Friday Hack Chat: Crowd Supply

Crowdfunding is a mixed bag, at best. On one hand, you have fantastically successful products like Pebble, Oculus, and the Kano personal computer that managed to take in money, turn out a product, and become a successful company. (If even just for a while, the Pebble was great.) On the other hand, you have obvious scams like a color-picking pen that are run by a literal Nigerian scammer.

Crowd Supply is different. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, to get on Crowd Supply you’ll need a working prototype. Where other platforms can measure their success by how many campaigns were successfully funded, and how many of those campaigns successfully delivered rewards to backers, I’m not aware of any Crowd Supply campaigns that have ever failed completely.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’ll be talking with [Josh Lifton], CEO of Crowd Supply. Topics will include determining if there’s a market for your product, the ins and outs of fulfillment, to shipping your product. We’re taking questions from the community, and there’s a question sheet we’ll be reading from.

Josh has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab and holds a BA in physics and mathematics from Swarthmore College. Prior to Crowd Supply, Josh worked in a variety of technology settings, from instrumenting thousands of audience members with custom wearable computers for a Cirque du Soleil performance to, most recently, serving as head of engineering at Puppet Labs.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, July 28th. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

JeVois Machine Vision Camera Nails Demo Mode

JeVois is a small, open-source, smart machine vision camera that was funded on Kickstarter in early 2017. I backed it because cameras that embed machine vision elements are steadily growing more capable, and JeVois boasts an impressive range of features. It runs embedded Linux and can process video at high frame rates using OpenCV algorithms. It can run standalone, or as a USB camera streaming raw or pre-processed video to a host computer for further action. In either case it can communicate to (and be controlled by) other devices via serial port.

But none of that is what really struck me about the camera when I received my unit. What really stood out was the demo mode. The team behind JeVois nailed an effective demo mode for a complex device. That didn’t happen by accident, and the results are worth sharing.

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Monoprice Releases Their Mini Delta Printer (On Indiegogo)

Around this time last year, Monoprice quietly unveiled a small, $200 3D printer. At the time, a fully functioning printer at this price point wasn’t unheard of. A good 3D printer at this price point was. It turned out this printer was actually fantastic and completely changed the value proposition of desktop 3D printers.

In the year since the release of the MP Select Mini printer, Monoprice has been hard at work bringing costs down, reworking designs, and creating an even less expensive printer. Now, it’s out. It’s available for pre-order on Indiegogo right now. Is this still a $150 printer? Not quite: the ‘early bird’ price is $159 with free shipping and August delivery, and a regular price of $169 plus $10 shipping with September or October delivery. There’s also a bundle for $279 that includes the printer, 2kg of filament, and a software package.

The first time we saw this tiny printer was way back in January at CES. It looked to be an extremely capable printer; the only question was if Monoprice could produce it and get it out the door. This would be a tall order; this printer comes with NEMA 17 stepper motors, a heated bed, a 32-bit controller board, and has WiFi enabled.

Here’s what we know about the capabilities of this printer. It’s a fairly standard delta printer with Bowden extruder and a heated bed. PLA and ABS is supported. The printer has auto bed leveling that measures the bed by ‘tapping’ the nozzle against the bed in about a dozen places before printing. From what we saw at CES, the hot end appears similar to the first revision of the $200 MP Select Mini — possibly opening up the door to E3D hot end installations.

Is this printer worth it? Every 3D printer released on a crowdfunding platform should come with the standard warnings, but Monoprice says this machine is in production right now. This raises the question: why release it on Indiegogo when Monoprice already has the whole ‘taking orders for products online’ thing in the bag? I suspect this crowdfunding campaign is just building a buffer; a year ago, the MP Select Mini was perpetually out of stock, and demand far outstripped supply. The same thing will happen with a 3D printer that’s even deeper into impulse buy territory.

In any event, the printer we’ve all been waiting for has been ‘released’, for varying values of ‘released’. The first units will start making their way onto desktops this summer, and we’re going to pick one up and put it through its paces. You can check out Monoprice’s video of this printer below.

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A Simple, Easy To Use ESP32 Dev Board

The ESP32 is Espressif’s follow-up to their extraordinarily popular ESP8266 WiFi chip. It has a dual-core, 32-bit processor, WiFi, Bluetooth, ADCs, DACs, CAN, a Hall effect sensor, an Ethernet MAC, and a whole bunch of other goodies that make this chip the brains for the Internet of Everything. Everyone has been able to simply buy an ESP32 for a few months now, but the Hackaday tip line isn’t exactly overflowing with projects and products built around this wonderchip. Perhaps we need an ESP32 dev board or something.

The Hornbill is the latest crowdfunding campaign from CrowdSupply. It’s an ESP32 dev board, packed with the latest goodies, a single cell LiPo charger, and a USB to serial chip that will probably work with most operating systems. The Hornbill comes in two varieties, a breadboardable module, with a breakout board that includes an SD card slot, sensors, an RGB LED, and a bunch of prototyping space. The second version is something like an Adafruit Flora with big pads for alligator clips.

While this isn’t the first ESP32 breakout we’ve seen — Adafruit, Sparkfun, and a hundred factories in China are pumping boards with this chip out — it is a very easy and inexpensive way to get into the ESP32 ecosystem.

