Mitch Altman Mentors Manufacturing With Hackaday Prize Expert Session

For whatever you have built, there is someone who has done it longer, and knows more about it. That is the basic premise of expertise, and for this year’s Hackaday Prize we’re rolling out with a series of mentor sessions. These are master classes that match up experts in product development with the people behind the projects in the Hackaday Prize. We’ve been recording all of these so everyone can benefit from the advice, guidance, and mentorship presented in these fantastic recordings.

The DrumKid, a random drum synthesizer

Mitch Altman is someone who should be very familiar to all Hackaday readers. He’s the inventor of the TV-B-Gone, that wonderful device that simultaneously turns you into a hero and a villain in any sports bar. He’s the President and CEO of Cornfield Electronics and co-founder of the Noisebridge hackerspace in San Francisco. Mitch is an author and teacher, and seems to be at just about every conference and workshop around the world promoting hackerspaces, Open Source hardware, and mentorship where ever he goes.

The first hardware creator to meet Mitch is Matt Bradshaw, creator of the DrumKid. This is a pocket-sized drum machine that is heavily inspired by Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operators. Years ago, Matt built a web app that generated drum tracks, and this project is simply taking that idea into the physical realm. For Mitch, this is well-tread territory; years ago, Mitch also built an Arduino-based synth, and for the most part, both Mitch and Matt’s projects are remarkably similar. There were, however, some improvements to be made with Matt’s circuit. The power supply was two AAA batteries and a switching regulator that introduced noise and added cost. Mitch suggested that the ATMega328 could be run directly from three AA batteries reducing the cost and the noise.

eAgrar, a system for monitoring conditions of plants and weather conditions at agricultural fields

The next project up for review is eAgrar, a system for monitoring conditions of plants and the weather in fields. This project comes from Slaven Damjanovic and Marko Čalić. They’ve been developing this device for almost two years building the entire system around the ATMega328. Slaven ran into a problem with this chip in that he didn’t have enough inputs and outputs. The firmware is already written, but thanks to the Arduino IDE, there’s no reason to keep using that ATMega. Mitch suggested using an STM32 or another ARM core. That’s what he’s using for one of his synthesizer projects, and you get more than enough inputs and outputs for the same price as an ATMega.

Finally, we come to Joseph, with his project, the Pilates Reformer. A Pilates Reformer is a bit of exercise equipment that’s only made by three companies and everything costs thousands of dollars. Joseph is bringing that cost down, but there’s a problem: how do you build a hundred or two hundred of these? Mitch suggested simply finding another manufacturer that could build this design, and not necessarily one that builds Pilates machines. This makes sense — if all you’re doing is cutting and connecting structural beams, any manufacturer can do this, that’s what manufacturers do.

This is the third in our series of Hackaday Prize mentor sessions this year, and we have far more we need to edit, and many more we need to record. That doesn’t mean you can’t get help from experts from your prize entry; we’re looking for people who need help with their project and we have a lot of mentors willing to dispense advice. If you’re interested in having someone look over your shoulder, sign up your entry.

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Bunnie Huang Talks Manufacturing And Component Choices During Hackaday Prize Mentoring Session

Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s mentor session for the Hackaday Prize shows off the kind of experience and knowledge hard to come by unless you have been through the hardware development gauntlet countless times. These master-classes match up experts in product development with Prize entrants working to turn their projects into products. We’ve been recording them so that all may benefit from the advice and guidance shared in each session.

The appealing little FunKey pocket gaming platform.
The appealing little FunKey pocket gaming platform.

Bunnie is someone who is already familiar to most Hackaday readers. His notoriety in our community began nearly two decades ago with his work reverse engineering the original Microsoft X-box, and he quickly went on to design (and hack) the Chumby Internet appliance, he created the Novena open-source laptop, and through his writing and teaching, he provides insight into sourcing electronic manufacture in Shenzhen. He’s the mentor you want to have in your corner for a Hackaday Prize entry, and that’s just what a lucky group had in the video we’ve placed below the break.

While this session with Bunnie is in the bag it’s worth reminding you all that we are still running mentor sessions for Hackaday Prize entrants, so sign up your entry for a chance to get some great feedback about your project.

The first team to meet with Bunnie are FunKey, whose keychain Nintendo-like handheld gaming platform was inspired by a Sprite_tm project featuring a converted novelty toy. The FunKey team have produced a really well-thought-out design that is ready to be a product, but like so many of us who have reached that point they face the impossible hurdle of turning it into a product. Their session focuses on advice for finding a manufacturing partner and scaling up to production.

