Q&A with Peter Kaempf: The Startup within 160-Year-Old STABILO & the Making of Digipen

I recently reconnected with Peter Kaempf, a member of the innovative creator community on the HWTrek platform, who I had met at SXSW in Austin last year and who my co-workers ran into at the Intel Partner Summit at Embedded World in Nuremberg. Peter is Head of Special Product Development at STABILO International GmbH. Fortunately for us, he was keen to talk with us about the development of Digipen and so provided a wonderful interview. Enjoy….

Peter Kaempf and HWTrek CEO Lucas Wang (Intel Partner Summit, Embedded World 2017)

Please introduce yourself and your project?

The Digipen is a sensor-enhanced writing instrument with internal data processing capabilities and an external data link for communication with compatible devices. It will register accelerations and its position in space and correct this position data for drift. At the same time, it can be used as a regular ballpoint pen, on regular paper. Motion data can be stored in 64 Mbit of internal memory or transmitted via a BLE connection to a connected device. Myself, I directed the STABILO pen development since 2000 and have a background in aerospace engineering. We have been looking for ways to connect handwriting and computers for years, and a few years ago I decided to jump into this venture full time. Thankfully, the company trusted me to do this, so I assembled a small team of engineers and started the development of the Digipen. Including myself, we are now 5 people working on hard- and software. On the sales side, we currently use an external consultant and are in the process of building up our own expertise.

When we first met, you were demoing Digipen at SXSW 2016 in the German Haus – very much in the spirit of a startup, something a bit unusual for a large, more than 160-year-old company. Was this “startup approach” a calculated part of the product development process and marketing strategy for Digipen?

Yes, absolutely for the development. While the company culture is a valuable part of STABILO, it is less well suited to a geeky, risk-taking undertaking. I figured we need a different culture to become successful quickly, at the price of an increased risk of screw-ups. Yes, we had screw-ups, but they were limited, so I am very happy with the outcome. On the marketing side, I hope to profit from the high brand awareness STABILO enjoys in Europe, and the SXSW demo was rather unusual for our general approach.

What’s the inspiration for your project? What problem does it solve or address?

We study the importance of handwriting and see that kids today have less handwriting proficiency than the generations before. You can’t blame them – with all the digital distractions, there is simply not much time left for developing the fine motor skills required for good handwriting. In school, this becomes problematic: The curriculum expects them to have a high degree of automation in their handwriting from fourth grade on, so they can take notes and follow the topics in parallel. However, when this automation was never learned properly, the process of handwriting will absorb too much of the kids’ cognitive capacity – they fall behind and cannot follow the teacher anymore. With the Digipen, we hope to develop a measurement tool so teachers and parents can see how far a kid is on the way to fully automated handwriting. We also develop exercise books to train them, so we work to get a full solution in place that will address the handwriting crisis in schools. In Germany, we see severe handwriting problems in more than half the boys already, so this is a very serious problem that has slowly grown bigger and bigger over the last years.

What are the applications & use cases for Digipen? Do you have any interesting user stories to share around these applications?

The primary application is the measurement of the degree of automation in handwriting. But there is more:

Plot examples of saved sensor data from the Digipen

Since the pen can measure acceleration and angular velocities around all three axes and updates its attitude information every 5 ms, it can be used for motion tracking in 3D. The internal force sensor can be activated by an optional button, so a proportional, user-selectable scalar parameter can be added. This allows the pen to be used as an ergonomic computer mouse with force-sensitive input or as a 3D motion controller in a virtual or augmented reality system.

For users with developed handwriting skills, the sensor signals of the product can be fed into a pattern matching algorithm that will run on the connected device. The sensor fusion in the product will normalize the sensor readings, subtract drift and reduce the data volume such that the data link to the connected device does not need more energy than necessary. On the connected device, individual characters are modeled by Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) and concatenated to word models. A statistical language model is used to enhance recognition performance and restrict the search space. The resulting text output can be displayed and stored on the connected device. This is the version I demoed on SXSW.

One of the more interesting use cases, aside from education, for Digipen, is medical. An example is using AI to compensate for the hand movements of users with Parkinson’s. Can you speak more to this and other medical use cases?  I’ve read a fascinating report from MIT about using digital pens and AI to help detect early signs of dementia – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc.

Yes, the Digipen can be used to diagnose Parkinson’s or even schizophrenia. Our first customer uses it for Parkinson diagnostics, and it can be used to fine-tune the cocktail of medication each Parkinson sufferer needs to reduce the tremor as much as possible. For tremor compensation, we would need some active movement by the pen, which we have not implemented. For us the medical applications look a bit scary, with all the regulation and certification hurdles, so we want to focus on the school market right now. However, we are happy to produce the pen for a partner who wants to sell it as a medical device.

What solutions did you use for hardware design?

First, I took apart all my computers, laptops, digital cameras, and cell phones to see how others do it. Then I made a very crude first design that used a circuit board wedged between two halves of a split wooden rod, just to see how the signals looked. The next step used a cylindrical 3D-printed body and then when the internals could be defined better, I got help from a German industrial designer to finalize the outer shape and the inner layout.

What solutions did you use for prototyping?

The first circuit boards were prepared with the help of local companies for small-scale circuit board production. I wish I had learned of HWTrek’s website earlier – when we met in Austin, most of the prototyping work had already been done. But for the initial small production volume, I still needed someone who could economically produce the injection-molded parts of the pen. STABILO does a lot of injection molding, but on a much bigger scale with multi-cavity tools, which would have been much too expensive. So I was happy that I found two partners in Asia for some of the injection molded parts that we now use for the first production use of the Digipen.

What resources have you used for sourcing and supply chain management?

Being located close to Nuremberg made the embedded world fair here the first destination. This was a great start into the field, and the next step was a cooperation with several local companies, motivated by public funding. With the combined experience we could cover the first years well. But I remember that it took one year until I found a force sensor small and sensitive enough for my demands.

For the production of circuit boards, we have started a cooperation with a Japanese producer of electronic components, so this part of the supply chain has been outsourced. The non-electronic parts are sourced locally.

What were the most difficult things to source for your project and how did you source them? 

The force sensor is unique and was not easy to find, and also the battery was initially hard to source. However, two years later the selected model is offered by a wide variety of companies – I was simply a bit ahead of the curve.

