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.

Meet Us at Embedded World 2017 in Nuremberg, Germany 14-16 March

We’d love to meet you at Embedded World 2017 in Nuremberg, Germany 14-16 March to learn more about the IoT projects you are working on, the technology or solutions you offer, and the challenges you face.

Jessie Chung and Changtsong Lin will be there and are looking forward to chatting with you. We’re in Booth #611, Hall 3. Please stop by or request to schedule a meeting here. Also, if you’d like to exhibit your solution in our booth, please contact us ASAP.

Please see the event and booth details below.

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HWTrek Booth #611, Hall 3

Embedded World 2017

Exhibition Centre
90471 Nürnberg, Germany

Date & opening times
14 – 16 March 2017
09:00 – 18:00 (14 and 15 March)
09:00 – 17:00 (16 March)

Nova Robotics Wins HWTrek Prize at the eny Hackathon Organized by Quantum and Panasonic

HWTrek recently sponsored the eny Hackathon held January 21st at Galvanize San Francisco – Soma. The event was organized by Quantum and co-organized by Panasonic. In addition to HWTrek, the other sponsors of the event were Neura and Draper University. IDEO and SAP were event partners.

“Through the promotion and event support from HWTrek, we had the privilege of engaging with many creators with inspiring innovative ideas at the eny Hackathon. I’m proud to be part of this creative community of innovators,” said Yushi Nakamura, Business Development Leader of Open Collaboration at Panasonic, where he uses resources and technologies of Panasonic to create open collaboration with startups and giant companies all over the world. Specifically, he is developing IoT hardware with the Japanese company TBWA \ HAKUHODO \ QUANTUM. He is also an expert member of the HWTrek hardware development ecosystem platform.

$15,000 in prizes were up for grabs for teams who got the most out of eny, a user-aware, battery-less smart button.  Neura partnered to provide the SDK for the event. HWTrek CEO, Lucas Wang was one of the judges for the event.

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As part of its sponsorship of the event, HWTrek provided a prize of its standard sourcing service worth $5,000. The HWTrek prize was presented to Ardalan Moazeni of Nova Robotics for “Project Free Food.”

Nova Robotics is a non-profit community service organization with a mission to directly impact humanity’s biggest challenges such as climate change and food/water security. Technology advancement in Vertical Gardening is the main focus of Nova Robotics. Vertical Gardens dramatically reduce the water, space, and energy required to grow food in cities. They successfully designed an air-powered water circulation system for vertical farming that is significantly cheaper, simpler, and energy efficient compared to conventional methods.

HWTrek Expands Global Distribution Channel Footprint for IoT Device Innovators

Industry-Leading Brands Enable Accelerated Go-to-Market Strategy for Entering the Largest, Fastest Growing Markets for Smart, Connected Devices

Taipei, Taiwan—February 15, 2017— HWTrek (Hardware Trek), the global open innovation and collaboration platform for hardware innovation, today announces expanded resources aimed at providing access to a wide network of global markets for smart hardware SMBs and startups with products ready for mass production. The distribution network now features both the most mature, high-value markets for consumer IoT devices as well as the exciting fast-growing ones including China, India, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“Together with our retail and go-to-market strategy partners and experts, we’re excited to bring a truly global market reach to IoT device makers that leverages the strength and power of the global distribution network and complementary resources of the HWTrek collaborative hardware development ecosystem,” said Lucas Wang, CEO of HWTrek.  “We want to help hardware innovators to launch globally after their first successful shipments, to fully seize the opportunity to distribute their products to a worldwide audience thereby reducing the time to access the world and ensure the leading value position and strength of their brand and products.”

Softbank +Style, Amazon Launchpad, JD.com PowerUp, and Brookstone Launch are among the E-commerce platforms that offer game-changing market entry solutions on the HWTrek platform to ease and accelerate market entry and brand awareness for developers of IoT devices.

“We expect more IoT innovator projects—with excellent ideas—through the HWTrek ecosystem,” said Jack Akita, responsible for the +Style Partner Alliance at Softbank. “Softbank is helping IoT startups to enter the Japanese market. Our goal is distributing their products to big scale businesses through the Softbank group. We are helping their distribution and marketing in the Japanese market through our +Style platform.”

