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!

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…]

Build Your Own Hacklebox

IMG_0911In the last two years I supported something like 50-60 hackathons and developer workshops. Many of these were hardware focused.

It became abundantly clear that students can’t do much with just a device – they need soldering irons, pin wire, breadboards, tape, scissors and all manner of other supplies in order to actually build something. These items are not always present at many events.

Thus the idea of a rolling hacklebox was born.

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We (Intel Mashery DEVO, at the time) gathered some feedback, observed the common types of projects that get built and distilled it into this Google spreadsheet. Feel free to use this to build your own rolling hackathon solution for hardware events.

I broke out all the costs, suggested counts of devices and embedded order links from Amazon to make it easy to stock up. The Keter Master Pro (pictured) happens to be quite nice as a rolling chest for these events. It doesn’t survive airplanes very well.

I tried to pick supplies that are on the cheap side.

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Sensors and Sensor Kits

A good approach is to pick a sensor format such as Seeed Studio Grove (a simple format for pluggable sensors) and lend people Grove shields. You can then provide a wide library of sensors for checkout during the event if people want them. These sensors are generally too expensive to give away, so I suggest appointing a sensor librarian to track and recover everything.

Sensors tend to be useful between hackathons, other components like pin wire and LEDs are going to get chewed up and you aren’t going to want them back. Some venues will complain about smoke from soldering and not allow it.

Hardware Platforms

This is too broad a topic to cover in great detail, there are new boards coming out daily.

The Arduino 101 ($30) is pretty sweet, not just saying the because I work on it at Intel MIG. I like that it has BLE and Gyro / Accelerometer by default. This particular combination of basic functionality combined with Arduino Uno compatibility will be compelling for many students.

Anything that requires WiFi is going to have problems at most public events. There are often barriers to overcome (navigating HTML redirects, authentication, isolation mode etc).

Raspberry Pi and other HDMI-capable devices – People are going to want keyboards, mice, monitors – that is hard to support at an event with many people unless you just run in headless mode.

The LightBlue Bean+ is likely a great platform for hackathons and workshops. Most devices from Particle.io should be pretty good. RedBearLab and mBientLab have devices which are promising as well.

The more common requests (with some examples) from students:

  • Flex sensors  (1) (2) -> Good for building glove projects, darn expensive to give to people
  • Light sensors  (1) (2) -> Can be used as a primitive motion sensor also
  • Proximity sensors (1) -> Detect presence of objects
  • PIR / Motion Sensors (1) -> Lots of requests for these to use in home security projects
  • Potentiometers (i.e. knobs) (1) -> General control of some analog actuator
  • Buttons  (1) (2) -> A must, lots and lots of uses
  • Lots of LEDs, multi-color as well as single color (1)
  • Battery power packs, LiPos, 9v batteries (or USB battery sticks) -> A must for wearables, USB battery sticks are wonderful for hackathons
  • 9v Barrel Jack Connectors for 9v batteries (1)
  • Alcohol sensors (1) -> College students go nuts with these things with projects
  • Accelerometer / gyros (1) -> Endless requests for these, very popular
  • Hall sensors (magnetic) (1) -> Detect a gate opening and closing, or maybe if a key or object is picked up
  • Crash Sensor (1) -> Car or skateboard, snowboard crashes, good for wearables
  • LED strips are very popular, especially the NeoPixel
  • There are other fun sensors out there such as UV,  moisture / humidity, flame, dust, gravity and gas
  • Servo motors (1) -> People build really simple things like a box that opens and closes to hide a key to prevent a drunk driver kind of thing
  • Brushless DC motors aka stepper motors (1) -> Robots, things which require stopping the motor at a specific angle
  • Motor driver shields (1) -> Rovers and other similar robots, need wheels though

Where to get kits

Here is the spreadsheet with all the buy links and costs: Check out the open source hacklebox manifest.

Thanks to Martin Kronberg, Steven Xing, Wai Lun Poon, Cheston Contaoi, Dan Holmlund, Monica Houston for providing feedback and suggestions to this list.

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.

Meeting Massimo

One benefit of the job is getting to meet interesting people, in this case Massimo Banzi who was a founder of Arduino. Here we are with the whole MIG Product Team, good times.

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From Brick To Brain: How Modular Robotic Brains Are Taking Off

 

Intelligent Brick: The EV3 from Lego Mindstorms, a modular robotic “brain”

Computers were always supposed to be brains – however they have spent the majority of their lifetimes clogging up our server rooms, sitting on our desktops running screensavers and eventually moving into our pockets where they were too often used for the playing of games like Flappy Bird.

To be a brain means to be able to think and reason, to be able to sense and possess awareness, to learn from experience and ultimately possess consciousness – not just any calculator deserves this distinction – which is probably why Lego Mindstorms (a popular robotics kit) took a hard look at the capabilities of their computing unit and settled on the name “Intelligent Brick.”

We ain’t there yet.

However, with key advancements in heterogeneous computing (the stuffing of different complimentary CPUs and GPUs into a single space), size and power shrinkages urged by the needs of mobile computing, the addition of perceptive cameras capable of “Seeing” in 3D, we are now beginning to see steps towards much more capable general-purpose modular robotic brains.

These hardware advancements are being joined by key developments in software tools and operating systems such as ROS (Robot Operating Systems) and Dronecode, not to mention the cloud (as Amazon demonstrated last year with their Simple Drone Service).

In the next couple of years, we may very well see the introduction of what will one day be remembered as the “Ford Model-T” of robotic brains. 

Exhibit A: The DJI Manifold

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Who you thinkin’ at?

Meet our first contender for the title of true robotic brain: It’s called “Manifold” by DJI. It looks like a box, its square like a box, it isn’t a box – it is actually a thinking unit for drones loaded with NVIDIA Tegra K1, 192 GPU CUDA cores and a Quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 processor.

You need all of that graphical processing horsepower to do a whole lot of computer vision, obstacle recognition and avoidance (As Intel demonstrated earlier in the year at CES with the RealSense-based Yuneec Typhoon H). Drone compute units like this are going to be very helpful over the next few years as more and more drones are deployed for commercial applications.

Exhibit B: The Erle-Brain 2

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Don’t call it a brick, you might hurt it’s feelings

Next up we have the Erle Robotics Erle-Brain 2 – it comes loaded with Ubuntu and ROS (Robot Operating System) and even has a perceptive camera built directly into the top of the device.  You can snap the Erle-Brain 2 into a variety of different kits and contains sensors including a gyroscope, accelerometer, temperature, pressure and digital compass.

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General purpose robotics units such as this will have a vast array of applications and are going to be fun to watch, my expectations are high about the direction these are heading in. 

 

AWS NYC Pop-Up Loft Lightning Talk + Workshop

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I was invited by Amazon Web Services to give a talk at the NYC Loft to discuss some of the trends happening in Internet of Things over the last year and run a workshop focusing on Intel Edison over the course of two days.

Thanks to the excellent folks from Dash and Canary we had a great lineup of talks last Thursday, probably around 80-100 developers were in attendance and another 40 for the workshop the following day. Really enjoyed making the trip and seeing the new AWS space, looking forward to exploring many more potential areas of collaboration between Intel and AWS IoT ecosystems and partners.

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