What tools, if any, do you use for real-time collaboration on your project (with team members and partners)?

Email is far and out the most important. I also use video conferencing and the telephone, but with my busy schedule, the asynchronous nature of email is ideal.

What have been the significant challenges or obstacles you’ve faced on the project? How were they resolved?

The biggest challenge was and still is my ignorance. I am still learning something every day. Now, this may sound like a platitude, but there have been many face-palm moments where in hindsight all was so obvious.

A big challenge is also the time it takes to develop good software and the time to produce good injection molding tools. Fortunately, the contacts I got through HWTrek could produce good parts in a fraction of the time the molds would have taken here in Germany. Thankfully, my experience with injection molding helped to make the contact with the Asian partners very smooth and pleasant.

What are the takeaways and lessons learned from working on this project that you’d like to share with other IoT hardware developers?

Stay with standardized solutions and simplify things as much as possible.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to the beginning of your product development?

Oh man, this would be a long list! I would not stop talking to my earlier self for days. It is impossible to compress all the interlocking experience in a memorable phrase. However, one short advice would be sure: Look at HWTrek and get some help!

If you are planning a new version of your project or future devices, what will you do differently?

The publicly funded research program was not terribly efficient but at that stage the right thing to do. A future project will probably do without it. A new version is already in the planning, and it will use fewer components. However, this is only possible with new parts becoming available now. For the future samples, I intend to turn to Asian sources immediately – with my HWTrek contacts I see this as the best way forward.

We all know the phrase “hardware is hard.” Is there something that was much easier than you had initially thought when you started out on your hardware journey?

Yes, hardware is hard, but it can be measured and observed. Software is sometimes much harder, especially when an unanticipated effect shows up only rarely and by chance. What went really easy was the contact and communication with far-away partners whom I knew only per mail.

What trend do you see that is changing your sector/industry or what shift would you like to see happen?

The trend is clearly modularization and increasing complexity. Everything from communication protocols to legal regulations has already reached mind-boggling proportions, and there is no sign of stopping. We should not let lawyers and accountants make the rules, but makers and builders. In other words: Let pragmatic people with a vision decide, not bureaucrats.

What’s next for your project?

We need to lower the BOM and widen the applications. In order to help third parties to develop for the Digipen, we are going to add libraries for letter recognition.

And now for something completely different, fun questions….

What are your ‘go-to’ sources for tech information and news? (Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen to article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?)

Whoa – that is harder to answer than it sounds. When it comes to tech info, I absorb news like a sponge and have a hard time later to tell where it came from. Obviously, sites like StackExchange and Slashdot should be mentioned here, but also personal contacts. I am fortunate to know an electrical engineer who is simply a genius – he helped me with the first samples of the Digipen, and I still talk to him regularly when I have new questions. Google only helps when you know what to ask for, but with a friendly expert who knows your situation, you will find a solution in minutes where without him it could have absorbed weeks of research.

What’s currently on your playlist, what are you listening to these days?

Classical music. Everything from Bach to Brahms. My playlist also includes Tchaikovsky or Vivaldi, and the most modern composer on it is Philip Glass.

Philip Glass (photo credit: PhilipGlass.com)

What fuels you (coffee, tea, or….)? When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

I consider myself an introvert, but I get motivated most by talking with others. It helps to verbally express a problem I have, and explaining it to someone else will also help me to understand it better. The reply will lead my brain on a new track, and when the conversation takes its course, it will result in new viewpoints and new ideas very quickly.

What do you recommend (place to go/see, what to eat) for a visitor to Palo Alto?

I was once in Palo Alto to fly from the local airport there. Was a fun time, and I still have a deposit at the flying club. But I have an odd taste of what to see – most memorable for me were places like residential areas of Tokyo, a nightly walk through Shanghai or a slum in Kenya. The biggest impressions I got from unanticipated and novel situations. So go where tourists will not!

Sorry, Peter, I’ve been recently prepared too many interview questions for a bunch of members of our community – both creators and experts – and as a result, they are intermingled in my thoughts. I, of course, meant to ask you about Erlangen and Nuremberg.

Considering Erlangen and Nuremberg – you know how it is: You never visit the spectacular things where you live because you always can do so tomorrow. Only when a friend from somewhere else visits you, you show him/her your town and get a chance to see it with other eyes. So I consider myself to be a poor guide of what to see around here.

By H. Helmlechner (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
What gadget would you love to have from your favorite science fiction film or book?

A time machine, of course. Next would be the Star Trek computer that really understands voice commands.

2016 HWTrek Blog Top 25

During 2016, the HWTrek blog reached new heights in views—a total of about 60,000, which was 85% more than the previous year. We appreciate you reading what’s on our mind. Let us know what’s on your mind this year. Also, let us know what you’d like us to write about—stories of interesting hardware projects and creators, manufacturing, supply chain, and other experts and resources that help complete the global hardware development ecosystem. Thanks for reading.

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Here are the top 25 posts from the HWTrek blog for 2016:

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Creator Profile: Federico Rodriguez, Founder of FRETX—now on Indiegogo

We reached out to a participant in our second Asia Innovation Tour, Federico Rodriguez  (Founder of FRETX) who joined the HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour, August 2015, to learn more about his project and his insights. FRETX launched its Indiegogo campaign on November 2, 2016.

Over the course of the past two and a half years, HWTrek hosted 100 hardware creators and accelerators to visit Taiwan, Beijing, and Shenzhen on Asia Innovation Tour 2016 (April), Asia Innovation Tour 2015 (August), and also on the first tour in April 2014. The fourth tour is currently underway in November 2016 and takes the latest cohort to Shenzhen, Osaka, and Kyoto to meet manufacturing industry experts, see assembly lines in China and Japan, and gain insights about their consumer markets for smart, connect devices. Learn more about the Asia Innovation Tour Winter 2016 here.

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Please introduce yourself and your project?

My name is Federico (from Argentina) and I’m the founder of FRETX, a French startup that develops a fun and dynamic product for those who want to start playing the guitar as fast as possible. FRETX is a hardware device that attaches to a guitar and lights up the spot to place your fingers so you can learn your very first song in less than one hour.