Additionally, representatives of e-commerce, crowdfunding, and retail platforms are also members of the HWTrek ecosystem including Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Medion AG, The Grommet, Alibaba, Center Shoji, and the innovative retailer b8ta.

“Amazon Launchpad enjoys a strong working relationship with the team at HWTrek,” stated Jessie Chung, HWTrek Director of Business Development.  “We help them to promote the program among the many IoT companies that populate the HWTrek ecosystem.”

To complement these distribution channels, the HWTrek platform also features experts providing certification, localization, logistics, and design houses to help ensure that products are best suited and prepared for various global markets, and retail, market entry, marketing and public relations consulting services to inform go-to-market strategies.

“HWTrek helps the JD PowerUp program to better communicate with overseas startups,” said Ken Lin, Director of International Business Development at JD.com. “Silicon Valley, as a base of global IoT innovation, needs HWTrek as a bridge to connect to the fast-growing China market. We look forward to more new global enterprises to join the JD PowerUp program through the assistance of HWTrek, to quickly launch on JD.com and enter the China market.”

HWTrek’s cloud-based, collaborative Software as a Service (SaaS) platform is the first global, complete end-to-end hardware development ecosystem—a one-stop shop—for IoT hardware innovators collaboratively working to manage their product development, connect with manufacturing and supply chain industry experts, and bring their connected device projects to market.

HWTrek now connects more than 11,000 hardware creators that have created 2,800 projects on the platform to 2,150 trusted manufacturing and supply chain industry experts from Shenzhen, Taiwan, and Japan to rest of the world—from IC and sensor component vendors, tier 1 ODMs to small, skilled design houses—who have developed unique programs and solutions to assist the creators at all stages of product development. More than 3,000 inquiries have been successfully bridged with manufacturers and other experts.

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HWTrek Expands Global Distribution Channel Footprint for IoT Device Manufacturers https://blog.hwtrek.com/press-release/hwtrek-expands-global-distribution-channel-footprint-for-iot-device-manufacturers/

Break into Global IoT Markets with HWTrek https://blog.hwtrek.com/news/break-into-global-iot-markets-with-hwtrek/

About HWTrek (Hardware Trek)

HWTrek is a unique ecosystem where hardware Creators and industry Experts meet and create smart hardware for the future, based in Taiwan and Shenzhen. HWTrek simplifies the hardware creation process by providing online planning and team collaboration tools and direct access to quality manufacturers and industry experts. Learn more about HWTrek: http://www.hwtrek.com or follow @HWTrek.

Contact:

William Andrew Albano, HWTrek
Tel: +886-2-2769-1698 | +886-2-2742-3301
Email: william.albano@hwtrek.com
Skype: william.andrew.albano
WeChat: niubi_88

Break into Global IoT Markets with HWTrek

Today we are announcing expanded resources aimed at providing access to a wide network of global markets for smart hardware SMBs and startups with products ready for mass production. The distribution network now features both the most mature, high-value markets for consumer IoT devices as well as the exciting fast-growing ones including China, India, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Let me introduce some of the retail distribution network experts and solutions on our platform.

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In 2016, SoftBank launched its +Style platform that connects IoT hardware device makers with Japanese consumers who are keen on adopting the hot, new technology into their lifestyle. SoftBank introduced the +Style as a program on HWTrek to attract the global developers of cool IoT devices to the Japanese market at the beginning of 2017. You can learn more from our blog post introducing +Style.

“We expect more IoT innovator projects—with excellent ideas—through the HWTrek ecosystem. Softbank is helping IoT startups to enter the Japanese market. Our goal is distributing their products to big scale businesses through the SoftBank group. We are helping their distribution and marketing in the Japanese market through our +Style platform.”Jack Akita, responsible for the +Style Partner Alliance at SoftBank.

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Amazon Launchpad is a unique program that showcases cutting-edge products to millions of Amazon customers in the UK, Germany, France, India, China, and the USA.  Back in August 2016, we announced that HWTrek had joined the Amazon Launchpad Services Hub as a manufacturing service provider. Please check out the Amazon Launchpad solution page on HWTrek to learn more about the program, connect with Anurag Khilnani, Head of Business Development at Amazon Launchpad, and hopefully reach the millions of customers of smart, connected devices in the world’s largest and fastest growing economies.

