Intel on the maker community: ‘It’s never been a more exciting time to invent the future’

Genevieve Bell of Intel at IDF 2015
During a keynote at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel corporate strategy officer and resident anthropologist Genevieve Bell explored what it takes to be a “Maker” in the modern do-it-yourself technology phenomenon. Bell linked the movement to build your own hardware, physical objects, and other sorts of creative inventions to the great inventors like Edison, Ford, Curie, and others. Intel is so excited about this hobbyist movement that it is targeting chips such as Edison and Curie at them for small gadgets that can power the Internet of Things, or everyday objects that are smart and connected. At the IDF, Bell said Intel decided to support makers as part of its effort to discover new developers and technology ecosystems. That’s why it’s a supporter of Make magazine and the Maker Faire do-it-yourselfer events. Started 10 years ago in Silicon Valley, the first event drew 22,000 people. Last year, there were 131
Genevieve Bell celebrates makers at IDF.
Worry Birds on stage at IDF.
Sade shows off an electronic scarab beetle to Intel's Genevieve Bell.
Genevieve Bell talks with the maker of an Ebola-tracking tool.
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The Backed Pack: Buddy robot tends to the family, patrols the home

Each week our friends at Backerjack highlight a cool, crowdfunded gadget. This week we look at Buddy, which has more than doubled its original $100,000 goal. There are a growing number of multi-function robots on crowdfunding sites. While some, such as JIBO, may strike consumers as too robotic to warm up to, others, such as the Personal Robot, may be rejected as too creepy because of their attempts to seem human. The WALL-Eish Buddy might just manage to avoid both of those problems because this new social robot, which is designed to be a family companion, is fairly cute. The robot’s face is featured on an integrated tablet, and its wide eyes and small mouth make it appear a bit like a friendly cartoon character. Preliminary tests with the Institute for Children with Autism found that its kid-friendly appearance makes it a good companion for such children, according to Buddy’s Indiegogo page,
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Brit+Co Confirms $20M Raise Led By Intel, Acquires How-To App Snapguide

Brit + Co Homepage Big news today for Brit + Co., the lifestyle media and e-commerce business aimed at people interested in crafty projects. The startup has confirmed that it’s raised $20 million in funding, and it has acquired user-generated DIY app Snapguide to add more media to its platform — or, as CEO and founder Brit Morin told TechCrunch, “to build out our community with more… Read More

Four short links: 15 July 2014

  1. Inside Data Brokers — very readable explanation of the data brokers and how their information is used to track advertising effectiveness.
  2. Elon, I Want My Data! — Telsa don’t give you access to the data that your cars collects. Bodes poorly for the Internet of Sealed Boxes. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Pattern Classification (Github) — collection of tutorials and examples for solving and understanding machine learning and pattern classification tasks.
  4. HOGWILD! (PDF) — the algorithm that Microsoft credit with the success of their Adam deep learning system.

“Final evolution” of original Raspberry Pi gains micro-SD and lower power consumption

There’s a new iteration of the open-source Raspberry Pi computer kit: the Model B+. According to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, it’s the “final evolution” of the original Raspberry Pi design, before a move to a future full version 2. The changes are mostly in the connector layout, meaning cases for the existing Model B may not be compatible. A couple parts and kits also won’t work anymore with the new design, such as the Wolfson audio card and the Adafruit Cobbler prototyping kit (at least, not out of the box). In a blog post on Monday, the U.K.-based Foundation detailed the new features of its maker-friendly kit – including the ability to power memory sticks and so on through the USB port:
More GPIO. The GPIO header has grown to 40 pins, while retaining the same pinout for the first 26 pins as the Model B.
More USB. We now have 4 USB 2.0 ports, compared to 2 on the Model B, and better hotplug and overcurrent behaviour.
Micro SD. The old friction-fit SD card socket has been replaced with a much nicer push-push micro SD version.
Lower power consumption. By replacing linear regulators with switching ones we’ve reduced power consumption by between 0.5W and 1W.
Better audio. The audio circuit incorporates a dedicated low-noise power supply.
Neater form factor. We’ve aligned the USB connectors with the board edge, moved composite video onto the 3.5mm jack, and added four squarely-placed mounting holes.