The hardware device is controlled by a mobile app that contains the songs and exercises, as well as letting YouTube teachers connect their content to our device.

Our Company believes that people can learn and share new skills by engaging with technology and without a previous technical background and with the most entertaining experience ever.

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What’s the inspiration for your project? What problem does it solve or address?

Started playing the guitar when I was 15 and I still, at 33 years old, dislike reading music notation or tabs. I’ve seen many of my friends going through GuitarHero without the real experience of playing the guitar and thought that we should really make something in between and get more people into playing music.

What solutions did you use for hardware design?

We started our prototype with an electronic textile, but after clashing with the reality of its cost, we decided to go for flexible circuit solutions. Most of the first prototypes were handmade plus the help of Arduino and Digi-Key.

What solutions did you use for prototyping?

Real prototyping got a bit difficult because we did not know many things about electronics, so platforms such as HWTrek really helped out to reach suppliers and become more professional in our communication with the supplier companies.

What resources have you used for sourcing and supply chain management?

HWTrek and Alibaba.

What were the most difficult things to source for your project and how did you source them?

Understanding the scope of their work and reliability of quality

Is your team co-located or do you work with remote team members?

I work with remote team members in Pakistan, Malaysia, France, and Singapore

What tools, if any, do you use for real-time collaboration on your project (with team members and partners)?

Mainly Slack.

What’s the greatest challenge working with a team?

Keeping everyone motivated and sticking to our vision.

What have been the significant challenges or obstacles you’ve faced on the project? How were they resolved?

Remote team management and cash flow were the main issues. We solved them with investors and hiring teams.

What have been the significant challenges or obstacles you’ve faced on the project? How were they resolved?

The main issue was to face the reality that having a perfect product from day one is not possible. So after lots of UX testing and customer insight, we got into the fact that we could have downgraded the product and features a long time ago because they were not important to any of our customers.

What are the takeaways and lessons learned from working on this project that you’d like to share with other hardware startups?

Lots of UX design at the beginning will save your startup from adding crazy features.  We spent a nice chunk of time developing crazy stuff that we thought were awesome but just made it harder for people to understand and use.

Once we decided to have a product that teaches you how to play the very 20 chords in 1 hour, we got rid of a bunch of things and made it happen.

Keep in mind: UX is everything.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to the beginning of your product development?

Start testing and community building and find co-founders from day one.

If you are planning a new version of your project or future devices, what will you do differently?

I’ll recruit the team and put them together in a hack house for 2 weeks. 1 day on the production of prototype and 1 day of user testing during the 2 weeks before going fast speed or pivoting.

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We all know the phrase “hardware is hard.” Is there something that was much easier than you had initially thought when you started out on your hardware journey?

Yes, you can outsource a bunch of stuff through freelancer.com rather than look for local teams.

What trend do you see that is changing your sector/industry or what shift would you like to see happen?

There is a lot of Buzz nowadays in new experiences and channels to distribute music and entertaining content so it fits our startup vision as well.

I would like to see more open hardware and open software around the hardware ecosystem so we can link easily between devices and grow our products value.

What’s next for your project?

We’re launching on Kickstarter in September 2016. We’re totally concentrated on that task now.

You joined the HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour to China and Taiwan in August 2015, what did you learn or what are the significant takeaways you have from the experience?

That some manufacturers help you a lot and you need to convince them to work with you in the same way as to convince investors to back you. Hardware is hard and it’s great that it is like that. Otherwise, competition will arise easier. Certification and all those legal problems need to be understood as well as manufacturer capabilities.

And now for something completely different, fun questions:

What are your ‘go-to’ sources for tech information and news? (Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen to article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?)

As a small fast read content that is super helpful to startups, I would recommend the Persuasive Presentations from HBR, which really help me on my slides and presentations. Storytelling is way more powerful than a nice looking render guys.

What’s currently on your playlist?

A bunch of Tame Impala and Hot Rats from Frank Zappa. Amazing record. Also, I have dug into some Japanese guy named Aoki Takamasa.

What fuels you (coffee, tea, or….)? When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

I play the guitar with Open G tuning that has a super bright open string. Also, I started to skateboard some weeks ago and I’m loving it. Both activities really make you feel relaxed and good ideas come inside.

While currently living in France, you’re originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina; what do you recommend for a visitor to Buenos Aires (place to go/see, what to eat)? 

Definitely meat and Mate for drinking. We’ve been doing that for the last 500 years, so we’re good at it. There are also some hidden gems like eating pasta. A bunch of Italians came over and the legacy stayed with us.

If someone goes to Buenos Aires, one should go to a Milonga, which is a place where people dance the tango, get a glass of Fernet, see the crowd dance and enjoy talking to the portenos (natives of Buenos Aires), maybe the most sociable crowd in this world.

And, one last fun question: What gadget would you love to have from your favorite science fiction film or book?

Real-time holograms such as those in Star Wars.

Interview with IDT—Oregon Scientific and the Oregon Air Smart Air Monitor

We interviewed a member of the HWTrek expert community, IDT, about their Oregon Air Smart Air Monitor, a product developed under their Oregon Scientific brand. IDT is an ODM/OEM provider of lifestyle products in three major product groups. They are experienced in areas of sensors, digital imaging, digital voice and music technology, smart home, and smart metering, and other IoT related technologies. They have 40 years of experience in sports and health products.

If you’d like to contact an expert from IDT, you can connect with Sam Tang on the HWTrek platform. IDT offers four solutions on the platform: ODM/EMS for Smart Home Products, ODM\EMS for Smart Learning & Educational Products, Smart ODM /EMS Service for IoT Applications, and ODM/EMS for Sport, Fitness, and Healthcare Products.

Following is a brief translation of part of the interview.  The complete interview, originally published in Chinese, can be found here.

HWTrek: During the process of product design and manufacture, what was the biggest challenge? And how did you overcome it?

IDT: Oregon Air is an intelligent air detector that has many core functions. The primary components include PMI sensor, humidity sensor, 1.3-inch OLED display and 2600 mAh rechargeable battery. Our biggest challenge is combining all of these components and at the same time making the product size smaller. So when choosing the sensors and components, we needed to balance accuracy, quality, size, and cost requirements. After continuous research, analysis, verification, and communication with different suppliers, we successfully put all the sensors into this limited space while retaining the original fashionable design at the same time.