“Amazon Launchpad enjoys a strong working relationship with the team at HWTrek, where we help them to promote the program among the many IoT companies that populate the HWTrek ecosystem.”Jessie Chung, HWTrek Director of Business Development.

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Brookstone Launch is an end-to-end development, manufacturing, and retail program that can help you realize the full potential of your product idea, no matter what stage of development you’re in. Brookstone operates more than 200 retail stores throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. You can learn more about the program by connecting with Dori Haverty, Program Manager at Brookstone, on HWTrek. Likewise, if you are interested in launching your product in retail stores in China, check out the retail solution offered by Brookstone China on HWTrek.

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JD PowerUp is a go-to-market program that helps overseas hardware startups and early-stage companies sell their products on JD.com’s platform in China. Connect with George Leeming, Business Development Manager at JD.com to learn more about the program. A year and a half ago, we started our first partnership with JD.com to help global hardware innovators launch their products into China’s large and growing market for consumer IoT devices.

“HWTrek helps the JD PowerUp program to better communicate with overseas startups. Silicon Valley, as a base of global IoT innovation, needs HWTrek as a bridge to connect to the fast-growing China market. We look forward to more new global enterprises to join the JD PowerUp program through the assistance of HWTrek, to quickly launch on JD.com and enter the China market.” — Ken Lin, Director of International Business Development at JD.com. 

“For JD.com, the value proposition of HWTrek is its rich source of projects from the markets of North America, Europe, and Japan, which will serve as a tremendous resource for our JD Smart business unit. Further, its efficient project management platform and trusted supply chain partner resources will help speed the flow of high-quality smart products to be brought to JD’s customers. JD Smart can further support hardware startups that develop products that align with our own market strategy. We highly value HWTrek’s commitment to solve many of the manufacturing problems that startups so often face.”Na Xin, formerly Vice President of JD Smart.

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In June of 2015, we organized a meetup and demo day with Indiegogo in Taipei. Read our post-event blog post here. Ben Bateman, Senior Director of Strategic Programs at Indiegogo, who has been a long-time member of the HWTrek expert community, spoke at the event. In addition to Ben, you can also connect with Bret Harris, Director of Business Development at Indiegogo, on the HWTrek platform. Check out the HWTrek partner page on Indiegogo that features just a few of the many projects from our great community of IoT device creators.

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Members of our community of innovative IoT device creators have launched numerous campaigns on Kickstarter, more than a hundred. If you’re interested in learning more, you can connect with Nick Yulman, Senior Curator, Design & Technology at Kickstarter, on HWTrek. I curate a page on Kickstarter featuring some of the many projects from HWTrek’s community, more than 70, that have successfully raised millions of dollars.

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Dennis Runge Senior Produce Manager at MEDION AG is always looking for new and exciting consumer electronics, IT, and IoT products. MEDION has a good presence in Germany and the entire eurozone, as well as in Scandinavia and the UK. Connect with Dennis here.

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Alibaba’s Taobao InnoStar Program helps global IoT device creators find retail channels in China and assists buyers and distributors to discover good products overseas. You can connect with Steven Liu, Maker Operating Director at Alibaba Group, on the HWTrek platform to learn more about the InnoStar Program and getting your IoT product into the China market.

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Osaka-based Center Shoji is a trading company that sells to chain stores and wholesalers and is looking for interesting smart hardware devices to bring to the Japanese market. Connect with Keiichiro Ishio at Center Shoji to learn more about getting your IoT-connected product into what is forecasted to be the third largest IoT market.

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The Grommet is an e-commerce and media platform designed to create product understanding, brand amplification, and sales for new to market consumer IoT products. They launch one product a day with a two-minute video and the story of the company with an audience of millions of users. Connect with Ryan DeChance, Senior Discovery Manager at The Grommet, to learn more about launching your product on their platform.

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b8ta is innovating the retail experience for IoT, connected devices. b8ta is looking for innovative products to display in their retail stores. Hop on over to the HWTrek platform to learn more and connect with Kyle Schutter, who is responsible for international partnerships at b8ta.

Finally, to complement these distribution channels, the HWTrek platform features experts providing certification, localization, logistics, and design houses to help ensure that products are best suited and prepared for various global markets, and retail, market entry, marketing and public relations consulting services to inform your go-to-market strategies for bringing your innovative product to global markets.