The Model B+ costs $35, the same as its predecessor. Apart from the changes listed above, it uses the same 700MHz processor and also has half a gig of RAM. However, because “industrial customers” might still want to continue with the Model B layout, production of that model will continue “for as long as there’s demand for it.” Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:
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Chinese giant launches a smart-hardware accelerator

Chinese giant launches a smart-hardware accelerator
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Chinese online retail giant has become one of the first distributors that smart-hardware makers would turn to when they are about to ship products. When the maker revolution was about to explode, JD established a sub-channel for selling smart hardware products only. Then, the company launched JD+, an accelerator for smart hardware products, offering funding, marketing support, and other resources to which individual makers would otherwise have scant access. More recently, the JDCloud project was added to provide makers with WiFi or sensor solutions, cloud services, user data analytics service, among others. Some user data on the platform, according to the company, will be made open for third parties to build applications or services. JD also promised to share its VMNO (virtual mobile network operator) capabilities with makers, since it is one of the first private companies that have obtained VMNO licenses in China. Smart hardware developers will also be able to implement JD’s user account system.This means that end users will be able to control all their smart gadgets from one app. And of course, JD gets the longer end of the stick, as the company will have all the users’ data. Broadlink is a case of a hardware maker taking good advantage of JD’s offerings. The smart home “appcessory” maker now is selling products on JD and has announced funding from the company. JD said many traditional home electronics manufacturers have signed up. This story originally appeared on TechNode.

Hands on with the Cricut Explore: a super simple crafting machine

There is a deep-seated part of us that finds great satisfaction in making something, whether it’s a table, a birdhouse or the world’s greatest turkey sandwich. And in this age of the DIY movement, it’s easier than ever to find inspiration and tutorials and then connect with others over creations on sites like Etsy. But making something is not always as simple as we think it will be, as any new DIYer can tell you. An original vision is easily compromised by poor scissor work or a hastily placed nail. That is the inspiration behind the new Cricut Explore, a desktop crafting machine that can cut or draw any shape on materials like cardstock, fabric and vinyl, said Ashish Arora, CEO of Cricut, which is a subsidiary of Utah-based Provo Craft.
The Cricut Explore and the online Cricut creation space. Photo courtesy of Cricut.

The Cricut Explore and the online Cricut creation space. Photo courtesy of Cricut.

Cricut machines have been around for about five years now, but the newest iteration is the first to fully embrace the web as the greatest repository of ideas. Cricuts used to rely on cartridges that came loaded with designs; now, you print directly from your computer after designing a shape or selecting one of the thousands that Cricut has made available in its online shop and creation space. It’s also much simpler to use. A new dial on top of the machine is labeled with different materials. Before you start printing, you just turn the dial to whatever material you are working with. You can also turn it to “other” and select a custom material in the menu that pops up on your computer. I spent a few weeks with the Cricut and found it to be dead simple to use. Using an existing design on the Cricut site is as easy as hitting “print.” Creating your own is a bit more difficult, but anyone with basic Photoshop experience will not have a problem. I made a vinyl decal for the back of a phone, posters that had ”I love technology” written on them in metallic marker and an ornate paper clock. There are tons of other options too; mobiles, party decorations, 3D cardboard animal heads and so on.
Butterflies cut on the Cricut Explore out of a variety of materials. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Butterflies cut on the Cricut Explore out of a variety of materials. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The biggest annoyance I ran into was cost. Like any desktop printer company, Cricut doesn’t want to let you go after you sink $299 into an Explore. There are accessories to buy, including special markers, mats, materials and scrapers, most of which are necessary if you want to work with a variety of materials. And if you want to take advantage of the thousands of images and projects Cricut has made available online, you will most likely have to pay, as most cost a dollar. For $10, you can subscribe to use as many images as you want a month. Arora said Cricut has bigger plans for its online market. The site will center around designs created by creative partners, who produce whole collections of items that go together. Individuals can still contribute their own designs, but the focus is on curating projects that Cricut knows will work every time for anyone.
Dresses made out of pieces cut by the Cricut Explore. Photo courtesy of Cricut.

Dresses made out of pieces cut by the Cricut Explore. Photo courtesy of Cricut.

