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Digital audio recording “you” with quality and ease


Instamic wants to do for microphones what the GoPro did for cameras. 


Many analog years ago, digital recorded audio won the popularity contest. Nowadays, whether it’s from your mobile phone, infotainment system or personal audio device, every sound you hear is from digitally encoded bits.

Digital audio has eliminated all of the analog audio’s distortions and noise-related problems. Quite simply, people are shaped and drawn to recorded audio, ranging from music producers, to creative artist, to the everyday consumer. It’s in these moments for the user, high-quality audio conveys clarity in the recording moments. In today’s user interfaces, from media and podcasts to tablets, many whizzing bits are streaming a world of information including audio — readily available at every reach of a finger or ear.

The Miracle of Sound all Around US

More and more, we are seeing the prolific expansion and seamless integration of the stack. What does this all mean, though? Screen time now captivates us, while voice recognition and audio are blended into the user pathways of UX. Spurring from technology, we see popular apps like Evernote and iOS/Android natively adopting audio recording right within its inherent interface. These apps are taking in the voice user input to also drive UX — cleverly weaving experience, intention, outcome, commenting and moments.

Almost every sound you hear coming out of a speaker is digitally sampled and encoded.  Moment upon moment of keynotes stored are recorded more, albeit in the format of video or audio, we are seeing an increasing number of unique use cases to why one would want to capture a particular moment. These moments offer an on-demand periscope — referencing a historic timeline of ripples in our experience, memory, and journey through work, life, play, and what matters most to us.

referencing a historic timeline of ripples in our experience

For much of our pleasures, sound is always in digital — whether it’s on your smartphone, computer, radio, television, home theater or in a concert hall. Today, across many electronic devices, audio recording is integral transition to many advanced features applied toward enhancing old ways of doing things. Just take a look at visual voicemail, and how recording voicemails took the next leap once UX and advance playback was offered. Visual and digital voice recording meshed with non-linear play, took voice playback to the next level. I’d go so far as to point out that most people never hear analog recordings anymore.

Unless you’re a musician, or live with one, virtually all the music you hear live or recorded is digital. We now see the integration of audio and voice recording into all forms of day-to-day activity. Audio with depth is helping bring back some of those analog qualities where the shape and length of a sound wave can be more defined by bit depth and bit sampling rate. With these 24-bit audio embedded designs and digital audio recordings, we can also achieve better sound quality more akin to what our ear can register and decode, help bringing forth the finer granular details of high fidelity. But it’s not all about just emitting fidelity via the digital audio recording. The use cases and need to record audio, albeit ourselves or surrounding interactions, is helpful for many use cases (musician during creative process, senior suffering stages of memory loss, students seeking catalog of lectures, author recalling and commenting wiring plots during writing process, etc.)lectures and applications for audio recording
Why does bit depth matter, you ask? Bit depth refers to the number of bits you have when a device is capturing audio. Below is a graph showing a series of levels in how bit depth works. There are 65,536 possible levels for 16-bit audio. As for 24-bit, there are 16,777,216 levels. Now, let’s see how the depth is explained. The capturing of audio can be sliced in partitions at any moment in time such as shown in this  graph. To move to higher resolution in audio, every bit added counts toward greater resolution. The deeper the bit depth, the number of levels stack greater audio information, layering richer context to the profile of the audio being recorded. Altogether, what’s said describes a segment of audio frozen in a single slice or moment of time.

The second integral “high quality” factor is called sample rate. Together, bit depth and sample rate complete the higher resolution audio model. The sample rate represents the number of times your audio is measured or “sampled” per second. The typical standard for CDs, the sample rate is 44.1 kHz or 44,100 slices every second.
bit depth and sample rate explained

Digital audio eliminated all of analog audio’s distortions and noise-related problems. In that sense digital is “perfect.” When analog recordings are copied, there are significant generation-to-generation losses, added distortion and noise; digital-to-digital copies are perfect clones. Some recording engineers believe digital doesn’t have a sound per se, and that it’s a completely transparent recording medium. Analog, with its distortions, noise and speed variations imparts its own sound. Arguably, perfect, it is not. This is why high resolution in audio paired with the best form factor and ease and usability go hand in hand.