HWTrek: Will the strong R&D and manufacturing capabilities of IDT be open to other hardware innovators? How does one cooperate with IDT?

IDT: Smart Service is a team dedicated to the development of other innovative hardware products. With an R&D team of more than 100, it provides innovative customers with R&D, industrial design, patent registration, product certification, product localization improvement and integration with mature supply chain management systems, production quality control, professional production lines, and logistics management to provide timely delivery of high-quality products to help their creative ideas become real industrial products while improving the process to reduce development time to 90 days to meet market demand.

IDT: Sanpower Group has more than 25,000 retail outlets worldwide, a variety of retail channels including distributors, B2B, and electricity providers. IDT’s Oregon Scientific brand has mature sales channels in Europe, the United States, and Asia Pacific. Relying on these powerful sales channel resources can provide a broader sales network for innovative creators to help them grow more quickly.

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HWTrek: How do you improve internal coordination and integration of resources to achieve innovation relying on your strong group and corporate resources?

IDT: For the first time, we tried to promote our product on a crowdfunding platform. This is a new model that presents a great challenge for the traditional enterprise. But Oregon Scientific, always at the forefront of innovation, unafraid of challenges, and with a positive attitude, achieved good results by surpassing the crowdfunding goal on the first day. Next, Oregon Scientific will continue to make a breakthroughs in this direction, gather the online flow entry, in addition relying on the Group’s strong offline retail sales channels for transfer of offline customers to mobile terminal, followed by the formation of word of mouth guiding more traffic to the offline experience or consumption and the formation of an “Internet + retail” sales model.

The Oregon Air was launched on JD.com’s JD Finance crowdfunding platform in China.

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Interview with Narimasa Makino, CEO and Co-Founder of Makers Boot Camp

In advance of our next Asia Innovation Tour, we reached out to Narimasa Makino, CEO and Co-Founder of Makers Boot Camp based in Kyoto, Japan and a member of the expert community on the HWTrek platform. Makers Boot Camp is co-host of the Kyoto segment of the tour with HWTrek. Makino-san generously spared some time to respond to our many questions to learn more about his background and Makers Boot Camp.


Please tell us about your background and Makers Boot Camp. What inspired you to start it and what’s your vision for it?

As a Venture Capitalist, my mission has been supporting startups. Talking to makers, both Japanese and foreign ones, brought me insights of how IoT enterprises face a series of gaps in terms of prototyping – some interesting Kickstarter lessons, pointing out that around 70% of tech projects had failed to deliver their product on time, add an expressive number to all testimonials I collected, so I decided to find ways to support solving common problems related to hardware.

As I strongly believe in the collaboration between individuals and industries, after asking both engineers and VCs, we realised there was a huge opportunity to connect the current global hardware community to the Japanese SMEs, where excellence is the basis of Project Management.

Meeting Kenshin, who later became one of our Co-Founders, was an opportunity to understand deeper how Kyoto expertise could bridge the gaps for hardware startups. His experience as an Engineer at Sony and also a serial entrepreneur brought more useful insights to make our first program – he is a never-ending maker, currently working on his new hardware product, Hacarus (a unique smart scale).

We had a common idea of spreading Japanese expertise overseas when we reached out to Masatoshi Takeda, who joined us as our Third Co-Founder, bringing his Manufacturing view to our business. Takeda is running crossEffect (Resin Mould Experts), and also a board member of Kyoto Shisaku Net, a group of 100+ SMEs from Kyoto that got together to complement each other and face daily industrial challenges as a group.

Our vision is to help to develop a competent makers movement into a more complete and consistent environment, aligning existing universities & institutes with industrial know-how and investors to support startups.

As a hardware accelerator, our main mission is to support IoT startups to be able to reach mass manufacturing and being successful in their next steps.

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Bonbouton team (NYC) Anton Zalutsky, Linh Le and Thuy Pham met Yuya Kikukawa, no new folk studio CEO (Tokyo). Both startups are bringing IoT to fashion – Photo by Kengo Osaka

What are the main benefits for young hardware companies when joining your accelerator?

Together with our strategic partners, we’re a Bilingual team involved in the process of providing professional advice, analysing specific needs and offering a cost-effective tailor-made solution. Our focus on small lots is perfectly for startups that don’t have a lot of resources to produce in large scale, as most manufacturers in rest of Asia usually request. Japanese hardware SMEs are known for being fast, cost effective, always on time and trustable, so startups can now take advantage of their capabilities: machinery, software and specialty professionals.

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Kyoto Shisaku Net prototype experts join our monthly meet ups to support IoT startups.  Photo by Kengo Osaka

Our mentors are a team of qualified and experienced prototype makers, suppliers for most of the well-known hardware brands in Japan, and working together with international certificates that guarantee environment and social safety. Provided by Kyoto City, we have access to unique places like Kyoto Design Lab, part of Kyoto Institute of Technology, a fully equipped fabrication space run by highly qualified professionals.

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) is a key point for hardware startups: an optimised method of fabrication to assembly and tests, in order to assure the best cost, respecting high quality and reliability standards, as well regulatory compliance and safety. Kyoto Shisaku Net, our well succeed collective hub with 100+ Manufacturers, saves time and money with DFM – so we invite KSN Experts to guide promising startups.

What kind of companies should apply to your program and what stage should they be at?

We’re searching for startups with a great vision for a new product, and we’re challenged by design. A working prototype is required, together with a product design + Bill of Materials, in order to drive our mentors about the project. The fact we work with +100 manufacturers give us a possibility to support startups in many areas: consumer oriented and IoT, healthcare and medical devices, robotics, agriculture, energy, environment, infrastructure, factory automation, automotive, drug discovery, chemistry and fusion of traditional crafts and technology.

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Can you share some DFM best practices or some stories that could help others to prepare better for DFM?