A prototype HotorNot Coffee Stirrer, showing their problem of having to maintain food-safe components.
A prototype HotorNot Coffee Stirrer, showing their problem of having to maintain food-safe components.

HotorNot Coffee Stirrer is trying to overcome a problem unique to their food-related project. A hot drink sensor that has to go in the drink itself needs to be food safe, as well as easy enough to clean between uses. A variety of components are discussed including a thermopile on a chip that has the advantage of not requiring contact with the liquid, but sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective as Bunnie reminds us that a cheap medical thermometer teardown can tell us a lot about appropriate parts for this application.

The idea behing PhalangePad is an attractive one, but making those sensors reliable is no trivial eercise.
The idea behing PhalangePad is an attractive one, but making those sensors reliable is no trivial eercise.

It’s another component choice problem that vexes PhalangePad, an input device that relies on the user tapping the inside of their fingers with their thumb. It’s a great idea, but how should these “keypresses” be detected? Would you use a capacitive or magnetic sensor, a force sensitive resistors, or maybe even machine vision? Here Bunnie’s encyclopaedic knowledge of component supply comes to the fore, and the result is a fascinating insight into the available technologies.

We all amass a huge repository of knowledge as we pass through life, some of the most valuable of which is difficult to pass on in a structured form and instead comes out as incidental insights. An engineer with exceptional experience such as Bunnie can write the book on manufacturing electronics in China but still those mere pages can only scratch the surface of what he knows about the subject. There lies the value of these mentor sessions, because among them the gems of knowledge slip out almost accidentally, and if you’re not watching, you’ll miss them.

This is the second in our series of Hackaday Prize mentoring sessions this year, but we have more already in the can and further sessions to record. We’re constantly looking for more participants though, so make sure if you haven’t already that you put your entry in for Hackaday Prize and check out the list of mentors who are here to share their knowledge and experience. Continue reading “Bunnie Huang Talks Manufacturing And Component Choices During Hackaday Prize Mentoring Session”

Life On Contract: Product Development Lessons Big And Small

Developing a product and getting it out there to build a business is really hard. Whether it’s a single person acting alone to push their passion to the public, or a giant corporation with vast resources, everyone has to go through the same basic steps, and everyone needs to screw those steps up in the same way.

The reality is that the whole process needs to involve lots of aspects in order to succeed; small teams fail by not considering or dedicating resources to all of those aspects, and large teams fail by not having enough communication between the teams working on those pieces. But in truth, it’s a balance of many aspects that unlock a chance at a successful product. It’s worth recognizing this balance and seeking it out in your own product development efforts, whether you’re a one-engineer juggernaut or a large, established company.

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Hackaday Prize Mentor Session: Product Engineering With Giovanni Salinas

This year we’ve added something new and exciting to the Hackaday Prize mix. Mentor sessions link up hardware teams with experts from backgrounds useful in moving their product development forward. We’ve assembled a dream team of mentors, and today we’re excited to publish video of the first mentor session which you’ll find embedded below. It’s a great chance to hear about the engineering going into each entry, and to learn from these back and forth conversations that help move the effort forward. We encourage you to sign up for an upcoming session!

Giovanni Salinas, the Product Development Engineer at Supplyframe’s DesignLab, is the mentor for this session. He has a huge breadth of experience in product development, and in today’s installment he’s working with four different product teams.

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2019 Hackaday Prize Begins Right Now

This is the 2019 Hackaday Prize, the worldwide hardware design contest focused on product development. We know you can build a working prototype, and we still want to see you do that. But a great idea should have reach beyond your own workshop. This year’s Hackaday Prize is about taking your product across the finish line, from concept to design for manufacture.

Prizes to Jump Start Your Product

$125,000 and a Supplyframe DesignLab Residency await the Best Product winner. There are five focus categories this year, with the winner of each receiving a $10,000 prize. And to help encourage those early beginnings, we have another $10,000 in seed funding set aside which means up to $500 for each of the top 20 entries who get in and gather those “likes” before June first.

There are a few areas of focus you should have in mind as you work on your products. These are Concept, Design, Production, Benchmark, and Communication. All entries are eligible to receive prizes related to these, and in addition to the $50,000 we mentioned above for the winner in each area, we have another $3,000 for each set aside to recognize an honorable mention.