As to whether digital composes sounds with better quality than analog, that’s merely a moot point. Digital audio recording and its very nature of having the ability to slice into segments and layer, then import into other applications and change into enhanced or analyzed into wave forms has been remarkable and pivotal for many industries. In fact, we now see results of digital audio having a significant impact when having the ability to vector to angular and distinct wave form shapes as to help identify voices and interpret intelligent voice recognition. These encoding factors coupled with deep learning programmatic layers are ushering in a new era of digital interpretation and digital recognition.Instamic-every-day-use
Despite such a proposal of questionable technical and audible merits, founder of Instamic Michelle Baggio apparently moved ahead with the idea and recently launched a well-funded Indiegogo campaign for a new audio and player designed to revive factors of instant usability and simplicity that has been squeezed out of digital recording. Thoughts and experience can now be easily captured or reduced to a series of moments, but it is in this very reason for being captured that one can traverse thoughts by memorable experience to episode, so we as users can stitch what’s most meaningful to formulate a mosaic of audio recordings to help serve a purpose.  Whether it’s for applications in medical, academics, business, music or film, the list goes on and on… even a victim of memory impairment can find good use for Instamic.

Instamic isn’t just an ordinary microphone. It happens to be the smartest, smallest and most affordable digital audio recorder that is also easy to operate, combining usability with the smartphone. It attained over 2,500+ backers and crowdfunding exceeding 539% its original campaign goal. With that many backers and goals funded beyond expectations, there are good market/application factors yielding wider acceptance and adoption of more and more of these audio recording tools. Instamic can function as the day-to-day voice logging tool of choice.go-pro-likeness-recording-revolution
We have now leaped into the “Recording Revolution.” GoPro had an effect on the video revolution, opening up a periscope and view into so many never before seen vantage points. Previously, only a number of people had access to seeing. Adventures and passions of people, shared from around the world into showcases for all to experience what they had seen. Giving an eagle’s eye into the experience of many, providing a viewport into those that would never have seen amazing video capture. The recording revolution is upon us and will grow. Instamic is a mic build and made for everyone. Not only is this recording device at 24-bit, the sample rate matches industry high resolution standards at 96khz sample rate. That’s right, based on the aforementioned bit sampling description, that puts the recording at high resolution of 96,000 slices of audio sampled per second.

Instamic Pro and Instamic

Instamic records at 96khz/24-bit, having both mono and dual-mono while its Pro version even boasts stereo recording. This simple but advance digital recorder features omnidirectional polar pattern. Omnidirectional polar pattern records and performs ideally based on its small form factor. A peek inside reveals the architecture of quickly including minimal-phase digital filtering, zero-feedback circuitry, one of the “best sounding” DAC -nabled chips available with dual 2Msps, 12-bit DAC and analog comparator, and an all-discrete output buffer.

Instamic has the ideal form factor — it’s tiny and can be virtually attached to anything. As a standalone recorder, given the right price and origin of this idea, it can very well replace conventional handheld and lavaliere microphones. Packed with mounting options (magnet, velcro and tape) and a quick release clip, the super portable gadget can register hours of 48khz/24-bit sound in mono and dual mono mode, as well as in stereo quality with its Pro variant. A built-in, rechargeable battery allows for roughly four hours of uncompressed audio recording, with duration varying slightly depending on charge time, temperature and storage conditions.

Instamic has a frequency response of 50 to 18,000Hz. Try doing this with current smartphones or other devices, and batteries will drain quick. Then, recording is sensitive having a frequency response of 50 to 18,000Hz. Instamic crams big recording power into a small form factor which is highly usable because it can be tucked into anything. Simplicity seems to always rule the day especially when it comes to electronic devices looking to shape or better the way we do things in a day to day basis. What the GoPro did for cameras, this gadget wants to do for microphones.

