Tiny AI Devices Invade The Maker Moment

The Xpider by Maker Collider featuring a camera equipped with a hardware accelerated neuron memory chip for rapid image recognition

The tiny white orb-shaped robot scuttled across the carpet, it’s flashing headlamp illuminating the floor before it. “It can recognize faces,” said the hardware engineer in charge of implementing the compact internals of the Xpider. “We are working on a software layer to make it easy to drag-and-drop commands using the onboard neural network engine.

As I have toured the world attending hardware conferences and Maker Faires, the theme of providing small edge devices with more intelligence has grown stronger with each passing month. More and more inventive developers and teams seem to be working on solving the next big problem facing the Maker Movement: How to make AI-enabled hardware and perceptual computing gadgets usable to a wider audience of developers.

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Tiny FPGAs Present Intriguing IoT AI Opportunities, Adoption Hampered By Ease-Of-Use

The new TinyFPGA A-series

Recently, the TinyFPGA series from designer Luke Valenty received coverage from the open-source hardware press. While FPGA enthusiasts rejoiced at the news of a tiny FPGA form-factor, little discussion occurred as to why a small FPGA for makers is an interesting phenomenon.

So what is so great about FPGAs and why should anyone care that they are now tiny? A few reasons, some of them quite intriguing.
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Reaching Out: A Key Habit For Ecosystem Evangelists

Hello, my name is Rex St. John and I spent the last 4 years traveling the world developing global ecosystem at Intel Mashery and Intel’s Makers and Innovators Group. As a result of my work on developer ecosystems, I have created a framework (tactics, habits, philosophies, strategies etc) for effective ecosystem development for hardware, API and cloud services.

I wanted to take a moment here share a habit that I believe every ecosystem development manager and technical evangelist should have in order to achieve maximum success in their job. Once you learn to do this and ingrain the habit on yourself, you are going to see your ecosystem development and evangelism results skyrocket!

The Habit Of Reaching Out

Ecosystem development managers and evangelists are very similar to CEOs: Their #1 job is recruiting the top talent in the industry, from all around the globe to their particular platform. As a result, great ecosystem managers should always looking to find and establish communications with the best they can get. The reason? Because you need the very best individuals and teams from around the world to use your platform so you can grow, improve and win! 

There is, however, one catch before you can achieve ecosystem nirvana: The thing that stops you from locating and developing these partners is…drum roll not having a systematic habit for automatically finding and reaching out to high-value partners on an ongoing basis! And that is what this article is here to help you learn how to do!

A few years ago, I ran across a very interesting platform extension for the Intel Edison from a new company who had posted their draft designs on Twitter. Not knowing what to do with this particular developer, I showed the project to my manager at the time (Delyn Simons of Intel Mashery). Her response? “Reach out and talk to them!”  Four years later, this particular developer was among the most productive and valuable members of the Intel Edison ecosystem and ultimately went on to produce products which made them the #1 seller of the platform in their particular geographic region.

In my experience, 85% of the time that I have located a developer, partner or small team who I considered to be in the top 5% of the industry, I found that I was the only person from any company that partner was talking with directly. Let me repeat this jaw-dropping statistic: Most of the very top talent out there in the wild has little, if any, direct internal support, relationship or contact with the hardware, software or cloud platform companies on which they rely. 

Once you realize the extreme leverage and value a single top partner can deliver to your organization, this statistic becomes even more fascinating. I have seen situations where a single partner, even a very small team, was absolutely critical to the success of a platform or plugged a gap which was impossible for anyone else to fill. I have seen a small team, with one project, deliver millions of dollars in value to other customers in the space of a few months for only a few thousand dollars in direct spend.

All that power and more can be yours for free…but only if you reach out. 
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The Memoirs of the Mashquatch

The infamous Mashquatch

Today I wrapped up my last day at Intel. After numerous Maker Faires and what feels like hundreds of hackathons and workshops, I thought I would  summarize what happened in a blog post while I can still remember it.

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Want Sales? Think Of Couches.

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You probably have a crappy old couch that sort of stinks like apple juice and has popcorn kernels lodges in the cracks. Every time you make eye contact with your cat as she sharpens her claws on the corner of that couch, you think about replacing it…but something stops you.

What exactly is that something? Well – your mind fires up a projector and plays a horror movie for you.

In this horror movie, you have to break your couch apart, drag the pieces downstairs, unload all the hockey equipment from your trunk, load the couch into the trunk, drive the couch to the dump and dispose of it. Then you have to drive for 45 minutes to an Ikea, sit on 12 different couches to find a good one, trek across the Ikea warehouse floor, find the box, stand in line for two hours behind screaming children, buy the couch, drive it back to your house….

This horror movie causes you immediately shut down your mental projector and go back to eating popcorn, ignoring your cat and sipping apple juice. Every time.

