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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LightBlue Bean+ adds Battery, Connectors, Price

PunchThrough, creators of the LightBlue Bean, have just launch a Kickstarter for a new version called LightBlue Bean+. The tagline for the hardware is “A Bluetooth Arduino for the Mobile Age” which confirms that the hardware is targeted at a no-hassle, get it connected right now sort of application.

lightblue-bean-plus-thumbFor those unfamiliar, the original LightBlue Bean is a single board offering meant to marry Bluetooth connectivity (think Cellphones with BTLE) to the capabilities of a microcontroller-based hardware interface. The Bean+ augments this hardware with a 300m+ range increase, an integrated LiPo (600mAh or more), and headers/connectors where there were only solder pads before.

On the software side of things the Bean+ has four firmware options that make it speak MIDI, ANCS, HID, or Peer-to-Peer, only not all at the same time. The good news is that these are ecosystem upgrades and will work for existing Bean hardware too. The entire thing comes with online-platform integration and easy to use Smartphone tools to guide you through connecting and making something useful.

The board includes a battery tending circuit that allows it to be charged via the USB port but can run over a year between recharges if you use it judiciously. There is a slider switch near the pin sockets marked “A3, A4, A5” which toggles between 3.3v and 5v so that no level shifters are needed for sensors and other hardware you might use with it. The white connectors seen near the bottom of this image are Grove connectors. These provide I2C and Analog support to that ecosystem of add-on boards.

All in all this is a pretty sweet upgrade. The MSRP will be $45 but early backers can get in around 10-25% less than that. The price doesn’t mean it’s a no-brainer to pick one up, but the header options make this much more versatile and reusable than the original Bean and we like the idea of a rechargeable battery of the coin cells used by Bean+’s predecessor. It is an each choice for drop-in no hassle connectivity when bottom line isn’t your top concern.

Original LightBlue Bean is available in the Hackaday Store.

Hackaday Links: August 2, 2015

Over the last few years, Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai has grown from a garage to a very well stocked workspace with 140 members. They’re getting kicked out at the end of the month and they need some help. We just had a meetup at the Delhi branch of Maker’s Asylum, and these guys and gals are really cool.

Speaking of crowdfunding campaigns for hackerspaces, South Central Pennsylvania might be getting its own hackerspace. The 717 area code is a vast wasteland when it comes to anything anyone reading Hackaday would consider interesting, despite there being plenty of people who know their way around CNC machines, soldering irons, and welders. This needs to happen.

Need some help with Bluetooth standards? Tektronix has you covered with a gigantic poster of the physical layer. If only there were a repository of these handy, convenient reference posters.

Forgings and castings make for great YouTube videos, and this aluminum bell casting is no exception. There’s about 18 pounds of aluminum in there, which is pretty large as far as home casting goes.

Electronic Goldmine has an assortment of grab bags – spend a few dollars get a bag of chips, LEDs, diodes, or what have you. What’s in these grab bags? [alpha_ninja] found out. There’s some neat stuff in there, except for the ‘SMD Mixture’ bag.

Remember the found case molds for the Commodore 64C that became a Kickstarter? It’s happening again with the Amiga 1200. This is a new mold with a few interesting features that support the amazing amount of upgrades that have come out for this machine over the years. Being new molds, the price per piece is a little high, but that’s your lesson in manufacturing costs for the day.

Hacklet 51 – Crowdfunding Projects

Ah crowdfunding. You might say we have a love/hate relationship with it here at Hackaday. We’ve seen some great projects funded through sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and the like. We’ve also seen projects where the creators were promising more than they could deliver. While the missed deliveries and outright scams do get a lot of press, we believe that crowdfunding in general is a viable platform for getting a project funded.

Closer to home, hosts thousands of projects. It’s no surprise that some of these have had crowdfunding campaigns. This week’s Hacklet focuses on those projects which have taken the leap into the crowdfunding arena.

matrixWe start with [Louis Beaudoin] and SmartMatrix. [Louis] has created an awesome Teensy 3.1 based system for displaying images, animated graphics, and random patterns on a 32×32 RGB LED panel. The LED panel is the same type used in commercial LED billboards. SmartMatrix is open source, and includes extra pins for hacking. Our own [Mike Szczys] hacked the SmartMatrix to create a 1-pixel PacMan clone. [Louis’] Kickstarter is almost over, and needs a huge boost for fully-assembled SmartMatrix to make its goal. Even if the campaign isn’t successful, we think its a great project and you can always get a solder-it-yourself kit from The Hackaday Store!

psdrNext up is [Michael R Colton] with PortableSDR. PortableSDR was one of the five finalists in The 2014 Hackaday Prize. This pocket-sized software defined radio transceiver started as a ham radio project: a radio system which would be easy for hams to take with them on backpacking trips. It’s grown into so much more now, with software defined radio reception and transmission, vector network analysis, antenna analysis, GPS, and a host of other features. [Michael] raised a whopping $66,197 in his Kickstarter campaign, and he’s already delivered the hand assembled prototypes to their respective backers! Even the lower level rewards are awesome – [Michael’s] PSDR key chains are actually PCBs which can be turned into maple compatible ARM devboards with just about $10 of additional parts.

chip whisperNext we have The ChipWhisperer, [Colin Flynn’s] embedded security testing system, which won second place in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. We’ve covered both [Colin] and the ChipWhisperer  several times on the Blog. You can always buy the full ChipWhisperer from [Colin’s] company, NewAE Technology Inc. At $1500 USD, the ChipWhisperer is incredibly affordable for a hardware security tool. That price is still a bit high for the average hacker though. [Colin] created a Kickstarter campaign for a light version of the ChipWhisperer. This version is a great platform for learning hardware security, as well as an instrument for testing embedded systems. The campaign was a huge success, raising $72,079.