What the GoPro did for cameras, this gadget wants to do for microphones

Given its compact design and minimal setup, Instamic is the perfect accessory for filmmakers, journalists and musicians as they will no longer need to lug around all that bulky, obtrusive equipment. Eliminating the need for cables, the wearable unit connects to its accompanying app over Bluetooth and enables users to control it remotely within a 30-foot radius, as well as simultaneously record with multiple Instamics. What’s more, the mic has been designed with the latest Atmel | SMART SAM 70S MCU, comprising 2GB to 8GB internal memory.

Turning on the pocket-sized device requires a single tap of its logo, while another touch will begin the recording. From there, Instamic will automatically adjust the gain on its own in the first 10 seconds and will ensure that it remains at the optimal level. Tap and hold again for a second and it will stop. If paired with a smartphone, Instamic can also be controlled through its app. When a user needs to transfer a recording to their desktop, its microUSB charging port doubles as the file transfer system. Instamic comes in two models: Pro and Go. The Pro version’s waterproof, black shell makes it a suitable instrument for indoor filming sets, darker environments and even in five feet of water. Meanwhile, the splash-resistant, white Instamic exterior of the Go can remain inconspicuous in most bright, day-lit settings. Both can camouflage easily with custom design covers and handle the most windy conditions wearing Instamic Windshield.Easy USB Charging and 4 hour use and recording
How is this being done inside? Intrigued? You can head over to its Indiegogo page to delve a bit deeper. This Bay Area-based startup has already met its crowdfunding goals and now quickly developing their products with the Atmel SMART | SAM S70, a high-performance ARM Cortex-M7 core-based MCU running up to 300MHz. The MCU comes with analog capability, fitting 12-bit ADCs of up to 24 channels with analog front end, offering offset error correction and gain control, as well as hardware averaging up to 16-bit resolution. SAM S70 also includes 2-channel, 2Msps, 12-bit DAC.

But that’s not all. It’s combined with high-capacity memory with up to 2MB Flash and 384kB SRAM and DSP encoding capabilities (DSP functionality that can be further grown into its roadmap). DSP features can be broadly extended well into its product roadmap. Even more is to happen, inclusive in the roadmap is the SAM S70 MCU doing the encoding and decoding of the audio signals, enhanced with its ability to process deterministic code execution and truly expand on the stereo quality functionality packed with Omnidirectional polar pattern, providing the best quality mapping and single processing for an mcu, outputting workhorse processing power of an MPU.  This 32-bit ARM Cortex M7 processor also features a floating point unit (FPU).  Now with quality mapped to bit depth and bit sampling, the number crunching math required to compute an enormous layers of bits is astounding

The FPU further bolsters high quality audio by executing float point processing to render audio temporarily in a 32 bit floating point format. The recorders will render audio temporarily while the extra bits are added onto the file after recording to allow generous headroom for audio mathematics in the digital domain in memory.  Before the file is output it will go through the 24 bit converters. “Floating point” scales the decimal point in a calculation and processing even more so. Furthermore, having 32 rather than 24 registers for calculations is going to render increasingly accurate result. With strings of only 24 numbers, it would be theoretically impossible to allow for other extensive calculations. Yet, when the data hits the 24-bit converter 8 bits are “truncated” or cut off.  The said mathematical result is simply more accurate and as a result, we get high resolution output of the audio.

Instamic’s MEMS microphones offer a breakthrough innovation in sound sensing. Having sound recorded with an omnidirectional microphone response (similar to sound studio environments) is generally considered to be a perfect sphere in three dimensions. The smallest diameter gives the best omni-directional characteristics at high frequencies. Yes, indeed there’s always something new to learn. This is the compelling reason that makes the MEMS microphone the best mmni-directional microphone. Industry wise, MEMS microphones are entering new application areas such as voice-enabled gaming, automotive voice systems, acoustic sensors for industry and security applications, and medical telemetry. What was once unthinkable early on, the unique construction of the MEMs microphone combined with performance and form factor make it all possible.