This reaction is not unlike what happens when you attempt to sell a customer on your product or service. Even if your product perfectly matches your customer’s needs and solves their problems, the horror movie in your customer’s head about the terrible risks involved with your product will stop them from buying it.

Now lets imagine a different movie about how that couch gets replaced.

Imagine if all you needed to do to test out a new couch was snap your fingers. Your existing couch then stands up on robotic legs, walks down your stairs and returns itself to Ikea. Then you snap your fingers again and a new couch walks down the street, up seven flights of stairs and then sits itself down in your living room.

If this was the installation process for couches, imagine how many more would get sold. You could evaluate new couches every day of the week. Couch sales would skyrocket!

If you are in sales, business development or product management, you should think about couches when you design your product or promotion. The question you need to ask yourself is: How can you make your couch fly into a customer’s home as though carried magically on robot legs? How can you eliminate every single perceived risk of installing your couch  in the minds of your target audience?

Don’t like it? We will come and get it it. Don’t want to install it, don’t worry we will install it. Have an old couch? We will come to your house and get rid of it.

Maybe you can’t put robot legs on couches, but there are a lot of other options that can be explored to enhance the installation speed of your product into a customer’s “home.” Certain couches move through hallways faster: Couches that are modular and can be broken into pieces or are thoughtfully designed to fit down common hallways, staircases and other obvious yet common obstacles.

Couches with a 30-day free trial and free move-in which includes the fact that your movers will get rid of the old couch for you will sell faster than anything.

So when it is time to design your offer, deal or product – Think of couches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RISC-V Workshop

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Was down in the bay area yesterday attending the latest RISC-V Workshop. The excitement around RISC-V is palpable, people seem really engaged in the possibility of a truly open source approach to hardware. Having worked in open source hardware evangelism with makers for the last few years, this may be a game changing innovation.

Side note, just backed the HiFive1 on Supply Frame, looking forward to experimenting.

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The Strange World Of Open-Source Pancreas Hacking

This is a Closed Loop Artificial Pancreas System consisting of a compute module and a 900 MHz radio. While it may not be pretty, it is actually keeping someone alive.

Opinions and views expressed in this blog do not reflect those of my employer and are wholly my own.

I have been lucky and gotten to travel the world and meet many interesting people building many interesting hardware projects with compute modules. Some of the more interesting projects come from the the OpenAPS movement, who are using compute modules to help Type I Diabetes sufferers manage their condition. I wanted to write a blog about what is going on in the OpenAPS movement and share some of the interesting hardware projects being built by hackers to manage their conditions.

A compute module is a tiny, cheap computer you can stick into things to make them smart (and often add Linux / Windows IoT and wireless connectivity).

Open source hardware hacking of life-sustaining equipment is highly dangerous and legally vague, why would anyone take this risk? Because current government regulations have delayed the creation of convenient systems for Type I Diabetes management until several years from now. As a result, the OpenAPS “We Are Not Waiting” movement has been born.
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Quick Update: I Am Moving To Portland

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A quick announcement: We (my wife and myself) shall  be relocating our operations to Portland, Oregon by the end of this month for work reasons.

While I enjoyed living in Seattle for the last eight years, it is time to meet new people, eat at new restaurants, live in new neighborhoods, grow an unkempt beard and develop opinions about barley wine and pickled carrots.  Of all the cities we have considered living in, Portland was at the top of the list (at least in America) due to the weirdness, unique culture, tech scene, public transportation, creative atmosphere, small size and food. I think it will be great.

Portland, let us commence being weird together.

Meet The Inventors, The Engine Of The Maker Movement

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The Maturing Maker Movement

Starting in the mid-2000’s, the Maker Movement swept across the globe powered by an onrush of new, cheaper, more useable hardware and software tools. Within the span of a  few years, students, musicians, artists and designers flocked to a growing number of Maker Faires scattered across the world.

The hype around Makers was (and still is) extreme. Just as the Homebrew Computing Club helped launch the age of personal computing, it was reasoned that the Maker Movement would launch the “Next Big Thing” in the form of a raft of next-generation tech companies. Specifically, it was expected that Internet of Things companies (who produce value by linking and orchestrating devices) would rain from the sky as a result of the Maker Movement…but no one was quite sure how that would happen.

The good news is that the formation of a new class of startup is exactly what is happening. However the way it is happening differs from what many industry observers have anticipated. The initial emphasis on “The Internet of Things” has caused confusion as to the true heart of the economic engine which drives the Maker Movement – A segment of users I am going to describe as “The Inventors.” While the Internet of Things is of major importance, it is significantly less interesting to Inventors though they frequently are the ones who are actually implementing it.

Internet of Things-focused companies such as Electric Imp and Particle have certainly spawned from the Maker Movement, but only as a small sub-section. To understand what is really going on (and where extended economic opportunities lie for many tech companies), we need to look more closely at Inventors and try to understand their motivations.