If you are working on an IoT product and are currently planning your go-to-market strategy, get accelerated access to the largest and fastest growing markets for smart, connected devices by creating a project on HWTrek. HWTrek is the first and largest end-to-end hardware development ecosystem—a one-stop shop—for IoT hardware innovators collaboratively working to manage product development, connect with manufacturing and supply chain industry experts, and bring connected device projects to market.

If you’d like to offer a service, solution, or other resources to IoT hardware creators, apply to join the HWTrek platform as an expert.

Popular Consumer IoT Devices on SoftBank’s +Style Platform

SoftBank launched its +Style platform in 2016 connecting IoT hardware device makers with Japanese consumers who are keen on adopting the hot, new technology into their lifestyle. At the beginning of 2017, SoftBank introduced the +Style as a program on HWTrek to attract the developers of cool IoT devices to the Japanese market.

SoftBank’s +Style has collaborated with ARM Innovation Hub to feature products developed with ARM technology. Six products that use ARM technology are currently available for sale on the +Style platform and four have been offered for pre-order on the crowdfunding section of the platform. For more innovations developed with ARM technology, check out the ARM Innovation Hub.

Planning: Participatory product planning

The Planning component of the +Style platform provides an opportunity for hardware companies to connect with potential consumers of their products during the planning and prototyping stages of their product development. The most talked about project in the Planning component of +Style is a consumer smart health device project called Ketto, developed by Tokyo-based E3 Enterprise. Ketto measures blood sugar, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels. It received more than 120 comments and more than 150 people favorited the project.

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Quantum is Tokyo-based open innovation corporate startup studio that supports the development of innovative IoT products from the product planning and design stages through to business development and strategy. Connect with Toshi Shiwa, Chief Engineer at Quantum, on HWTrek to learn more.

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Arrk Dison specializes in manufacturing industrial design models and product prototypes including appearance model, function model, silicone mold, temporary vacuum casting, CNC machining, and SLA laser light modeling. To learn more about their services, connect with Sam Liao on HWTrek.

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The Smart Aluminum Bag is a sophisticated, craftsman smart briefcase from Tokyo-based Garret Interior. The designer is considering a number of features that include smartphone charging, LED light, GPS logger, and locking mechanism controlled by a smartphone app via Bluetooth connectivity. The project idea was favorited 38 times and received 33 comments.

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Crowdfunding: Raising money for product production or testing the market

The two most successful campaigns crowdfunded on +Style are Beam, a smart LED light projector, and Code Horizon, a connected, real-time strategy board game. IoT hardware developers can leverage crowdfunding on SoftBank’s +Style platform to help ease Japan market entry and help to speed go-to-market strategies.

The Beam, which raised 1,346,600 yen, is a smart projector that fits in any light socket (E26/E27 type socket compatible) and can also function as a lighting fixture with its 12 LED lights and is controlled via an iOS or Android app. The Netherlands-based Beam Labs initially raised $759,656 on Kickstarter before testing the Japanese consumer IoT market via +Style. It runs on Android OS, features both Bluetooth and WiFi wireless connectivity, and has two built-in speakers.

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Code Horizon is a real-time strategy board game, developed by Yokohama-based Mira, that knocks down enemies by deploying realistic robots, VRO (Valkyrie Rover), on the table and virtual infantry units on the iOS/Android application, using all the tactics while identifying the speed change situation. The VRO robots use ARM Cortex M0 processors and are wirelessly connected to the player’s iOS or Android device via Bluetooth 4.0. The project’s campaign raised 527,800 yen on the +Style platform and also raised $30,407 on Kickstarter.


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Tokyo-based Kiluck provides planning, product, mechanical, and PCB design services and prototype consulting. Connect with Yaoxuan Zeng, who is responsible for Global Marketing at Kiluck, on HWTrek to learn more about their services.

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Shopping: Purchasing products unavailable in Japan

The shopping or e-commerce component of the +Style platform gives consumers the chance to purchase the latest in innovative IoT products that are not yet available in the Japanese market. Some of the most popular devices on offer for sale include a web-connected video camera that can dispense pet treats remotely called Furbo, TrackR bravo, which is an item tracking device backed by a Crowd GPS network, and a wireless robotic button or switch pusher called MicroBot Push. Slovenia-based Ulla Lab’s, a member of the HWTrek community, sells its Ulla personal hydration monitoring device that attaches to a user’s drink to monitor hydration and issue reminders to drink more water. Ulla was developed with ARM technology.

