From Project To Kit: The Final Furlong

This article is the fifth in a series looking at the process of bringing an electronic kit to market from a personal project. We’ve looked at market research, we’ve discussed making a product from your project and writing the best instructions possible before stuffing your first kits ready for sale. In this article we’ll tackle the different means of putting your kits out there for sale.

Given a box of ready-to-sell kits, what next? You have to find some means of selling them, getting them in front of your customer, making the sale, sending them to the purchaser, and safely collecting their money. A few years ago this was an expensive and risky process involving adverts in print magazines and a lot of waiting, but we are fortunate. The Internet has delivered us all the tools we need to market and sell a product like an electronic kit, and in a way that needn’t cost a fortune. We’ll now run through a few of those options for selling your kits, before looking at shipping, marketing, and post-sales support in the final article in the series.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A CNC Scribe For Making Circuit Boards

We’re interested in any device that can make a PCB out of a copper-clad board, and this entry for the Hackaday Prize might be the simplest machine for PCB fabrication yet. It’s called the Projecta, and it’s a simple way to turn Eagle and KiCad files into a real circuit board.

For the home PCB fabricator, there are two ways to go about the process of turning a copper clad board into a real circuit board. The first is a CNC machine. Drop a piece of FR4 under a cutter, and you’ll get a circuit board and a lot of fiberglass dust. The Othermill is great for this, but it is a bit pricey for all but the most ambitious weekend warrior.

The second method of home PCB fabrication chemically etches the copper away. The etch resist mask can be laid down with dry film resist, or with the ever-popular laser printer, magazine, and laminator trick. Either way, the result is an acid-proof covering over the copper you don’t want to get rid of.

While the Projecta looks and sounds like a miniature CNC machine, it doesn’t chew through copper and produce a ton of fiberglass dust. The Projecta scribes the pattern of a circuit board after the copper has been masked off with a sharpie, marker, or other ink-based resist. When the board comes out of the Projecta, there’s a perfect pattern of circuits on a board, ready for the etch tank.

This technique of putting a copper clad board into a CNC machine and etching it later is something we haven’t seen before. There’s a good reason for that – if you’re putting a board under a cutter already, you might as well just chew away the copper while you’re at it.

Just because we haven’t seen this technique before doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Because the Projecta is only scribing a bit of ink off a board, the CNC mechanism doesn’t need to be that complex. It doesn’t need to throw a spindle around, and the Projecta can be built down to a price rather easily.

The Projecta is on Kickstarter right now, with the Kickstarter non-early bird price of $600. You can check out the video demo of the Projecta in action below.

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Seeed Studio’s ReSpeaker Speaks All the Voice Recognition Languages

Seeed Studio recently launched its third Kickstarter campaign: ReSpeaker, an open hardware voice interface. After their previous Kickstarted IoT hardware, such as the RePhone, mostly focused on connectivity, the electronics manufacturer from Shenzhen now tackles another highly contested area of IoT: Voice recognition.

The ReSpeaker Core is a capable development board based on Mediatek’s MT7688 WiFi module and runs OpenWrt. Onboard is a WM8960 stereo audio codec with integrated 1W speaker/headphone driver, a microphone, an ATMega32U4 coprocessor, 12 addressable RGB LEDs and 8 touch sensors. There are also two expansion headers with GPIOs, I2S, I2C, analog audio and USB 2.0 and an onboard microSD card slot.

The latter is especially useful to feed the ReSpeaker’s integrated speech recognition engine PocketSphinx with a vocabulary and audio file library, enabling it to respond to keywords and commands even when it’s not hooked up to the internet. Once it’s online, ReSpeaker also supports most of the available cloud based cognitive speech recognition services, such as Microsoft Cognitive Service, Amazon Alexa Voice Service, Google Speech API, and Houndify. It also comes with an SDK and Python API, supports JavaScript, Lua and C/C++, and it looks like the coprocessor features an Arduino-compatible bootloader.

The expansion header accepts shield-like hardware add-ons. Some of them are also available through the campaign. The most important one is the circular, far-field microphone array. Based on 7 XVSM-2000 respeaker_meow2digital microphones, the extension board enhances the device’s hearing with sound localization, beam forming, reverb and noise suppression. A Grove extension board connects the ReSpeaker to the Seeed’s current lineup on ready-to-use sensors, actuators and other peripherals.