Instamic Pro Features and Functionality

instamic-pro-spec

MEMS Microphone Specifications

instamic-mems-microphone

Recorder Specifications

spec-recorder-instamic

Frequency Response Specifications

spec-frequency-instamic

Comparison Specifications

spec-specification-table-instamic-comparison

Comparisons at Scale

spec-comparisons-scale

Once again, Instamic originally stems from the well-funded pool of contributing patrons. The community has supported and validated this product’s potential for an ideal application to market fit. With this said, the demand is real. Shoot for the stars, right? Powered by Atmel’s latest Cortex-M7, Instamic is looking to become a household name when it comes to capturing high-quality sound anywhere, at anytime, on anything.

Are you designing for the latest automotive embedded system?


Eventually, self-driving cars will arrive. But until then, here’s a look at what will drive that progression.


The next arrow of development is set for automotive

We all have seen it. We all have read about it in your front-center technology news outlets. The next forefront for technology will take place in the vehicle. The growing market fitted with the feature deviation trend does not appeal to the vision of customizing more traditional un-connected, oiled and commonly leveraged chassis vehicles of today. Instead, ubiquity in smartphones have curved a design trend, now mature while making way for the connected car platform. The awaiting junction is here for more integration of the automotive software stack.  Opportunities for the connected car market are huge, but multiple challenges still exist. Life-cycles in the development of automotive and the mobile industry are a serious barrier for the future of connected cars. Simply, vehicles take much longer to develop than smartphones other portable gadgetry. More integration from vendors and suppliers are involved with the expertise to seamlessly fit the intended blueprint of the design. In fact, new features such as the operating system are becoming more prevalent, while the demand for sophisticated and centrally operated embedded systems are taking the height of the evolution. This means more dependence on integration of data from various channels, actuators, and sensors — the faculty to operate all the new uses cases such as automatic emergency response systems are functionality requiring more SoC embedded system requirements.

A step toward the connected car - ecall and how it works

What is happening now?

People. Process. Governance. Adoption. Let’s look at the similarities stemmed from change. We are going to witness new safety laws and revised regulations coming through the industry. These new laws will dictate the demand for connectivity. Indeed, drawing importance this 2015 year with the requirement set by 2018, European Parliament voted in favor of eCall regulation. Cars in Europe must be equipped with eCall, a system that automatically contacts emergency services directing them to the vehicle location in the event of an emergency. The automotive and mobile industries have different regional and market objectives. Together, all the participants in both market segments will need to find ways to collaborate in order to satisfy consumer connectivity needs. Case in point, Chrysler has partnered with Nextel to successfully connect cars like their Dodge Viper, while General Motors uses AT&T as its mobile development partner.

General Motors selected AT&T as its mobile partner

What is resonating from the sales floor and customer perspective?

The demand is increasing for more sophistication and integration of software in the cabin of cars. This is happening from the manufacturer to the supplier network then to the integration partners — all are becoming more engaged to achieve the single outcome, pacing toward the movement to the connected car. Stretched as far as the actual retail outlets, auto dealers are shifting their practice to be more tech savvy, too. The advent of the smart  vehicle has already dramatically changed the dealership model, while more transformation awaits the consumer.

On the sales floor as well as the on-boarding experience, sales reps must plan to spend an hour or more teaching customers how to use their car’s advanced technology. But still, these are only a few mentioned scenarios where things have changed in relation to cars and how they are sold and even to the point of how they are distributed, owned, and serviced. One thing for certain, though, is that the design and user trend are intersecting to help shape the demand and experience a driver wants in the connected car. This is further bolstered by the fast paced evolution of smartphones and the marketing experiences now brought forth by the rapid adoption and prolific expansion of the mobile industry tethered by their very seamless and highly evolved experiences drawn from their preferred apps.