$200,000 is on the line and the final results will be revealed live on stage at the Hackaday Superconference in November. Your name should be in one of those sealed envelopes!

Why You? And Why the Hackaday Prize

Something amazing happened thirty years ago. A core of very motivated hackers took on the mantle of design, software, and even business skill, to build the computers that thrust us into a new information age. As these machines matured, a wave of software engineers picked up that torch, themselves embracing product and design thinking to accelerate the startup craze to new levels, again changing the world.

Ask yourself where we are right now. What are the hot new startups? The buzz now is all about billion dollar valuation but where is the substance? What we really need are the scrappy hackers who have a flag to plant to change the world. We’ve mistakenly been waiting for software companies to use their special sauce to lead a hardware renaissance, but instead it feels like we’re solving more and more trivial problems — where are the world-changers?

This is the hunger behind the 2019 Hackaday Prize. Three decades later, it is time for Hardware Engineers to be recognized as Innovators and leaders again. This is the call for the hardware community to come together, share knowledge, acquire new skills, and embark on a journey that uses the technological raw materials at our fingertips to invent the solutions that really matter. Make the idea and the execution happen now, and that enormous valuation will follow. Now is the time to change the world, you are the hackers who will do it, and this time around hardware will be leading the charge.

Improvisation, Mentorship, and Your Ability to Do Everything

We know you can build a working prototype of just about anything. But just like the creators of the Commodore, the Sinclair, Amiga, Apple, and Atari, you need to be more than a hardware designer. You need to know your users like you know yourself. You need an eye for industrial design — each of the machines mentioned above are iconic by how they look and not just by how they work. People behind these products knew what they were up against, and chose to make them stand-out designs in terms of performance, price, and how they fit into our lives.

You don’t have every skill necessary to make a great leap forward in every one of these areas — nobody does. But with the right community around you, you will learn some of them and find collaborators for the rest. Throughout the 2019 Hackaday Prize we’ll be pushing everyone to step past where you think your skills end, to learn what makes a product great, what makes it loved by the end user, and what makes it feasible to follow through to the end of the rainbow.

Get in early and take part in Prize demo days. Get matched up with world-class mentors and work with them in a masterclass situation from which everyone can learn. Show off your work and you’ll attract good ideas and good people. This is the Homebrew Computer Club of the new millennium. You’re going to find inspiration (and become the inspiration!) from everyone in the club. You’re going to riff on the breakthroughs of others, and together we’re all going to lead that Hardware Renaissance.

Don’t let this call go unanswered. Start your Hackaday Prize entry right now, and don’t look back.

Finding The Goldilocks Cell Module

If adding a cell modem is dealing with a drama queen of a hardware component, then choosing from among the many types of modules available turns the designer into an electronics Goldilocks. There are endless options for packaging and features all designed to make your life easier (or not!) so you-the-designer needs to have a clear understanding of the forces at work to come to a reasonable decision. How else will Widget D’lux® finally ship? You are still working on Widget D’lux®, aren’t you?

OK, quick recap from last time. Cell modems can be used to add that great feature known as The Internet to your product, which is a necessary part of the Internet of Things, and thus Good. So you’re adding a cell modem! But “adding a cell modem” can mean almost anything. Are you aiming to be Qualcomm and sue Apple build modems from scratch? Probably not. What about sticking a Particle Electron inside to bolt something together quickly? Or talk to Telit and put a bare modem on a board? Unless you’re expecting to need extremely high volume and have a healthy appetite for certification glee, I bet you’ve chosen to get a modem with as many existing certifications as possible, which takes us to where we are today. Go read the previous post if you want a much more elaborate discussion of your modem-packaging options and some of the trade offs involved. Continue reading “Finding The Goldilocks Cell Module”

Will It Sell?

Many of us develop things for one of two purposes: to hack something cool, or to sell something cool. When hacking something cool, your target market is yourself, and you already know you’ve made the sale. If your goal is to sell the thing you are making, then a lot more thought and effort is required. You could develop the coolest product in the world, but if your target market is too small, your price is too high, your lead time is too long, or any of a dozen other factors is not quite right, you’ll be spending a lot of time and effort on what will amount to a huge disappointment. The Hackaday Prize Best Product has many great examples which let us study some of these success factors, so let’s take a look. Continue reading “Will It Sell?”