IoT hardware developers looking for assistance in developing a cloud-based network such as TrackR’s Crowd GPS can look to ACCESS on the HWTrek platform. Tokyo-based ACCESS is a provider of advanced IoT software development and solutions. Check their profile and connect with Takashi Sasaki here.

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Together with SoftBank’s +Style program, HWTrek provides a complete end-to-end hardware development ecosystem—a one-stop shop—for IoT hardware innovators collaboratively working to manage their product development, connect with manufacturing and supply chain industry experts, and bring their connected device projects to market in Japan.

Check out the +Style program page on the HWTrek platform to learn more about +Style and connect with SoftBank +Style representatives Jack Akita and Masato Furuno.

Interview with James Murphy, Co-Founder and General Manager at HLH Prototypes

We caught up with an expert member of HWTrek’s collaborative hardware development ecosystem community, James Murphy, who is Co-Founder and General Manager of Shenzhen-based HLH Prototypes Co., Ltd., to learn more about the company and the solutions they can provide hardware creators to assist in the development of their early stage projects.

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Can you tell us the founding story of HLH Prototypes? What inspired you to start it and what’s your vision for it?

HLH was started by a small team focused on delivering value for money, rapid manufacturing services for companies large and small. Our vision is to move forward with the current enlargement plans, adding more services as we go until we become a full solution provider.

What services do you provide? Can you elaborate more about your solutions (Rapid Tooling + Production, Composite & Export Tooling, Rapid Production Low Volume – Injection Molding, CNC, and Rapid Prototyping – CNC Machining, 3D Printing & More)?

We aim to deliver parts and products in rapid lead times and utilize a number of production methods to do this. No matter if you are looking for a rapid prototype, rapid tooling or rapid production we can deliver. We have a massive range of services but it is our culture and approach, with a real focus on quality, speed and customer service that makes us a real solution provider to our customers.

When a customer comes to you for consultation, what is your process of understanding the product? What are the typical questions you ask? What do the creators need to prepare?

It starts with us trying to understand what the customer wants from their project, what their ultimate goals are, we try to look beyond the drawings at what the customer’s customers are looking for. Once we have understood the ultimate intent and we have studied the drawings we might need some more typical information about quantities and materials. We also ask questions designed to help save people time and money when we can. In terms of what creators need to prepare essentially the more the better but we can also work with very little and explore the best way forward together.

What are the typical mistakes you see hardware developers with an early stage project make? Can you give some advice on how to avoid them?

Often people are reluctant to work on multiple prototype iterations of a new product before production. Why? Budget is generally the answer. But often, in the long run, it is cheaper to try several prototype versions out than to wait until you get to market before you investigate other options. This might mean making the same prototype out of different materials or using different manufacturing techniques to make the same product. In the end, the market waits for no one, and time is money but the knowledge from testing multiple early prototypes can be the difference in getting the right product to market faster.

What are the most interesting and innovative projects you have working on recently? What new technologies, innovations were involved?

We work with a variety of industries, from robotics to automotive to wearables and a whole host of other industries. As for specific projects, our observance of IP rights and the NDA’s that we sign with our customers stops us short from openly discussing some of the cooler projects we have worked on, unfortunately.

Recently there has been a new wave of hardware innovation, dubbed the hardware revolution. How do you see China and the rest of the world responding to these changes in the industry? Are there regional differences in reactions to this phenomenon?

We are without a doubt becoming a more connected society and this is reflected in the ‘must have’ products most consumers crave. With the consolidation of retail chains in Europe and North America price and speed to market paired with manufacturing capacity are all needed to serve the largest markets. China is still the best partner to deliver on these 3 demands and is also growing into the largest consumer market for these products. China with its massive investments in training, technology, and infrastructure will continue to be the go-to for quite some time. The regional differences to this phenomenon are not as discernable as they might have been in the past, again the world is growing much more connected and this seems like a global movement.

What changes have you recently witnessed in the industry? How are manufacturers and the supply chain adapting to the whole wave of IoT?