So why would you want a Cricut Explore? Well, there’s an obvious appeal to hobbysists, who every year help pour $30 billion into the U.S. crafting industry. If you’re one of the millions of people who feels compelled to assemble paper in whimsical ways, the Explore could pay for itself pretty quickly, as it takes the place of just about every other crafting tool. And the collections of projects make it easy to make, say, the decorations for a theme party or wedding in a single day. 3D reindeer made with Cricut Explore There’s also a healthy market on sites like Etsy for custom decals, cards and so on. Many people currently make these items with more complicated, expensive machinery like laser cutters, which often requires them to take out a membership at a space like TechShop. Shopping online for projects and then printing them instantly at home reminded me strongly of 3D printing. Cricut really nailed usability with the Explore and its online marketplace, and I would love to see a 3D printer company take a similarly thoughtful approach. Imagine just turning a knob to whatever material you are working with and then just having everything print exactly as planned, every time.

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This Asian crowdfunding site could beat Kickstarter with direct OEM relationships

This Asian crowdfunding site could beat Kickstarter with direct OEM relationships
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Kickstarter platform that came with built-in relationships with all the big Asian OEMs? Turns out, there is. Platforms like Kickstarter have become the first option for would-be hardware makers to find crowdfunding and early adopters. But in the past year or so, backers on those platforms have found themselves always waiting to receive the real thing. Delays were largely due to hardware design and manufacturing issues. That’s where some Asian original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) see new business opportunities. The key problem, from their perspective, is that some software developer-turned-makers have little knowledge in hardware design and have no idea how much time is needed for producing certain parts. Taiwan-based HWTrek looks like every another crowdfunding site. The big difference is that it plans to use its resources in the OEM sector across Asia to help makers around the world know which ideas related to hardware manufacturing won’t work before said makers build a prototype or reach out to manufacturers. Taiwan is famous for its wealth of OEMs. Nest, the smart thermostat that was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year, has its manufacturer in Taiwan. HWTrek has partnered with some 130 OEMs in Taiwan and other places in Asia to help make projects from its crowdfunding platform. There are experts with years of experience in con­sumer elec­tron­ics manufacturing, waiting at HWTrek to review projects submitted to the site and point out problems in hardware designs. HWTrek is also developing standardized tools for makers to make feasible prototypes online. For instance, HWTrek will provide types of waterproof materials that can be used for a “smart mug.” Based on the approved prototypes, the platform will help find the right manufacturers out of 130 OEM partners. IIt’s not an open bidding process; rather, HWTrek will choose manufacturers they feel are suitable for the task at hand. For instance, the platform might recommend a manufacturer that has previously produced watch-shaped devices to a smart watch project. If a project is particularly noteworthy and unique, HWTrek will consider taking a stake in it. So far, the company has invested in three projects. The first projects on HWTrek will ship in the third quarter of 2014 at the earliest. HWTrek isn’t the only organization that has seen the problems makers have been through. Others also want to take advantage of manufacturing capabilities in Asia — especially in Greater China. The Taiwanese government is working on helping local OEMs take orders from makers. We have also heard that some big-brand smartphone makers in the Guangdong area, a major manufacturing center in China, plan to establish similar crowdfunding platforms. The edge HWTrek has over them must be that it started with projects from the U.S. and Europe that were more mature. Other Chinese players are eyeing the market too. Online retailing platform is building a channel sell smart devices of all kinds. Chinese search giant Baidu wants to have all smart devices use its cloud storage services and future data analytics services. The post If Kickstarter isn’t a solution to everything, you may turn to these Asian platforms. appeared first on TechNode. This story originally appeared on TechNode.

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The next big thing in hardware: Commoditizing production and distribution platforms

From Jawbone to Pebble and Ouya, much has been written about the recent hardware renaissance. While investors and the press show renewed interest in hardware projects these days, taking a product from prototype to mass production is still an immense challenge. Innovation matters, but sometimes it’s the numerous logistical hurdles, from sourcing components at scale to quality control, and even shipping, that can make or break a product’s future.

Platforms are about to accelerate this hardware revolution in a big way – offering modular options at every step of the hardware process, from design to manufacturing. There’s a multi-billion dollar opportunity at play for a platform to sit on top of the design, prototyping, and distribution process. In many ways, these new platforms will do for hardware what Amazon Web Services (AWS) did for software and web development: take care of much of the logistical backend and free up those with big ideas to deliver on design.

pebble steel trio

The new steel watches from Pebble.