  • Make sure to have at least one Co-Founder onboard, and include an experienced Mechanical Engineer on your team. It’s easier for a hardware startup to get support when one member has the technical background to make decisions.
  • Don’t expect manufacturers to solve your product issues: do your homework. If as a Co-Founder, you can’t find your own path, don’t expect outsiders to have your vision.
  • Find the right partners, either an Accelerator or a trusted network of suppliers with successful cases. Check the credentials and their ability to manage many projects at the same time – especially the ones involving much more money than yours. If a more important project arrives together with yours, they might not give your the right attention and your product might be delayed.
  • Be careful when considering only industrial fees, as they usually don’t show all the extra expenses will have to cover later.
  • Check your supplier’s ability to work together without having you intermediating every little conversation. You should be busy caring for your Marketing & Sales and not on managing multiple suppliers.
  • Manufacturers and startups have different visions, no matter where they are. Some makers think speaking the native language is the only concern, but it’s more about learning industries have procedures and requests for a reason – they’ve managed a lot of projects before yours.

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Monozukuri Bootcamp: in a partnership with FabFoundry, we were honored to introduce to Japanese key players our special guests from NYC: LOOMIA and Bonbouton Photo by Kengo Osaka

What is the most innovative project you have been involved with lately?

We had an amazing experience hosting our Monozukuri Boot Camp, in a partnership with FabFoundry, with two startups from NYC involved in the smart apparel industry. Bonbouton (graphene sensors) and LOOMIA (conductive inks) are part of a leading group of fashion entrepreneurs trying to add value to a very traditional industry with many opportunities for innovation.

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In the fashion industry, conductive inks and sensors seem to be developing towards a new paradox. Meisha Brooks, LOOMIA’s Head of Product, presented a shirt with a new technology for conductive inks. –  Photo by Kengo Osaka

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Japanese-built Orphe brings a smart footwear system that uses motion sensors and LED to enable new forms of expression. –  Photo by Kengo Osaka

What is your experience with hardware tech startups? Tell us about the ecosystem for small hardware companies in Kyoto specifically, but also Japan generally. How does it differ from Silicon Valley for instance?

Working for incubators in Kyoto (ASTEM and Future Venture Capital), and Osaka (Sunbridge), within the second largest industrial area of Japan (Kansai region), home to Panasonic, Sharp, Sanyo, and many other global player’s headquarters, brought me a range of different kinds of hardware tech startups.

Japan is known to be an island where most of the population tend to live longer, and technology can allow them to also live better. It’s common to see elderly people adapted to the latest technologic devices, and they usually see the value of IoT.

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Monozukuri Hub meet ups sponsored by Kyoto City, our series of events bring makers, experts and investors together, in order to find ways to partner. –  Photo by Kengo Osaka

As Financial Times pointed out, Kyoto is a Japanese hub driving hardware innovation in the world, from the most famous Nintendo to key Kyocera, Omron, Horiba, Murata, and Shimadzu. A fascinating ecosystem for creators, with a population of around 1.5 million and 38 universities and technical colleges, plus investments from both public and private sector on maker’s facilities. We currently collaborate with key local players (Kyoto City as the main one), in order to offer outstanding local workspaces for startups. Kyoto Design Lab (part of Kyoto Institute of Technology), ASTEM, and Kyoto Research Park.

How’s the hardware manufacturing ecosystem for small hardware companies in Japan?

Japan is worldwide known for its best practices of “Monozukuri”: a state of mind – the spirit to produce not only outstanding products but also having the ability to constantly improve the production system and its processes. Project Management excellence is a Japanese style of business, and it does include many techniques to guarantee the best quality.

Design for Manufacturing, a cost-effective solution to optimize hardware production (still known as the “valley of failure” for makers) is a strategic point for hardware startups, as most of them aren’t prepared to plan a reasonable goal in terms of schedule and costs. So we see the high value of offering a professional Master Plan to any project – that’s part of Makers Boot Camp DNA.

What kind of trends within the hardware ecosystem have you seen lately?

The hardware ecosystem seems to be moving from a consumer-oriented to industrial uses, particularly in robotics, where there is still a huge opportunity for growth (humanoids and industry automation). AR, VR, and drones can still develop more and more. Healthcare devices are always a top priority, from R&D to industry, due to population ageing. Traditional industries as fashion are also a big thing in places like NYC.

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Julio Terra, Kickstarter Director of Technology and Design, came to check Kyoto ecosystem.  Photo by Kengo Osaka

What advice would you give to someone who has an idea, but hasn’t started out yet?

– Make a working model to use an existing module, like Arduino. If you can’t make it by yourself, join a team and get it done. Avoid bringing only ideas before making sure your design is feasible – build a proof-of-concept. Then later you can invest some time and money to build a complete, functional prototype, using free design tools, 3D printing, laser cutters and PCBs.

 

And now for something completely different—some fun questions:

What are your ‘go-to’ sources for tech information and news? (Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen to article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?)

I read many things, in both Japanese and English, to get different points of view. Sources like TechCrunch, Medium, and Wired are a must.

What’s currently on your playlist, what are you listening to these days?

I spend a lot of my commuting time (from Kyoto to Osaka) listening to podcasts. Right now my playlist consists of 500 Startups podcasts and cases from startups from the rest of the world.

What fuels you (coffee, tea, or….)? When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

I usually drink some coffee but try to avoid overdosing. My secret is meditating early in the morning – before 7 am, to get some balance to start the day, and hitting the gym after work when I can read and get inspired with some adrenaline. I recommend our team to exercise and take small breaks when the concentration level is low.

What do you recommend (place to go/see, what to eat) for a visitor to Kyoto?

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha is TripAdvisor number 1 among foreigners. Photo by Tugi Guenes.
  • Temples and shrines for sure: Kiyomizudera is a classic, Ryoanji if you want to get some Zen Buddhist atmosphere. Fushimi Inari Shrine with its famous toris (red gates) and Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) are also very popular.

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Ryoanji: the Zen -Buddhist temple becomes colorful during fall. Photo by Tugi Guenes.
  • Forest bathing around Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, near a river where you can hear the birds and the waterfalls. Check the monkey park, where the animals are wild and us humans stay in the cage.

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Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a 30-min train ride. Photo by Tugi Guenes.
  • Public baths: sento or onsen for some spa in a real Japanese experience.
  • Eat and drink with the locals: we’re way less serious when we have the chance to share a casual drink.

What gadget would you love to have from your favorite science fiction film or book?