We won’t speak for the whole industry but one way we here at HLH have adapted to the needs of IoT products is increased investment into our ProtoTool (Rapid Tooling) services. Speed to market, proof of concept and version 2.0 of your product are all great reasons to consider rapid tooling services. It is not just the IoT industry that has driven us to invest in increased rapid tooling capabilities. Just about any industry that sells a product to a retail consumer has seen their timelines shrink. So enabling people to deliver a real product, from real tools in real materials, really fast helps them to get a project green-lit or to capture early sales dollars or funding.

How do you see online collaboration platforms like HWTrek improving hardware product development, project management, and supply chain visibility?

Anytime you can put a creator and a supplier together directly, to help break through the white noise, to help reduce travel dollars and supplier qualification dollars is a good thing. Most good ideas fail from lack of capital, many times we have met creators/designers who find us too late after they have burned through their capital working with poor suppliers. HWTrek is helping us connect with creators/designers earlier which gives their project a much better chance of success.

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.?)

Just finished ‘The Inevitable’ by Kevin Kelly, does a good job of summing up where things seem to be heading with some interesting twists of his own.

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

Bowie and Cohen

Leonard Cohen17bDavid-Bowie Chicago 2002-08-08 photo by Adam-Bielawski
What fuels you (coffee, tea, or….)? When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

Coffee. Getting back on track, another cup of coffee.

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

We eat local food all the time and it is great and I would recommend this for any traveler. Just pick a restaurant that has photos on the menu and try the local dishes. Also, because Shenzhen is such a massive migrant city the local dish might be from any corner of China, so there is a huge range of dishes to try. The food is cheap so just be brave and try something as is won’t break your bank account if you don’t like it. But, I can appreciate that some people need a Western food fix. If this is the case, then CoCo Park (Shopping Park) area in Nanshan or Shekou Area in Nanshan are both great options for Western bars and restaurants.

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

Time machine, from The Time Machine

To learn more about HLH, feel free to connect with James Murphy on HWTrek and check our their solutions.

ARM mbed Connect – China (Shenzhen), December 5—Shaping the Future of IoT

Our friends at ARM are launching a new event, ARM mbed Connect, next month in Shenzhen, China. HWTrek will attend the event. Stop by our exhibition table, we’d love to see you there. We have 50 VIP tickets for our community of experts, contact Rorschach Sun for more information (rorschach.sun [@] hwtrek.com) or Cindy Chen (cindy.chen [@] hwtrek.com).

ARM mbed offers a cutting edge IoT operating system, plus the tools and cloud services to make IoT solutions possible. Combined with a strong developer community, of over 170,000 developers, ARM is bringing together these key ingredients at the new ARM mbed Connect event.

Connect, learn and code with the leading experts on the ARM mbed IoT Device Platform at this brand new event. ARM is bringing together the latest IoT technology, our mbed ecosystem partnership and the best and brightest developers, to offer a full day of intense learning and innovation

ARM mbed Connect 2016 features a full day of insightful keynotes, technical workshops, sessions and demonstrations to show what is possible when deploying IoT solutions at scale with mbed.

It is only 180 RMB ($25 USD) per developer to attend! If you have any questions or would like to connect with an expert at ARM, please contact David Pan on the HWTrek platform.

Event Details:

ARM mbed Connect – China

December 5, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Grand Hyatt Shenzhen, 1881 Baoan Nan Road, Luohu District,
Shenzhen, Guangdong 518001, China

Demo with HWTrek at CES 2017

Are you a hardware developer looking for an opportunity to show off your device to an audience of thousands of people?  Here’s your chance. We are opening our space for you to show off the cool gadgets you’re working on. To apply, follow these steps:

  1. If your project is not yet on HWTrek platform, please sign up and submit the project (priority will be given to the creators already on our platform).
  2. Send your project link to mandy.chung [@] hwtrek.com with the subject line “CES Demo“.
  3. All applicants should provide their company’s logo and the product photo you’d like to demo (company’s logo at least 600×200 pixel png  or AI file with transparent background)
  4. Note: you do not need to be at CES to demo, you can just send us your prototype or product and we will demo it for you!

Read more about the devices that demoed in our booth last year at CES here. Here’s where we’ll be at CES in 2017:

Booth location: #51234, Eureka Park, Sands Hall G 

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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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