Hardware makers need more than capital

In the past years, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter have aimed to spark innovation by providing easier access to capital. Likewise, Tindie lets sellers take pre-orders to help fund production. However, for hardware startups, once the barrier to capital is removed, at least ten new barriers pop up in its place. That’s why over 75 percent of hardware and product design projects on Kickstarter fail. The reality is that successfully commercializing a physical product takes more than access to cash.

From 10 units, to 100, to 1,000…

Over the past few years, design and prototyping have become exponentially easier, mainly due to platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi and design collaboration tools like Upverter and (which was acquired by Autodesk). Faster prototyping and cheaper manufacturing are empowering hardware experts to gain hold in an industry once dominated by multinational corporations.

New sites like Tindie offer a marketplace for these independent hardware makers to reach customers across the world. One Tindie success story is AirPi, a weather station for Raspberry Pi developed by two seventeen-year-olds in London. AirPi has made a healthy profit so far, with a running backorder list.

Eben Upton Raspberry Pi Foundation Mobilize 2013

Eben Upton, Executive Director, Raspberry Pi Foundation Mobilize 2013 (c) 2013 Pinar Ozger

While Tindie’s ability to sell pre-packaged kits from hardware developers demonstrates the demand for interesting, niche hardware, it also emphasizes the difficulty in bringing product to market at scale. Currently, Tindie sells a lot of PCBs and prototype-like products. That’s because they’re easier to build and bring to market if you are an indie hardware developer. However, it’s inevitable that Tindie’s products will grow in sophistication, as long as sellers have access to sophisticated tools that help them find the right manufacturing partner to produce at scale or the right fulfillment company to help with shipping.

The mega-platform solution

Mega, ‘AWS-style’, platforms will give hardware designers with great ideas easier access to experts across the design and manufacturing industry. Quality control and shipping are complicated pieces of the manufacturing puzzle that require deep expertise and industry relationships, but they’re also incredibly easy to replicate and commercialize.

I envision a day where a hardware startup, even a hardware hobbyist, can pick and choose whatever production modules they need help with. Designers will shop for their components and sub-assemblies by browsing a universal online library of open source hardware designs. Then, the designer can one-click “order” the design from a global network of subcontractors who can address QA, manufacturing at scale, shipping, etc.

A 3D printed dragon head. Photo by Signe Brewster

A 3D printed dragon head. Photo by Signe Brewster

In this way, the long-term value and differentiation will lie in the design; the production and distribution will be commoditized.

In addition to marketplaces like Tindie, new crowdfunding sites are emerging that specialize in hardware. For example, Dragon Innovation connects hardware startups with high-tech manufacturers to help refine designs, determine the real costs of mass production, and set realistic delivery schedules. The smartwatch Pebble, which raised $10M on Kickstarter only to experience a slew of high-profile delivery problems, ended up turning to Dragon to solve its manufacturing issues (and have since raised $15M in funding).

At present, Dragon acts more like an advisor than a platform. It’s partners perform due diligence before accepting a hardware startup and plan to charge an initial $5,000 consulting fee before a startup can begin fundraising on its platform. As seen with Pebble, Dragon’s model will work for its hand-selected startups, but it won’t work at a level of scale like we’d see with an Amazon Web Services model.

The market needs a new platform to emerge that productizes all the major elements of the hardware process, so hardware designers can pick and choose the elements that they need from start to finish.

Unleashing a new wave of hardware innovation

What will you make with the right tools?

What will you make with the right tools?

By taking care of the manufacturing logistics, these new platforms will let inventors zero in on design without all the messy distractions of the manufacturing process. In many ways, this is similar to how much easier it is to build a website today with Amazon Web Services. Since web designers don’t have to worry about building backend infrastructure from scratch, they are free to be more creative on the front end. And, we get better websites and apps because of it.

The implications of bringing an AWS-style model to hardware will be huge, and not just for developers, but for all of us. A new generation of hardware products will help solve some of the biggest problems the world is facing today. For example, a product like BRCK can bring Internet connectivity to the developing world. Or specialized tracking devices can transform patient diagnoses in healthcare or monitor diseases that could wipe out an entire farm crop.