A Wireless Oscilloscope Isn’t As Dumb As It Sounds

The latest CrowdSupply campaign is a wireless, Bluetooth oscilloscope that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you really think about it. Once you get it, the Aeroscope wireless oscilloscope is actually a pretty neat idea.

If the idea of battery-powered, Bluetooth-enabled test and measurement gear sounds familiar, you’re not dreaming. The Mooshimeter, also a project on CrowdSupply, is a multichannel multimeter with no buttons, no dial, and no display. You use the Mooshimeter through an app on your phone. This sounds like a dumb idea initially, but if you want to measure the current consumption of a drone, or under the hood of your car while you’re driving, it’s a really, really great idea.

The specs of the Aeroscope aren’t bad for the price. It is, of course, a one-channel scope with 20 MHz bandwidth and 100Msps. Connection to the device under test is through pokey bits or grabby bits that screw into an SMA connector, and connection to a display is over Bluetooth 4.0. You’re not getting a scope that costs as much as a car here, but you wouldn’t want to put that scope in the engine bay of your car, either.

The Aeroscope is currently on CrowdSupply for $200. Compared to the alternatives, that’s a bit more than the no-name, USB scopes. Then again, those are USB scopes, not a wireless, Bluetooth-enabled tool, and we can’t wait to see what kind of work this thing enables.

Hardware Tribes Growing Up Around Artisanal Electronics

Consumer electronics are design beasts that must serve many masters. There’s a price point for the product itself, a ceiling for the feature set (lest it not be ‘user friendly’), and to take the risk of actually manufacturing something there needs to be proof of the market. A lot of great things make it through this process, but some really unique and special gear goes completely around it.

So is the story of this AND!XOR hardware badge being built for DEF CON 25. This is not the official conference badge, but the latest in a growing trend of hardware/firmware engineers and hackers who design their own custom gear for the conference, trying to one-up not just the official badge, but the other hardware tribes doing the same. This unique hardware excitement is a big reason that Hackaday has developed electronic badges for our conferences.

The new badge is a mashup of Bender from Futurama and Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, presents something of monstrosity to hang around your neck. That has certainly never stopped us from having one of these bouncing around our necks as we pound the cattle paths from talk to talk (and the DC23 vinyl record was way more unwieldy anyway).

Bender’s forehead display has now been upgraded from a diminutive OLED to a generous color LCD display. The 433 MHz which used the spring antenna on the previous badge has given way to a Bluetooth Low Energy. The BLE is built into the Rigado BMD-300 SOC that is now in conrol of the badge. We can’t wait to see the shenanigans unlocked with this new hardware — they’re already showing of crazy animations, retro gaming, and teasing a huge multiplayer game with all the badges. Finally, the “Secret Component” at the bottom of their components list delivers the je ne sais quoi to the whole project.

Fans of AND!XOR have already thrown their weight behind it. Unofficial badges have been unavailable to a wider group or only offered in flash-sales that pop up during the con. Last year the team was met with a huge mob throwing money at their supply of 175 badges. Now the AND!XOR team has grown to five people toiling away to make the design, the easter-egg laden firmware, and the manufacturing process better than the amazing work of last year. They just launched a crowd funding campaign on Tuesday and immediately blew past their goal about five times over.

We’re hoping to get our mitts on one of these ahead of DEF CON to give you an early look at what these hardware artists have accomplished. If you’re part of another hardware tribe building custom electronics for the love of it, we’d really like to hear from you. This goes for any conference — we know of at least one other in progress.

The Tiko Printer: What Happens When You Innovate Too Much

Sometime in the very distant future, the Universe will become the domain of black holes. Energy and entropy will be compressed into minuscule quantum fluctuations. Even in this domain of nothingness, there will still be one unassailable truth: you should not buy a 3D printer on Kickstarter.

We’re no strangers to failed 3D printer crowdfunding campaigns. Around this time last year, backers for the Peachy Printer, an inordinately innovative resin printer, found out they were getting a timeshare in Canada instead of a printer. This was unusual not because a crowdfunding campaign failed, but because we know what actually happened. It’s rare to get the inside story, and the Peachy Printer did not disappoint.

For the last few months, we’ve been watching another crowdfunding campaign on its long walk to the gallows. The Tiko 3D printer is another 3D printer that looks innovative, and at the time of the crowdfunding campaign, the price couldn’t be beat. For just $179 USD, the backers of the Tiko printer would receive a 3D printer. Keep in mind the Tiko launched nearly two years ago, when a bargain-basement printer still cost about $400. Fools and money, or something like that, and the Tiko 3D printer campaign garnered almost three million dollars in pledges.

Now, after almost two years of development, Tiko is closing up shop. In an update posted to the Tiko Kickstarter this week, Tiko announced they are laying off their team and winding down operations. It’s a sad but almost predictable end to a project that could have been cool. Unlike so many other failed crowdfunding campaigns, Tiko has given us a post-mortum on their campaign. This is how the Tiko became a standout success on Kickstarter, how it failed, and is an excellent example of the difference between building one of something and building ten thousand.

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