Today, customer experiences are becoming more tailored while users, albeit on the screen or engaged with their mobile devices are getting highly acquainted with the expectation of “picking up from where I left off” regardless of what channel, medium, device, or platform.  Seamless experiences are breaking through the market.  We witness Uber, where users initialize their click on their smartphone then follows by telemetry promoted from Uber drivers and back to the users smart phone.  In fact, this happens vis versa, Uber driver’s have information on their console showing customer location and order of priority.  Real life interactions are being further enhanced by real-time data, connecting one device to draw forth another platform to continue the journey.  Transportation is one of the areas where we can see real-time solutions changing our day-to-day engagement.  Some of these are being brought forth by Atmel’s IoT cloud partners such as PubNub where they leverage their stack in devices to offer dispatch, vehicle state, and geo fencing for many vehicle platforms.  Companies like Lixar, LoadSmart, GetTaxi, Sidecar, Uber, Lyft are using real-time technologies as integral workings to their integrated vehicle platforms.

The design trajectory for connected cars continues to follow this arrow forward

Cars are becoming more of a software platform where value chain add-ons tied to an ecosystem are enabled within the software tethered by the cloud where data will continue to enhance the experience. The design trajectory for connected cars follow this software integration arrow.  Today, the demand emphasizes mobility along with required connectivity to customer services and advanced functions like power management for electric vehicles, where firmware/software updates further produce refined outcomes in the driver experience (range of car, battery management, other driver assisted functionalities).

Carmakers and mobile operators are debating the best way to connect the car to the web. Built-in options could provide stronger connections, but some consumers prefer tethering their existing smartphone to the car via Bluetooth or USB cable so they can have full access to their personal contacts and playlists. Connected car services will eventually make its way to the broader car market where embedded connections and embedded systems supporting these connections will begin to leverage various needs to integrate traditional desperate signals into a more centrally managed console.

Proliferation of the stack

The arrow of design for connected cars will demand more development, bolstering the concept that software and embedded systems factored with newly-introduced actuators and sensors will become more prevalent. We’re talking about “software on wheels,” “SoC on wheels,” and “secured mobility.”

Design wise, the cost-effective trend will still remain with performance embedded systems. Many new cars may have extremely broad range of sensor and actuator‑based IoT designs which can be implemented on a single compact certified wireless module.

The arrow for connected cars will demand more development bolstering the concept that software and embedded systems factored with newly introduced actuators & sensors will become more prevalent; “software on wheels”, “SoC on wheels” and “secured mobility”.

Similarly, having fastest startup times by performing the task with a high-performance MCU vs MPU, is economic for a designer. It can not only reduce significant bill of materials cost, development resources, sculpted form factor, custom wireless design capabilities, but also minimize the board footprint. Aside from that, ARM has various IoT device development options, offering partner ecosystems with modules that have open standards. This ensures ease of IoT or connected car connectivity by having type approval certification through restrictive access to the communications stacks.

Drivers will be prompted with new end user applications — demand more deterministic code and processing with chips that support the secure memory capacity to build and house the software stack in these connected car applications.

Feature upon feature, layer upon layer of software combined with characteristics drawn from the events committed by drivers, tires, wheels, steering, location, telemetry, etc. Adapted speed and braking technologies are emerging now into various connected car makes, taking the traditional ABS concept to even higher levels combined with intelligence, along with controlled steering and better GPS systems, which will soon enable interim or cruise hands-free driving and parking.

Connected Car Evolution

Longer term, the technological advances behind the connected car will eventually lead to self-driving vehicles, but that very disruptive concept is still far out.

Where lies innovation and change is disruption

Like every eventual market disruption, there will be the in-between development of this connected car evolution. Innovative apps are everywhere, especially the paradigm where consumers have adopted to the seamless transitional experiences offered by apps and smartphones. Our need for ubiquitous connectivity and mobility, no matter where we are physically, is changing our vehicles into mobile platforms that want us users to seamlessly be connected to the world. This said demand for connectivity increases with the cost and devices involved will become more available. Cars as well as other mobility platforms are increasingly becoming connected packages with intelligent embedded systems. Cars are offering more than just entertainment — beyond providing richer multimedia features and in-car Internet access.  Further integration of secure and trusted vital data and connectivity points (hardware security/processing, crypto memory, and crypto authentication) can enable innovative navigation, safety and predictive maintenance capabilities.