Easier hardware production will ultimately make the promise of the hardware revolution a reality…as long as the hardware platform goes beyond the design and prototyping phase to solve all the challenges of delivering hardware at scale.

Boris Wertz is the founder of version one ventures and has invested in more than 40 early-stage consumer Internet and enterprise companies, including Indiegogo, Tindie and Upverter. Follow him on his blog and Twitter.

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Four short links: 6 January 2014

  1. 4043-byte 8086 Emulator manages to implement most of the hardware in a 1980’s era IBM-PC using a few hundred fewer bits than the total number of transistors used to implement the original 8086 CPU. Entry in the obfuscated C contest.
  2. Hacking the CES Scavenger HuntAt which point—now you have your own iBeacon hardware—you can just go ahead and set the UUID, Major and Minor numbers of your beacon to each of the CES scavenger hunt beacon identities in turn, and then bring your beacon into range of your cell phone running which should be running the CES mobile app. Once you’ve shown the app all of the beacons, you’ll have “finished” the scavenger hunt and can claim your prize. Of course doing that isn’t legal. It’s called fraud and will probably land you in serious trouble. iBeacons have great possibilities, but with great possibilities come easy hacks when they’re misused.
  3. Filtering: Seven Principles — JP Rangaswami laying down some basic principles on which filters should be built. 1. Filters should be built such that they are selectable by subscriber, not publisher. I think the basic is: 0: Customers should be able to run their own filters across the information you’re showing them.
  4. Tremor-Correcting Steadicam — brilliant use of technology. Sensors + microcontrollers + actuators = a genuinely better life. Beats figuring out better algorithms to pimp eyeballs to Brands You Love. (via BoingBoing)

How.Do adds brief video clips for more flexible micro-guides

It’s been a year more so since we covered the launch of How.Do, a startup that lets users create instructional storyboards with their iPhones – you shoot a bunch of still pictures and record up to 8 seconds of audio to go with each one, then quickly assemble them.

This is perfect for people in the maker movement, and the Berlin-based company seems to be getting significant traction there, roughly half of which has been in the U.S. Now How.Do is gaining a new feature: short video clips.

Introduced in a new version of the app on Thursday, the feature makes it possible to include moving image clips of up to 8 seconds in How.Do “micro guides”, as the firm calls them. That doesn’t mean the whole thing needs to be video – the tutorial can combine stills and video, using each format where it’s most appropriate. A knitting tutorial, for example, may mostly be about pattern images but still benefit from a brief clip showing how to cast on.

Or a guide to making a DIY lamp in a jar:

DIY LAMP IN A JAR a micro guide by Eva G. Alonso on HowDo

“We’re trying to make it easier and more fun for people to share what they know,” How.Do co-founder Emma Rose Metcalfe told me. “We started to see people trying to show steps that had movement by making more steps, and we thought ‘Oh no, this isn’t right’.”

She added that the team decided to avoid the Vine-like mechanism of holding down the screen to record such clips as, intuitive as the mechanism is, it doesn’t work very well when you need a free hand for actually doing whatever it is your micro guide demonstrates.

As major a change as this is for How.Do, it actually comes after several big updates in recent months. In late August, for example, How.Do introduced search and tagging, and also said over 2,000 guides had been created using the app.

It may seem like a niche tool, but the maker and craft movements represent a growing niche, particularly with the rise of ecommerce platforms such as Etsy. Metcalfe described this as the scene “bubbling over” and said that, in the coming year, How.Do would try to expand into more “mainstream” craft and DIY activities – she was quite vague about what that meant in practice, though,  just as she was about “exciting collaborations” that are coming up.

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Four short links: 15 November 2013

  1. Google Wins Book Scanning Case (Giga Om) — will probably be appealed, though many authors will fear it’s good money after bad tilting at the fair use windmill.
  2. IBM Watson To Be A Platform (IBM) — press release indicates you’ll soon be able to develop your own apps that use Watson’s machine learning and text processing.
  3. MiniMetalMaker (IndieGogo) — 3D printer that can print detailed objects from specially blended metal clay and fire.
  4. MicroPython (KickStarter) — Python for Microcontrollers.