  • James Bond: 007 car
  • Doraemon: dream item

Makuake crowdfunding platform eases Japan market entry for global hardware companies

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Our friends at Business Next published an article about Ryotaro Nakayama‘s (CEO of Makuake) appearance at an event while he recently visited Taiwan. Tokyo-based Makuake, a subsidiary of CyberAgent, is one of the top crowdfunding platforms in Japan. Unlike other sites, Makuake specializes in physical products from IoT devices to consumer electronics, fashion to food created by companies of all sizes from startups to large, well-established brands, like JVC. While crowdfunding took off slower in Japan in comparison to the United States, for example, it has bloomed over the course of the past five years to more than 100 platforms online today.

Japan is a large, mature market for consumer electronics. By 2020, forecasts estimate computer hardware sales of US$43 billion, AV and gaming sales of $11.7 billion, and mobile handset sales of $19.5 billion. By 2025, Japan will be the third largest market for Internet of Things (IoT) devices and connections behind the United States and China. Japan will account for 7% of all IoT connections, 7% of cellular, and 6% of global revenue. Japan’s IoT market is expected to reach US$7 billion by 2019.

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While the article’s intent is to focus on the opportunities for Taiwanese hardware companies for market entry into Japan, these opportunities equally apply to global hardware companies seeking to enter Japan’s market for smart, connect devices. Nakayama highlights the benefits offered by Makuake for such companies including support from logistics partners for shipping to local Japanese customers and also partnerships with retail outlets, such as Isetan, to assist in distributing their products via physical retail outlets.

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“In the past, most department stores have sold nearly identical goods, but we’re hoping Makuake crowdfunded products can infuse a dose of new excitement for shoppers.” – Ryotaro Nakayama, Business Next, September 6, 2016

Read more here.

 

Gain insight into Japan’s market for IoT, connected devices on Asia Innovation Tour

For hardware companies looking for distribution channels in Japan, HWTrek’s Asia Innovation Tour (Nov 2-8) and Meetup in Osaka is an excellent opportunity to meet buyers, distribution and retail partners, that will be attending the meetup, as well.

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HWTrek will embark on its 4th Asia Innovation Tour in November. In Japan, we will start off the tour in Kyoto, the home of sophisticated craftsmanship that has been cultivated through its long history. With a rich industry ecosystem – from traditional to cutting-edge technology industries – the selected tour participants will be exposed to a variety of expertise and solutions that can prove valuable for advancing product innovation.

Following Kyoto, we’ll take the participants to Osaka. With about 65% of all industrial production represented by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), Osaka is regarded as a hotspot for SME activity. The handpicked participants will travel to Osaka to gain exclusive insights into these home-grown companies that have risen to become world-leading technology providers.

But, first, the tour begins in Shenzhen, China‘s Silicon Valley. The Asia Innovation Tour is revisiting Shenzhen – the vibrant metropolis of collaboration, creativity, and innovation – for another member-exclusive Meetup event. Get immersed in the fast-growing and evolving hub for hardware resource development, and tap into opportunities for growth.

Learn more and apply for Asia Innovation Tour here.

Genius of Murata’s strategy: Norio Nakajima on wireless, sensors, batteries, IoT

Noria Nakajima - Photo courtesy of EE Times
Noria Nakajima – Photo courtesy of EE Times – Source

 

“IoT isn’t a market. It’s a phenomenon.” – Norio Nakajima, EE Times, August 8, 2016

Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent for EE Times, published an excellent interview of Norio Nakajima, executive vice president of Kyoto-based Murata Manufacturing Co. responsible for the communication and sensor, and energy business groups. The interview covers a range of topics from wireless modules and sensors for smartphones, auto, and the IoT, as well as battery technology – Murata recently acquired Sony’s battery business.

“Our initial focus is on industrial IoT — everything from lighting to air controls— in hospitals, museums and manufacturing sites. We work with those promoting Industry 4.0.” – Norio Nakajima, EE Times, August 8, 2016

We highly recommend reading her interview of Nakajima-san here. Also, you can connect with an expert from Murata on the HWTrek platform here.

Meet the sophisticated craftsmanship of the Kyoto hardware ecosystem

If you’d like to connect in person with sophisticated manufacturers in Kyoto­ like Murata, then HWTrek’s Asia Innovation Tour is a perfect opportunity to do so.

ait-schedule

HWTrek will embark on its 4th Asia Innovation Tour in November. In Japan, we will start off the tour in Kyoto, the home of sophisticated craftsmanship that has been cultivated through its long history. With a rich industry ecosystem – from traditional to cutting-edge technology industries – the selected tour participants will be exposed to a variety of expertise and solutions that can prove valuable for advancing product innovation.

Following Kyoto, we’ll take the participants to Osaka. With about 65% of all industrial production represented by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), Osaka is regarded as a hotspot for SME activity. The handpicked participants will travel to Osaka to gain exclusive insights into these home-grown companies that have risen to become world-leading technology providers.

But, first, the tour begins in Shenzhen, China‘s Silicon Valley. The Asia Innovation Tour is revisiting Shenzhen – the vibrant metropolis of collaboration, creativity, and innovation – for another member-exclusive Meetup event. Get immersed in the fast-growing and evolving hub for hardware resource development, and tap into opportunities for growth.

Learn more and apply for Asia Innovation Tour here.

Interview with Serge Didenko and Alireza Tahmasebzedah, Co-Founders of BLOCKS Wearables

We reached out to a participant in our first tour HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour (Spring 2014), Serge Didenko, and his fellow co-founder, Alireza  Tahmasebzedah, of BLOCKS Wearables, to learn more about their project and insights.

Over the course of the past two years, HWTrek hosted 80 hardware creators and accelerators to visit Taiwan, Beijing, and Shenzhen on Asia Innovation Tour 2016 (April), Asia Innovation Tour 2015 (August), and also on the first tour in April 2014. We’re organizing the next tour in November 2016 to Shenzhen, Osaka, and Kyoto. You can register on the HWTrek platform and create a project to apply to join the Asia Innovation Tour Winter 2016 cohort destined to meet manufacturing industry experts, see assembly lines in China and Japan, and gain insights about their consumer markets for smart, connected devices.

Serge participated in the first Tour, April 2014. Here’s what he had to say about it:

I’ve learnt a lot from this trip, not just from the manufacturers, but [also] from [fellow participants], so I think it’s great to connect to those people here [on] this trip…Looking forward to working again with HWTrek.