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Meet The Inventors

Makers tend to be artists, designers, students and musicians who have been enabled to build technical projects by advancements in user (or developer) experience. Inventors tend to be industry-quality professionals possessing pro-level skills in areas such as hardware, industrial design or software. Inventors use these pro-level skills to build products specifically for Makers.  These inventions can encompass new musical instruments, 3D printers, home laser-cutters, drone prototyping platforms, paper craft, small programmable robots and more.

Their goal? Making technology accessible and useable to a broader range of creative people. Don’t look too closely for “adding internet to things” as a core motivator, it isn’t there.

As a result of their skills and motiviations, Inventors are the ones “laying down tracks” in front of the Maker Movement, helping to enable creative projects in new domains to a wider audience than ever before. If there is a complex technology which can remotely be used to make art or music, Inventors strive to make it more useable, widely available and cheaper. If Makers are musicians, Inventors are the ones building new drum machines and synthesizers to help Makers practice their art.

Adding internet to things is often a byproduct, but not the focus, of these Inventors and it is a mistake to talk to them as though it were.

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Inventors Don’t Really Care About The Internet Of Things

Inventor’s motivation is not to connect things to the cloud or make more things smart – This can be an area of confusion for industry observers. The motivations of Inventors are much more fundamental and human than making money or lowering cost – Inventors seek to educate and empower Maker creativity.

Many of the Inventors I have met could walk into Google and get hired on the spot as Sr. Engineers (or better) but they never will – they are too engrossed in their mission of making the world of technology more useable to stop what they are doing.

Chances are, if you start talking with an Inventor about “The Internet of Things,” they will become bored and wander off mid-sentence. However, this is exactly the language which is too often used to attempt to entice Inventors to use a variety of embedded systems and other professional tools and hardware gadgets.

Marketing To Inventors

If you are going to market technology to Inventors, it is important talk about the opportunity to make technology more accessible to more people. Tell stories about what can be done with your technology by Makers, not how it can save cost. If internet connectivity helps Inventors to serve the Maker Movement, they will add it – otherwise connectivity for it’s own sake is not their area of interest.

Examples Of Inventors

I can’t name them all, there are too many, but here are a few examples of the types of people I am talking about (pro-skilled developers targeting Makers as a group):

  • Dronesmith.io
    • How they enable Makers: Dronesmith Luci lets developers build their own drone solutions.
  • Rick Waldron, Bocoup & Johnny-Five
    • How they enable Makers: Builds the Johnny-Five JS library to allow web developers to create robots
  • DF Robot, Seeed Studio, Adafruit, SparkFun, Tektye, Pololu, RobotShop
    • How they enable Makers: Create a huge variety of robotics platforms, hobby boards, sensors to make it easy to build hardware projects
  • The Hybrid Group
    • How they enable Makers: Product Cylon, Artoo, Gobot to let developers program hardware with the language of their choice
  •  OSH Park, Upverter, CircuitHub
    • How they enable Makers: Allow rapid prototyping and turn around of custom hardware components
  • DJ Hardrich, DJ Qbert, DJ Yoga Frog and the Thud Rumble crew
    • How they enable Makers: Produce custom music equipment for DJs and other electronics musicians
  • Particle
    • How they enable Makers: Provide various products and hobby boards which can be used either to prototype or to go to market. This is one company that does span into the Internet of Things quite directly.
  • Glowforge
    • How they enable Makers: Provide a much cheaper at-home laser cutter machine which can be used by any maker for $2,000

Final Thoughts

I hope this has helped clarified how and where Makers and the Internet of Things intersect and the fundamental motivations of the players involved. Inventors are an extremely important class of Maker and require a different approach than what is often being used. In short: There is more to the future than the Internet of Things!

In Knowledge Work, Originality Is The 9th Form Of Waste, Getting Caught Borrowing Is The 10th

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Originality is frequently a form of waste in creative or knowledge work

When Knowledge Work and Lean Manufacturing Meet

I was recently reading up on Lean Manufacturing, a system of production efficiency which identifies 8  classes of “waste.” These wastes include:

  • Transporting things
  • Idle inventory
  • Unnecessary motion
  • Waiting for parts
  • Overproduction
  • Overprocessing
  • Defects
  • Underutilized skills

The ultimate goal of Lean Manufacturing is to eliminate these wastes to increase productivity. Any activity which does not produce value for an end customer is written off as “Muda,” the Japanese term for the same.

These types of wastes make sense in a physical manufacturing operation, I started thinking about how reducing waste applies to “knowledge work.” In Knowledge Work the objective is to turn raw data into insight which helps drive intelligent business activity. A close relative is Creative Work, which seeks to entertain, convince or perhaps provoke through the use of artwork.

A stack of survey can be processed into a marketing plan or feature for a product. A museum of classical paintings can be interpreted into a new form of graffiti. In these ways and more, knowledge and creative workers process data into results. [Read more…]