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The Open Source Hardware Spec and Why Should You Care

A few weeks ago the initial full release was made of the OSHW specification. The Open Source Hardware spec is the first attempt to start an open source revolution for hardware. At first glance it isn’t terribly interesting. It has a lot of license and definitions about what must be included to be OSHW compliant. And if you are like me, were expecting something more technical and meaty. You are hoping for pin outs or a platform specification, not the mention of documentation that must be written. After reading reading it, I moved quickly onto other things not thinking about the possibilities.

This week I revisited it, thought about why this is important and how it could affect professional hardware people (EEs, MEs, and FWEs). Honestly, I struggled because I wanted the reasoning to have technical merit. I read a few blog posts that pointed out the current issues with trading designs and what that might  mean for hobbyists where tools are not standardized and tool costs matter heavily for design adoption and permeation through the community. I had not considered this problem. Not to mention the uncouth ways that vendors and manufacturers can make it hard to share information later on. It wasn’t until late last night I thought about what the impact could be.

I sense two possibly positive impacts in my work. In my mind, parts vendors are a pain. They want you to sign NDAs for the most mundane of parts. They obfuscate whenever possible for no good reason until you tell them you are looking at other vendors to replace them. I would love it if I could know beforehand if a vendor was held to the standard of providing reasonable documentation as well as let me share my design in the future without a legal gymnastics routine and costly per chip royalties paid out. OSHW provides for that! A vendor with the little logo such as the proposed below:

With a consistent way of allowing for release, distribution, and reuse, the hardware hobbyist community can flourish in a similar manner that the open source software community did. At first, Open Source Software not taken very seriously by the professional community, but in the last 10 years has become a force to be reckoned with. How many times have I had to place a Linux distribution on a microprocessor that was not x86? Too many to count, but each time it gets a bit easier because the OSSW community is updating and refining it to make it easier.  This movement was enough to get WindRiver’s VxWorks to start thinking about Linux and restrategizing due to developers taking their money elsewhere. Perhaps it will be enough to get large vendors to provide more client-favorable sales strategies or at least take their documentation more seriously so more people will be willing to use parts from them.

My second vision of how this could upset the current status quo is based on how it could reshape  rapid prototyping and potentially change the web-driven startup landscape to something more diverse.  Right now, prototyping hardware falls into two camps:

  • cheap and clunky, or
  • expensive, over-kill, and difficult to obtain.

OSHW could allow more iterative design among the community which bring a lot of choice; choices that bring down cost and clunkiness in prototyping.  I could try an idea out faster and closer to my desired specs and form-factor without signing a bunch of NDA’s before I even start to dig in. Sadly, removing this road block saves me days, not just hours. Think about how productive you could be without this. Then roll the fact that in that mechanical drawings, layout, and so forth will also be opened and available. The only thing that could be better is if the design was already FCC certified. How fast could you now deploy? And at what cost savings? We are now talking about development iterations closer to software and web projects. Hardware now has a chance to wrap its head around Agile methodology. And faster development times, mean the possibility of getting to market faster and breaking even sooner. Could this mean VC’s eyes will start looking at hardware again as a good place to invest? One can only hope.


Who is going to She’s Geeky 4: Bay Area?

So who’s going next weekend?

I’ll be around plugging the next Office Hours, a program offering free engineering assistance to entrepreneurs and companies who make physical products.

I hope to see several colleagues from previous years.


W2Labs 003 is here

On Friday, I went to the W2labs reunion at Zeki’s bar. It was loud but the new batch of founders were very interesting and hungry for advice.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with. I am eager to install a new android app or two.

Additionally, the @jenshine from the @stylegroupie team left us some great bites from @sigbites.


What Startup Camps Can Do to Create Hardware Products: Reflections from my Women 2.0 Labs Cohort

It’s the night before my team’s last presentation and I am reflecting on my experience. Namely that as a hardware person, I spent most of my time feeling like a fish out of water because most of the focus was on web-based business concepts. Furthermore, personalities often shape who ends up in a team instead of appropriate skill sets. I like my team, but I wondered how to get more out of the program and/or meet more people with similar interested and industry experience.

This is the list of ideas I have to make these types of programs more friendly to hardware or other industries that have long development times:

1. You need a high concentration of people with the right skills. Your chances of getting these people increase if you sell a specific ticket for hardware/firmware people or have a check box for them on your camp’s application.

2. If you are promoting a specific methodology such as rapid prototyping model, you need to show how to apply it to hardware or these other long-horizon industries (medical, biotech, pharmaceuticals, ICs, etc…).
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Places for Frankensense.com to check out

http://kiip.me/

http://www.kongregate.com/

http://www.anscamobile.com/corona/


[W2Labs] Week 2- Holy Sh!t. Where the Hell Are We!

It was a day my team was dreading: Thursday presentations.

Every week over the 5 weeks, each Women 2.0 Labs team presents the development of their idea and gets a chance to be properly torn down by the guest lecturer. The feedback is a once in a lifetime chance but it can be a brutal wakeup call for teams who are deeply drinking the kool-aid all week. This week was particularly special because it was our first longer presentation and more importantly, it featured guest speaker Steve Blank whose book we had been reading since day 0.

Leading up to Thursday, my team had done a lot of customer discovery work on our Walk This Way mobile guidebook application. The truth was, out of 260+ survey responses and 4 personal interviews with guides and travelers, we could not hone in on a true pain that someone was willing to pay for. The market was all over the place. Even worse, the closest pain point we could find led us to believe we would just make a real-time ad-hoc meetup service which we called PosseUp. By Wednesday night at Hacker Dojo, my team was not excited about the business.

Team Frankendeal working


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Prototype lecture today

I found out I couldn’t park at the pier until after I was at 4th and King. Therefore, I was late to breakfast. Mike and I met for breakfast and to talk development. We have a set of features we want to focus on for the next five weeks on a common mobile dev platform. Can you guess which one?

After meeting breakfast, I went to True Ventures to hear Anna Billstrom talk about prototyping and process. Then I am getting an intro to Ruby on Rails.


Week 1 starts now

We’ve made teams and now we are listening to Eric Ries of IMVU. He’s quite amusing.

However, pitch time draws near. Go team “Walk This Way”


Your adventure starts…. Tuesday

I was recently accepted into Women 2.0 Labs for this fall. It is the second cohort to endeavor on creating a startup in 5 weeks.

If you wanna see what I’ve done in the past, checkout this video of my project:

I am currently prepping for next week by:

* finishing out my last day of work at my current job. No, you aren’t expected to quit you day job for this but part of the reason I applied was because I wasn’t happy at work.
* Brainstorm workable ideas (I am meeting with a friend to hash out some ideas tonight),
* Brush up my personal “elevator pitch”,
*Fix my motorcycle