Carmakers are worried about recent hacks,  especially with issues of security and reliability, making it unlikely that they will be open to every kind of app.  They’ll want to maintain some manufactured control framework and secure intrusion thwarting with developers, while also limiting the number of apps available in the car managing what goes or conflicts with the experience and safety measures.  Importantly, we are taking notice even now. Disruption comes fast, and Apple and others have been mentioned to enter this connected car market. This is the new frontier for technological equity scaling and technology brand appeal. Much like what we seen in the earlier models of Blackberry to smartphones, those late in the developmental evolution of their platforms may be forced adrift or implode by the market.

No one is arguing it will happen. Eventually, self-driving cars will arrive.  But for now, it remains a futuristic concept.

What can we do now in the invention, design and development process?

The broader output of manufactured cars will need to continue in leveraging new designs that take in more integration of traditional siloed integration vendors so that the emergence of more unified and centrally managed embedded controls can make its way. Hence, the importance now exists in the DNA of a holistically designed platform fitted with portfolio of processors and security to take on new service models and applications.

This year, we have compiled an interesting mixture of technical articles to support the development and engineering of car access systems, CAN and LIN networks, Ethernet in the car, capacitive interfaces and capacitive proximity measurement.

In parallel to the support of helping map toward the progress and evolution of the connected car, a new era of design exists. One in which the  platform demands embedded controls to evenly match their design characteristics and application use cases. We want to also highlight the highest performing ARM Cortex-M7 based MCU in the market, combining exceptional memory and connectivity options for leading design flexibility. The Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M7 family is ideal for automotive, IoT and industrial connectivity markets. These SAM V/E/S family of microcontrollers are the industry’s highest performing Cortex-M microcontrollers enhancing performance, while keeping cost and power consumption in check.

So are you designing for the latest automotive, IoT, or industrial product? Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Optimized for real-time deterministic code execution and low latency peripheral data access
  • Six-stage dual-issue pipeline delivering 1500 CoreMarks at 300MHz
  • Automotive-qualified ARM Cortex-M7 MCUs with Audio Video Bridging (AVB) over Ethernet and Media LB peripheral support (only device in the market today)
  • M7 provides 32-bit floating point DSP capability as well as faster execution times with greater clock speed, floating point and twice the DSP power of the M4

We are taking the connected car design to the next performance level — having high-speed connectivity, high-density on-chip memory, and a solid ecosystem of design engineering tools. Recently, Atmel’s Timothy Grai added a unveiling point to the DSP story in Cortex-M7 processor fabric. True DSPs don’t do control and logical functions well; they generally lack the breadth of peripherals available on MCUs. “The attraction of the M7 is that it does both — DSP functions and control functions — hence it can be classified as a digital signal controller (DSC).” Grai quoted the example of Atmel’s SAM V70 and SAM V71 microcontrollers are used to connect end-nodes like infotainment audio amplifiers to the emerging Ethernet AVB network. In an audio amplifier, you receive a specific audio format that has to be converted, filtered, and modulated to match the requirement for each specific speaker in the car. Ethernet and DSP capabilities are required at the same time.

“The the audio amplifier in infotainment applications is a good example of DSC; a mix of MCU capabilities and peripherals plus DSP capability for audio processing. Most of the time, the main processor does not integrate Ethernet AVB, as the infotainment connectivity is based on Ethernet standard,” Grai said. “Large SoCs, which usually don’t have Ethernet interface, have slow start-up time and high power requirements. Atmel’s SAM V7x MCUs allow fast network start-up and facilitate power moding.”

Atmel has innovative memory technology in its DNA — critical to help fuel connected car and IoT product designers. It allows them to run the multiple communication stacks for applications using the same MCU without adding external memory. Avoiding external memories reduces the PCB footprint, lowers the BOM cost and eliminates the complexity of high-speed PCB design when pushing the performance to a maximum.