And furthermore,

HWTrek has been instrumental in connecting Blocks to leading manufacturing companies in Asia, superior to any other organizations that offer similar services. Not only that, they were also incredibly helpful in developing a detailed manufacturing plan with our team. Altogether it has undoubtedly accelerated our delivery time by at least 4 to 6 months.

Blocks successfully raised $1.6 Million on Kickstarter in November 2015.


HWTrek: We’d love to catch up with what you’ve been doing since you attended HWTrek’s Asia Innovation Tour in April 2014. What are you working on?

Blocks is the world’s first fully customizable smartwatch – an open platform for wearable technology.

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HWTrek: Since your successful crowdfunding campaign, you’ve opened to general pre-orders for Blocks, how is that going?

Ali: Very well. We are getting a good level of pre-orders with minimal marketing efforts and we are happy that our community is growing.

HWTrek: What solutions did you use for hardware design?

Ali: It took us a long time and many different iterations to arrive at the current connectors, protocols, screen type, and module selection, etc. At times we were actually building the prototypes and testing it, and at other times we used simulation solutions.

HWTrek: What solutions did you use for prototyping? What chipsets/MCUs/development kits did you use?

Ali: A range of different platforms like ARM mbed, Intel’s Edison, and BeagleBone, etc.

HWTrek: What wearable chipset/MCU solutions did you choose for going to mass production?

Ali: We are using Qualcomm’s Wear 2100 platform.

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HWTrek: What are some of the major lessons you learned along your entrepreneurship journey?

A dedicated team that is ready to keep going no matter what (getting investment and building prototype on time do not always go to plan).

HWTrek: What advice would you give someone who might have an idea, but has yet to launch a hardware startup?

Love what you do because you will have to work very hard for it and give up most of your free time for that dream. But the journey will be also fun as long as you have the right team.

What resources have you used for sourcing and supply chain management?

Ali: It was mostly done by our ODM but at points, we used help from HWTrek.

What were the most difficult things to source for your project and how did you source them?

Ali: The sourcing was mostly done by the ODM. We did make some higher level connections with the management of the supplier companies for some.  

HWTrek: Looking back, what are your takeaways from participating in HWTrek’s Asia Innovation Tour during April 2014?

The power of network – try to befriend a couple of hardware startups ASAP. Spend some money on actually going to Taiwan and staying there – there is nothing like doing development and talking to manufacturers on the ground.

HWTrek: What trend do you see that is changing your sector or what shift would you like to see happen?

Consolidation of the first wave of smartwatch makers – the big players are coming in. There is still a lack of a true killer application out there. We hope to bring the variety of much-needed sensors with Blocks.

HWTrek: Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen to article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?

kevinrandom.com/startup-ceos-101/

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Interview with Anton Zriaschev, CEO & Founder of Glance Clock—Now on Indiegogo

Over the course of the past two years, HWTrek hosted 80 hardware creators and accelerators to visit Taiwan, Beijing, and Shenzhen on Asia Innovation Tour 2016 (April), Asia Innovation Tour 2015 (August), and also on the first tour in April 2014. We’re organizing the next tour in November 2016 to Shenzhen, Osaka, and Kyoto. You can register on the HWTrek platform and create a project to apply to join the Asia Innovation Tour Winter 2016 cohort destined to meet manufacturing industry experts, see assembly lines in China and Japan, and gain insights about their consumer markets for smart, connected devices.

We reached out to a participant in our third tour HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour (Spring 2016), Anton Zriaschev (CEO and Founder of Glance Clock) to learn more about his project and his insights.

While on tour in Shenzhen, Anton had this to say: “Pretty excited to be here in China, so thank you HWTrek, to see how we are going to produce our Glance Clock.


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Please introduce yourself and your project?

I’m Anton, founder, and CEO of Glance Clock. Glance Clock is a smart wall clock that is integrated with your favorite Apps and devices and display valuable information at the right moment.

Glance Clock recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and reached its goal within two hours. You can support Glance Clock by pre-ordering here.

What’s the inspiration for your project? What problem does it solve or address?

I was inspired by a book called Enchanted Object by David Rose MIT Media lab professor. Rose explained the future of IoT where ordinary things become enchanted by leveraging Cloud connectivity and its power. These all connected devices and Apps generate data. People overwhelmed by notifications and incoming information. The only one way ho to interact with this data is checking your phone.

I’ve realized that I want to simplify the way of how people interact with digital data and get notifications. I did not want to develop a gadget but wanted to bring new value to a familiar object. After several brainstorms, we’ve decided to go with a clock.

What solutions did you use for hardware design?

Altium Designer, if I got you right.

What solutions did you use for prototyping?

3D printing, Laser cut, and manual finishing etc….

What resources have you used for sourcing and supply chain management?

We usually use Digi-Key and local providers.

What were the most difficult things to source for your project and how did you source them? 

Sensors. It takes the time to find, test and approve a particular sensor. We usually order many different components and test them all.

Is your team co-located or do you work with remote team members?

We are all working at one laboratory.

What tools, if any, do you use for real-time collaboration on your project (with team members and partners)?

Slack, Skype for voice calls.

What’s the greatest challenge working with a team?

Organizing people and getting things done on time.

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What are the takeaways and lessons learned from working on this project that you’d like to share with other hardware startups?

Iterate and make as many prototypes as you can afford.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to the beginning of your product development?

Work with professionals from the beginning. Cheap labor cost two times more.

If you are planning a new version of your project or future devices, what will you differently?

Listen to early customers.

We all know the phrase “hardware is hard.” Is there something that was much easier than you had initially thought when you started out on your hardware journey?

For me “Hardware is fun.” I love to develop things and am passionate about good design. I usually over expected the required effort so I have noticed with such situation that you’ve mentioned =)

What trend do you see that is changing your sector/industry or what shift would you like to see happen?

It’s happening right now. Many things around us have become connected and utilize displays. It’s a huge potential for my business.

What’s next for your project?

Launch and Shipping.

You joined the HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour to China this past spring, what did you learn or what are the significant takeaways you have from the experience?

For me, it was really interesting to see how manufacturers work. How thousands of Chinese people carefully assemble product by product.