Seeed also cooperates with the Meow King Audio Electronic Company to develop a nice tower-shaped enclosure with built-in speaker, 5W amplifier and battery. As a portable speaker, the Meow King Drive Unit (shown on the right) certainly doesn’t knock your socks off, but it practically turns the ReSpeaker into an open source version of the Amazon Echo — including the ability to run offline instead of piping everything you say to Big Brother.

According to Seeed, the freshly baked hardware will ship to backers in November 2016, and they do have a track-record of on-schedule shipped Kickstarter rewards. At the time of writing, some of the Crazy Early Birds are still available for $39. Enjoy the campaign video below and let us know what you think of think hardware in the comments!

New 3D Printer M3D Pro Hits Kickstarter

M3D just launched their second 3D printer on Kickstarter. The M3D Pro offers more professional features than its predecessor, the M3D Micro, which is still one of cheapest 3D printers around. Despite the higher price of $499, the campaign reached its $100,000 funding goal within hours.

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Introducing The Teensy 3.5 And 3.6

Paul Stoffregen has built a new Teensy. The latest in the line of very powerful, USB-capable microcontrollers is the Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 development boards. It’s faster, more capable, and bigger putting even more pins on a solderless breadboard.

The first Teensy was one of the first Arduino compatible boards with native USB. The Teensy 2.0 was even better with support for USB keyboards, mice, and MIDI. Even today, the Teensy 2.0 is the de facto board to use if you want to build anything like a USB keyboard. The Teensy 2.0 was followed by the exceptionally powerful Teensy 3.0, the first 32-bit Arduino compatible board, and thanks to Paul’s contributions of a pile of Arduino libraries, doing cool stuff faster has never been easier. Since the launch of the Teensy 3.0, its successors, the 3.1 and 3.2 have launched. If you want the power of an ARM microcontroller with the deepest Arduino library support, there’s only one board you should consider.

Like the launch of the Teensy 3.0, Paul is Kickstarting the launch of the latest Teensys with a crowdfunding campaign. Let’s dig into everything these new boards have to offer.

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The First Evil Maid-Proof Computer

It doesn’t matter how many bits your password has, how proven your encryption is, or how many TrueCrypt volumes are on your computer. If someone wants data off your device, they can get it if they have physical access to your device. This is the ‘evil maid’ security scenario, named after hotel maids on the payroll of a three-letter agency. If someone has physical access to a laptop – even for an hour or two – the data on that laptop can be considered compromised. Until now, there has been no counter to this Evil Maid scenario, and for good reason. Preventing access to data even when it is in the possession of an Evil Maid is a very, very hard problem.

Today, Design Shift has released ORWL (as in George Orwell), the first computer designed with physical security in mind. This tiny disc of a computer is designed to defeat an Evil Maid through some very clever engineering on top of encryption tools we already use.
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The Onion Omega2: The Latest Router Dev Board

A few years ago, the best way to put a device or project online was by hacking a router. With an inconspicuous Linksys WRT54G held onto a project with baling wire, anything can connect to the Internet. A lot has changed in a few years, and now those routers are development boards themselves. The latest of these is the Onion Omega2, a follow-up crowdfunding campaign to the very popular original Omega. Now, this tiny dev board is faster, more capable, and now it’s giving the Raspberry Pi Zero a run for its money.

The original Onion Omega was released last year with specs you would expect from an Internet of Things development board designed upon a chip for a cheap router. The original Onion used an Atheros AR9331 SOC running at 400 MHZ, had 64MB of RAM and 16MB of storage – enough to run a lightweight Linux distro – and also included USB, 802.11b/g/n, and a handful of GPIOs and a single UART. The Omega2 is a vast improvement over the original Omega, featuring a CPU that is 45% faster. The upgraded version of the Omega sports twice as much RAM, twice as much storage, and a MicroSD slot. This enables some Linux distros with a little more oomph behind them, and of course the SD card allows for local storage.

The original Onion Omega was funded through a crowdfunding campaign, with a single Onion Omega and dock available for a pledge of $19. Taking a lesson from the C.H.I.P. and the Pi Zero, the team at Onion have slashed the price. The Omega2 is only five dollars. If you want more RAM, storage, and an SD card socket, that price goes up to $9 USD. That’s amazing, and just goes to show how far hardware designed to service the Internet of Things has come in just a few short years.