wingboardNot every crowdfunding project has to be a massive megabuck effort though. [ZeptoBit] just wanted to solve a problem, he needed a WiFi shield for Arduino using an ESP8266 module. ESP8266 WiFi modules have been all the rage for months now, but they can be a bit of a pain to wire up to an Arduino Uno. The dual row .100 headers are not bread board friendly. The ESP8266’s 3.3 V power and interface requirements mean that a regulator and level shifters are needed to get the two boards working together. [ZeptoBit] put all that and more on his wingboard. It worked so well that he launched a Kickstarter campaign for a small run of boards – his initial goal was kr3,500, or $425 USD. He ended up raising kr13,705, or $1665 USD. Not bad at all for a hobby project!

If this isn’t enough crowdfunding goodness for you, check out our Crowdfunding list! That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Olimex Claims the World’s First $9 Computer Costs $39

The C.H.I.P. from Next Thing Co. bills itself as the world’s first nine dollar computer. That’s not a lie; their Kickstarter took in over two million dollars for a tiny single board computer with composite Video, WiFi, Bluetooth 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and a 1GHz CPU. That’s a complete computer, sans keyboard, mouse, and monitor. You won’t get that with the $35 Raspberry Pi – you’ll need to add a WiFi adapter and an SD card for the same functionality – and you won’t get that with any other single board computer.

Understandably, the C.H.I.P. is already extremely successful. The company behind it has about 50,000 pre-orders, and people lined up to wait until well into next year for this computer. Exactly how Next Thing Co. managed to build a single board computer and send it out the door for nine dollars is a question that has yet to be answered, and is leaving more than a few people puzzled.

The Olimex blog has given their opinion of the C.H.I.P, and if that’s to be believed, the news isn’t good. The guys at Olimex know their stuff when it comes to making cheap single board computers; they have more than a few for sale, and they know what the Flash and DRAM market is like. To them, it’s impossible to sell a computer like the C.H.I.P. at $9. A quote from Allwinner for a similar module is $16 at the quantity Next Thing Co. would be looking at. That’s just the module with RAM and Flash – no Wifi, no board, no connectors. How could it be possible to sell this computer for only $9?

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Hackerspace Happeninging: A Booc For C-Base

In the annals of hackerspace history, there’s one space that stands above the rest. It’s c-base, the crashed spaceship below Berlin that’s also one of the first hackerspaces in the world. Before NYC Resistor, Noisebridge, and every other building filled with tools and cool people, there was c-base.

Although the Hackerspace movement has only been around for a little less than a decade now, c-base itself is much, much older. It was founded way back in 1995, marking this year as the second decade of c-base’s existence. A few of the members of c-base are celebrating this occasion by publishing a book on the vast and storied history of their hackerspace.

The mythology of c-base includes a space station crashing in the middle of Berlin, with the giant, famous disco ball in Berlin being the station’s antenna. Yes, it’s weird, but all good hackerspaces have some sort of irreverent mythos surrounding them. The c-booc will document the twenty year long excavation of the space station, chronicling how this hackerspace came to be.

The booc is a Kickstarter project, and if funded, will be available for pickup at the Chaos Communication Camp this August

Crowdfunding Follies: Debunking The Batteriser

It’s not on Kickstarter yet, but this product is already making its media debut, with features in all the tech blogs, an astonishing amount of print outlets, and spouted from the gaping maws of easily impressed rubes the world over. What is it? It’s the Batteriser, a tiny metal contraption that clips over AA, C, and D cells that reclaims the power trapped inside every dead battery. Yes, every dead battery you’ve ever thrown away still has up to 80% of its power remaining. Sounds like complete hogwash, right? That’s because it is.

[Dave Jones] put together a great video on the how comes and why nots of the Batteriser, and while doing so gives a great tutorial for debunking a product, heavily inspired by [Carl Sagan]’s Baloney Detection Kit. The real  debunking starts by verifying any assumptions, and the biggest fault of the Batteriser campaign is claiming 80% of a battery’s power is unused. Lucky for us, [Dave] has tons of tools and graphs to demonstrate this is not the case.

To verify the assumption that battery-powered devices will brown out after using only 20% of a battery’s available power, [Dave] does the most logical thing and looks at the data sheets for a battery. After using 20% of available power, these datasheets claim these batteries should be around 1.3V. Do devices brown out at 1.3V? Hook it up to a programmable power supply and find out.

It turns out every battery-powered device [Dave] could find worked perfectly until around 1.1V. Yes, that’s only 0.3V difference from 1.4V claimed by the patent for the Batteriser, but because of the battery discharge curve, that means 80% of the power in a normal device is already being used up. The premise of the Batteriser is invalid, and [Dave] demonstrates it’s a complete scam.

If a through debunking of the Batteriser’s claims wasn’t enough, [Dave] goes on to explain how it may actually be dangerous. The positive terminal of a battery is also the metal can, while the negative terminal is just a tiny nib of metal seperated from the rest of the battery by a gasket. Since the Batteriser is made of metal and serves as the ground for the boost converter circuit, it’s very, very close to shorting through the branding and logo emblazoned on a mylar wrapping each battery is shrouded with. One tiny nick in this insulator, and you have a direct short across the battery. That’s going to turn to heat, and there’s a lot of energy in a D cell; a failure mode for the Batteriser is a fire. That’s just terrible product design.

Video below.

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