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And now for something completely different, fun questions:

What are your ‘go-to’ sources for tech information and news? (Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen to article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?)

I read all tech news such as TechCrunch, Mashable, and The Verge, etc. I love to read biographies of famous entrepreneurs like Elon Mask, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. Listen to IoT podcasts and watch TED talks.

What’s currently on your playlist, what are you listening to these days?

Armin Van Buren – latest iTunes podcast.

What fuels you (coffee, tea, or….)? When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

Walk across the city or take a long shower.

What do you recommend (place to go/see, what to eat) for a visitor to Singapore (or anywhere you’ve lived that you’d like to share)?

In Singapore go to Marina Bay Sands Hotel roof during the night and look down at the city. This is awesome view! In every city go to the highest possible viewing point and stay there. It’s the best way to glance behind the horizon.

What gadget would you love to have from your favorite science fiction film or book?

I don’t know… maybe something like flying camera from “Mr. Nobody.”

Interview with Johann Kok, Founder of SeeBox

Over the course of the past two years, HWTrek hosted 80 hardware creators and accelerators to visit Taiwan, Beijing, and Shenzhen on Asia Innovation Tour 2016 (April), Asia Innovation Tour 2015 (August), and also on the first tour in April 2014. We’re organizing the next tour in November 2016 to Shenzhen, Osaka, and Kyoto. You can register on the HWTrek platform and create a project to apply to join the Asia Innovation Tour Winter 2016 cohort destined to meet manufacturing industry experts, see assembly lines in China and Japan, and gain insights about their consumer markets for smart, connected devices.

We reached out to a participant in our third tour HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour (Spring 2016), Johann Kok (Founder of SeeBox) to learn more about his project and his insights.

While on tour in Shenzhen, Johann had this to say: “I really enjoyed this trip; it was extremely insightful. I’m here with the main goal to establish relationships for future manufacturing and sourcing.”


Please introduce yourself and your project?

SeeBox is a unique ground-breaking tool and platform designed to educate children in physics and create the next generation of electronic and software engineers. Access to proper education in the region has left Africa with a skills gap that will hamper economic growth. Furthermore, there is a global shortage of engineers that will only become more pressing as technology use expands.

SeeBox is a gamified educational tool that is fun and easy to use by both children as well as students, offering unique benefits and no teacher required. It is also a cloud-based monitoring and control system, with application in the test and measurement environment. SeeBox has won numerous innovation awards, among them the educational category at the African Entrepreneurship Award in October 2015.

What’s the inspiration for your project? What problem does it solve or address?

SeeBox has huge potential for alleviating the growing international technology workers shortage. We want to change the way children are taught electronics because the existing methods are not producing enough professionals. This is especially relevant in Africa, where there is a dire shortage of technical skills, as well as a lack of technical training infrastructure.

The next disruptive technology confronting civilization is going to be artificial intelligence, as in robots. AI software will take over jobs of call center operators, and even advisory roles like law practitioners. AI cars and buses will drive themselves, factories will operate without human workers. Like all disruptive technologies before it, e.g. the industrial revolution, AI will bring creative destruction. It will destroy many jobs but will also create new jobs requiring different skills. Those who saw it coming will have prepared their children with the necessary skills as technology workers. SeeBox has the potential to empower young people to become participants in the coming AI economy, instead of victims.

What solutions did you use for hardware design?

Was done in-house by our own engineers.

What solutions did you use for prototyping?

Low-volume PCB printing and population, 3D printing for the enclosures.

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What resources have you used for sourcing and supply chain management?

Components are sourced from suppliers everywhere. PCB manufacturing is done in China and population is done by a local company. It is envisioned that later on as the volumes increase this could be outsourced to China as well.

What were the most difficult things to source for your project and how did you source them? 

The MOQ on many electronic components created a problem.  We ended up buying them from places like Digi-Key.

Is your team co-located or do you work with remote team members?

We work from a central office. Some of our engineers work from home some days and only come into the office few times a week.

What tools, if any, do you use for real-time collaboration on your project (with team members and partners)? Dropbox and Google Docs

What’s the greatest challenge working with a team? 

What have been the significant challenges or obstacles you’ve faced on the project? How were they resolved?

Financial and cash-flow constraints. We self-funded a part of the project. The Africa-wide competition we won in 2015 assisted greatly with the prize money enabling us to complete the project.

What are the takeaways and lessons learned from working on this project that you’d like to share with other hardware companies?

Perseverance, very hard work, knock on all doors and be willing to challenge yourself to learn new things and do what is necessary for the project to succeed. It will take over your life for a while 🙂

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to the beginning of your product development?

Select your contractors and workers extremely careful. Don’t just assume that everyone is motivated, driven or even honest.

We all know the phrase “hardware is hard.” Is there something that was much easier than you had initially thought when you started out on your hardware journey?

Nope, it was pretty much all hard!

What trend do you see that is changing your sector/industry or what shift would you like to see happen?

The trend towards technology in education and the widening skills gap in education, with a growing need for technically skilled workers, and many traditional careers set to be replaced by AI and automation. SeeBox is well-placed to address the problem, by enabling more learners to be prepared for training in a technical career path.

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What’s next for your project?

SeeBox is now at commercialization stage. Development will continue, however, so we can expand the educational offering of the SeeBox.

You joined the HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour to China this past spring, what did you learn or what are the significant takeaways you have from the experience?

I build valuable contacts for when we are ready to outsource our production to China. I also established connections to future suppliers.

What are your ‘go-to’ sources for tech information and news? (Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen to article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?)

Dataweek, PC Mag, and several LinkedIn groups.

And now for something completely different, some fun questions:

What’s currently on your playlist, what are you listening to these days?

Mostly classical music.

What fuels you (coffee, tea, or….)? When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

I take a walk.

What do you recommend (place to go/see, what to eat) for a visitor to Johannesburg/Pretoria (anywhere you’ve lived that you’d like to share)?

It depends on what someone is interested in. If you like nature, culture, and history, in Pretoria I would say Union Buildings, Voortrekker Monument, Botanical Gardens, Groenkloof nature reserve, and Sammy Marks museum.

What gadget would you love to have from your favorite science fiction film or book?

I would like a holodeck room like in Star Trek.