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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My new role at ARM

tl;dr: I am leaving my role at Intel’s Makers and Innovators Group to join ARM Holdings, a subsidiary of SoftBank. At ARM, I will be moving to Seattle and greatly expanding my work on global IoT and robotics ecosystems.

After four years at Intel traveling the world building a global ecosystem around the Intel Edison, Intel Curie, Intel Joule and the Arduino 101 inventor platforms, I am leaving Intel to join ARM Holdings. At ARM, I will be taking on the role of Sr. IoT Ecosystem Development Manager where I will continue my work spanning robots, drones, IoT, makers, medical devices, musical instruments, developer experience, underwater ROVs and perceptual computing (and much more).

While at Intel, I enjoyed working with the most talented hardware and software teams from around the world. I got to train tens of thousands of developers how to connect their IoT devices to the cloud at more than 60 events and helped to launch both AWS IoT and Azure IoT support for Intel Edison. I also witnessed, first hand, the astonishing expansion of IoT solutions being made possible by low-cost, open-source computing.

Why ARM? Because I am serious about working on the future of IoT and robotics. Last year, 17.7 billion chips using ARM technologies were sold. It is projected that another 100 billion ARM-based chips will sold between 2017 and 2021. That represents a huge opportunity to work with thousands of people building thousands of solutions to problems that have never been solved before. I am doubling down on my commitment to IoT; ARM seems like a wonderful place to do that.

So that’s it really, I look forward to meeting many new inventors building many new projects all around the world and finding ways to help them succeed through ecosystem development. The Internet of Things has barely even begun and I have already learned so much from so many of you out there.

Thanks again and looking forward to the next adventure, Rex St. John

Follow my IoT adventures on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rexstjohn

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 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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The Chaos and The Craftsmanship of Shenzhen – Intel IDF 16

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A Pilgrimage To The Maker Mecca

When I arrived in Shenzhen this week to participate in Intel IDF 16, I hoped to learn more about the roaring technological innovation happening in this unique city. This is part III in my series documenting aspects of my brief trip to the city of makers this week. Read part II here and Part I here.

Developed By You

The ultimate purpose of my visiting Shenzhen, aside from meeting with a few interesting partners and customers, was to give two talks at Intel IDF 16 on topics relating to Intel’s Inventor Platforms and the results of research I have been doing with customers on their experience productizing on the Intel Edison compute module. Being new to Shenzhen, it was fascinating to see what the local “players” in the maker space where up to.

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A few interesting items were announced at the keynote including a beta of the Intel Curie module software experience (variously described as a BSP or an ODK aka Open Developer Kit) and a new robotics kit based on Intel RealSense and the UP Board from AAEON. There were other announcements as well relating to Intel 3D XPoint Memory. [Read more…]

The Chaos and The Craftsmanship of Shenzhen – The SEG Electronics Market

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A Pilgrimage To The Maker Mecca

When I arrived in Shenzhen this week to participate in Intel IDF 16, I hoped to learn more about the roaring technological innovation happening in this unique city. This is part II in my series documenting aspects of my brief trip to the city of makers this week. Read part I here and part III here.

The SEG Electronics Market – The Pulse Of The Maker Movement

I go to SEG once per quarter to look for trends. You can tell which way the market is going by seeing what new shops have opened, what new products are being sold. – A Shenzhen CEO

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The exterior, relatively indescript entrance to the SEG market.

If Shenzhen is the Maker Mecca, the SEG Electronics Market may be the Kaaba, the center of the attraction, the entire point of going. There are ten thousand products, every maker device, every screw, every LED and every new trendy gadget piled into stacks and arranged into squares. Entering a side door in the building (which is labeled Huaqiangbei), a visitor is greeted by throngs of vendors selling the tiniest of components, cables, wires and more. [Read more…]

The Chaos and The Craftsmanship of Shenzhen – Dafen Oil Painting Village

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An oil painter practicing his craft in Dafen Village.

A Pilgrimage To The Maker Mecca

When I arrived in Shenzhen this week to participate in Intel IDF 16, I hoped to learn more about the roaring technological innovation happening in this unique city. This is part I in my series documenting aspects of my brief trip to the city of makers this week. Read part II here and part III here.

The Dafen Oil Painting Village – A Metaphor For Shenzhen’s Tech Economy

The defining “Shenzhen” moment for me was not the crowds, the maker and electronics markets nor the sprawling industrial zones, factory tours, it was the Dafen Oil Painting village, where hundreds of skilled artisans convene daily to create realistic copies of  artwork for export. The prices? Affordable. [Read more…]

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!

Enter the Thud Rumble

Somehow learning to code has lead to me hanging out with the world’s most talented DJ crew over at Thud Rumble. Had an amazing all day session with DJ Qbert, DJ Yogafrog and DJ Hardrich down in the bay area. These guys are seriously legit, amazing to hear about all of the new project and products they have underway. Really looking forward to working closely with these guys this year.