing additional material from the creator of the project, we’ve concluded that it is in violation of our rule requiring working prototypes of physical products that are offered as rewards. Accordingly, all funding has been stopped and backers will not be charged for their pledges. No further action is required on your part. Suspensions cannot be undone.

We take the integrity of the Kickstarter system very seriously. We only suspend projects when we find evidence that our rules are being violated.

Regards, Kickstarter Integrity Team

It only took eight hours for the Skarp team to relaunch their crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. As of this writing, over 900 people (ostensibly from the 20,000 backers of the original Kickstarter campaign) have pledged to the new campaign.

Although we will never know exactly why Kickstarter suspended the original Skarp campaign, the reason given by the Kickstarter Integrity Team points to the lack of a working prototype, one of the requirements for technology campaigns on Kickstarter. Interestingly, Skarp did post a few videos of their razor working. These videos were white balanced poorly enough to look like they were filmed through green cellophane, a technique some have claimed was used to hide the actual mechanism behind the prototype’s method of cutting hair. A few commenters on the Skarp Kickstarter campaign – and here on Hackaday – have guessed the Skarp prototype does not use lasers, but instead a heated length of nichrome wire. While this would burn hair off, the color of the wire would be a dull red when filmed in any normal lighting conditions. It is assumed the poor quality of the Skarp prototype videos is an attempt to hide the fact they do not have a working prototype.

The Skarp laser razor. Source
The Skarp laser razor. Source

Skarp’s move to Indiegogo has been lauded by some – mostly in the comments section of the Indiegogo campaign – and has been derided on every other forum on the Internet. Indiegogo is commonly seen as the last refuge of crowdfunding scam artist, but there are a few legitimate reasons why a campaign would choose to go to Indiegogo. Kickstarter is not available for campaign founders in all countries, and for some, debiting a card immediately, instead of after the campaign end like Kickstarter does, is a legitimate crowdfunding strategy.

But for a crowdfunding campaign to be suspended on Kickstarter and immediately move to Indiegogo? This almost never ends well. One of the most famous examples, the Anonabox, had its Kickstarter campaign suspended after it was found the creator was simply rebadging an off-the-shelf router. The Anonabox then moved over to Indiegogo where it raised over $80,000. Already the campaign for the Skarp Laser Razor has raised $135,000 USD from Indiegogo, after having its Kickstarter campaign raised over $4 Million. No, Skarp won’t be one of the most successful technology Kickstarter campaigns of all time. We can only hope it won’t be one of Indiegogo’s most successful campaigns.

The Problem With Kickstarter: A Lack Of Transparency

Since 2010, over one and a half billion dollars has been transferred from Kickstarter backers to project creators, and with Kickstarter’s 5% cut taken on each dollar collected, that means Kickstarter has had somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 million dollars in revenue in the last five years. That’s a success by any measure, and as with this huge amount of money, questions must be asked about the transparency of Kickstarter.

This is not a post about a Kickstarter project for an impossible project, a project that breaks the laws of physics, or one that is hyped beyond all reasonable expectations. This is a post about Kickstarter itself, and it’s been a long time coming. In the past, Kickstarter has shown at least some transparency by cancelling projects that are obvious rebrandings of white label goods – a direct violation of their rules. Kickstarter has even cancelled projects that violate the laws of physics, like this wireless charging Bluetooth tag. It’s a start, but Kickstarter has a much larger problem on its plate: the Staff Pick problem.

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Where Are They Now: Terrible Kickstarters

Kickstarter started out as a platform for group buys, low-volume manufacturing, and a place to fund projects that would otherwise go unfinished. It would be naive of anyone to think this would last forever, and since these humble beginnings, we’re well into Peak Kickstarter. Now, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and every other crowdfunding platform is just another mouthpiece for product launches, and just another strategy for anyone who needs or wants money, but has never heard of a business loan.

Of course there will be some shady businesses trying to cash in on the Kickstarter craze, and over the last few years we’ve done our best to point out the bad ones. Finding every terrible Kickstarter is several full-time jobs, but we’ve done our best to weed out these shining examples of the worst. Following up on these failed projects is something we have been neglecting, but no longer.

Below are some of the most outrageous Kickstarters and crowdfunding campaigns we’ve run across, and the current status of these failed entrepreneurial endeavors.

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The Digistump Oak; An ESP8266 On Kickstarter

When it was first released, the ESP8266 was a marvel; a complete WiFi solution for any project that cost about $5. A few weeks later, and people were hard at work putting code on the tiny little microcontroller in the ESP8266 and it was clear that this module would be the future of WiFi-enabled Things for the Internet.

Now it’s a Kickstarter Project. It’s called the Digistump Oak, and it’s exactly what anyone following the ESP8266 development scene would expect: WiFi, a few GPIOs, and cheap – just $13 for a shipped, fully functional dev board.

The guy behind the Oak, [Erik Kettenburg], has seen a lot of success with his crowdfunded dev boards. He created the Digispark, a tiny, USB-enabled development board that’s hardly larger than a USB plug itself. The Digispark Pro followed, getting even more extremely small AVR dev boards out in the wild.

The Digistump Oak moves away from the AVR platform and puts everything on an ESP8266. Actually, this isn’t exactly the ESP8266 you can buy from hundreds of unnamed Chinese retailers; while it still uses the ESP8266 chip, there’s a larger SPI Flash, and the Oak is FCC certified.

Yes, if you’re thinking about building a product with the ESP8266, you’ll want to watch [Erik]’s campaign closely. He’s doing the legwork to repackage the ESP into something the FCC can certify. Until someone else does it, it’s a license to print money.

The FCC-certified ESP8266 derived module, cleverly called the Acorn, will be available in large quantities, packaged in JEDEC trays sometime after the campaign is finished. It’s an interesting board, and we’re sure more than one teardown of the Acorn will hit YouTube when these things start shipping.

ChipWhisperer Hits Kickstarter

Even the most well designed crypto algorithms can be broken if someone is smart enough to connect an oscilloscope to a processor. Over the last 15 years or so, an entire domain of embedded security has cropped up around the techniques of power and side channel analysis. The tools are expensive and rare, but [Colin O’Flynn] and the ChipWhisperer are here to bring a new era of hardware security to the masses.

The ChipWhisperer was the second place winner of last year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s an interesting domain of security research, and something that was previously extremely expensive to study. If you’re looking for a general overview of what the ChipWhisperer does, you might want to check out when we bumped into [Colin] at DEFCON last year.

While the original goal of the ChipWhisperer was to bring the cost of the tools required for power and side channel analysis down to something a hackerspace or researcher could afford, this was still too expensive for a Kickstarter campaign. To that end, [Colin] designed the ChipWhisperer Lite, a cut-down version, but still something that does most of what the original could do.

There are two parts to the ChipWhisperer Lite – the main section contains a big microcontroller, a big FPGA, and a high gain, low noise amplifier. This is the core of the ChipWhisperer, and it’s where all the power analysis happens. The other part is a target board containing an XMega microcontroller. This is where you’ll run all your encryption algorithms, and where you’ll find out if they can be broken by power analysis. The main board and target board are held together by a break-away connection, so if you want to run a power analysis on another board, just snap the ChipWhisperer in half.

[Colin] is offering up a ChipWhisperer Lite for around $200 USD – far, far less than what these tools cost just a year ago. We’re looking forward to a successful campaign and all the neat findings people with this board will find.