Importantly, the Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M7 family achieves a 1500 CoreMark Score, delivering superior connectivity options and unique memory architecture that can accommodate the said evolve of the eventual “SoC on wheels” design path for the connected car.

How to get started

  1. Download this white paper detailing how to run more complex algorithms at higher speeds.
  2. Check out the Atmel Automotive Compilation.
  3. Attend hands-on training onboard the Atmel Tech on Tour trailer. Following these sessions, you will walk away with the Atmel | SMART SAM V71 Xplained Ultra Evaluation Kit.
  4. Design the newest wave of embedded systems using SAM E70, SAM S70, or SAM V70 (ideal for automotive, IoT, smart gateways, industrial automation and drone applications, while the auto-grade SAM V70 and SAM V71 are ideal for telematics, audio amplifiers and advanced media connectivity).

IMG_3659

[Images: European Commission, GSMA]

10 (+1) invaluable steps to launching your next IoT product


Let’s transition your products from a ‘dumb’ to ‘smart’ thing.


Many enterprises, startups and organizations have already been exposed to the innovation land grab stemming from the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT). What’s available in the product/market fit arena? This is the hunt to cease some segment of the multi-trillion dollar growth reported to gain from the IoT, enabling embedded system connectivity coupled with the ecosystem value-add of a product or service. Even for that matter, transforming a mere idea that centers around connectivity solutions can present an array of challenges, particularly when one seeks to bring to market disruptive ways for the end-user to adopt from the more traditional way of doing things (e.g. GoPro, PebbleWatch, FitBit, and even to as far as e-health monitors, tire subscriptions, self-driving vehicles, smart bracelets, connected medical apparatus or Industrial Internet devices, home automation systems and more).

All together, there’s one overlaying theme to these Internet-enabled products. They are all pervasively SMART technologies that help monetize the IoT. Now, let’s get your products to transition from a once ordinary, mundane object to a much smarter, more secure “thing.” When doing so, this too can often present a few obstacles for designers, especially as it requires a unique set of skills needed to interface systems with connectivity to the cloud or Internet.

To top it all off, there may already be various product lines in existence that have a mandate to leverage a connected ecosystem/design. In fact, even new ones require connectivity to the cloud, having designs set forth to enhance via customer usage then combining this user data with other associated data points. Already, the development to enable such devices require an assortment of skills. It’s an undertaking, one in which requires knowledge and expertise to command stable connectivity in the infrastructure and design a product with security, scalability, and low power.

Moving ahead, here are some recommendations developers and Makers should know:

  1. Identify a need and market: The value of the smart device lies in in the service that it brings to the customer. Identify the need to develop a strong offer that brings value or enhances efficiency rather than creating a simple gadget. (See Marc Andreesen’s infamous blog on product/market fit for more tips).
  1. Validate your ideation: Carry out market research. Do your due diligence. Determine whether the device you think of creating already exists. Can improvements be ascertained with testimonial as an enhanced or unique experience? Indeed, benchmarking will allow you to discover any competitors, find sources of inspiration, develop a network of ideas to pool and find other areas for improvement as well.
  1. Prototype toward MVP: New device fabrication techniques, such as 3D printing, are the ideal creative validation for producing prototypes much faster and for less money. They also promote iteration, which is an integral process when designing the device towards MVP.
  1. Connect the ‘thing’ then concert it into a smart ‘thing:’ Right now, there is no mandatory standard for interconnecting different devices. Selecting the right technology is essential, particularly if the device requires low-power (speaking of low-power….) and event and state controls, which highly optimize extended power and the services to enrich the information system and eventally enhance user experience with a roadmap toward an ecosystem.
  1. Develop the application: Today, the primary smart devices are linked to an dedicated mobile app. Since the app transforms the smartphone into a remote control, it must be be easy to use for your end-users, and more importantly, simply upgraded via the cloud.
  1. Manage the data: Fitted with a multitude of sensors, connected gadgets generate an enormous amount of data that need to be processed and stored with the utmost security across all layers even to as far as using cryptography in memory. (After all, you don’t want your design become a ‘Tales from the Crypt-O” horror story.) 
  1. Analyze and exploit the data: By processing and analyzing the data, a company can extract the necessary information to deploy the right service in the right place at the right time.
  1. Measure the impact of the smart device: Set up probes to monitor your devices and data traffic quality. Answer questions objectively as to how it would securely scale and evolve should there be an instant high volume success and usage. This will help you measure the impact of the smart device in real time and adapt its actions accordingly, and model into the product roadmap and MVP spec.
  1. Iterate to fine-tune the device’s use: After launching the project, the process has only begun. Feedback needs to be taken into account in order to adjust and fine-tune the project. Due to its very nature, digital technology requires continuous adaptation and iteration. “Try and learn” and present riskier ideas to products are the fundamental principles behind transformation when imposing a new use.
  1. Prototype again: Continuous adaptation and iteration means that your company needs to produce a new prototype.
Here’s 10 + 1 invaluable Step to Launching Your IoT Project or Products

Here’s 10 + 1 invaluable steps to launching your IoT project or product.

11. Take advantage of the hands-on training in your region.

As an application space, IoT sensor nodes are enabled by a number of fundamental technologies, namely a low-power MCU, some form of wireless communication and strong security. With this in mind, the newly revealed Atmel IoT Secure Hello World series will offer attendees hands-on training, introducing them to some of the core technologies making the Internet of Things possible, including Wi-Fi and CryptoAuthentication.

What’s more, these sessions will showcase Atmel’s diverse Wi-Fi capabilities and CryptoAuthentication hardware key storage in the context of the simplest possible use cases. This includes learning how to send temperature information to any mobile device via a wireless network and how to enable the remote control of LEDs on a SAM D21 Xplained Pro board over a Wi-Fi network using a WINC1500. In addition, attendees will explore authentication of IoT nodes, as well as how to implement a secure communications link — something that will surely come in handy when preparing to launch your next smart product.

As you can see, so far, everyone is LOVING the Hello World sessions — from hardcore embedded engineers to hobbyists. Here some recent social activity following the recent Tech on Tour events in both Manchester and Heathrow, UK. Need we say more? These tweets say a thousand words!

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Connected and ready to go… all before lunch! (Yes, there’s food as well!)

 

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Atmel’s Tech on Tour and proud partner EBV Elektronik proudly thankful for the successful event in Manchester, UK.

 

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Atmel’s Tech on Tour just successfully completed a full house attendance training in Manchester, UK

 

Find out how you too can receive in-depth IoT training. As the Atmel | Tech on Tour makes it way throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, make sure you know when the team arrives in your town!  Don’t miss it. Upon registering, you will even receive a WINC1500 Xplained Pro Starter Kit to take home.

How Big Bang Theory and IoT relate to Tech on Tour


Hands-on ‘IoT Secure Hello World’ training introduces Atmel Wi-Fi and CrytoAuthentication technologies.


How The Big Bang Theory Relates to the Internet of Things

How many of you out there are fans of the CBS hit sitcom series Big Bang Theory? If you recall an episode from the show’s first season, entitled “The Cooper-Hofstadter Polarization,” the team of Sheldon Cooper, Leonard Hofstadter, Howard Wolowitz and Raj Koothrappali successfully triggered a lamp over the Internet using an X-10 system.

In order to accomplish this feat, the gang sent signals across the web and around the world from their apartment to connect not only their lights, but other electronics like their stereo and remote control cars as well.

“Gentlemen, I am now about to send a signal from this laptop through our local ISP racing down fiber optic cable at the of light to San Francisco bouncing off a satellite in geosynchronous orbit to Lisbon, Portugal, where the data packets will be handed off to submerged transatlantic cables terminating in Halifax, Nova Scotia and transferred across the continent via microwave relays back to our ISP and the external receiver attached to this…lamp,”  Wolowitz excitedly prefaced.

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The funny thing is, the technology that the group of sitcom scientists was simulating could have just as easily been done using a Wi-Fi network controller like the WINC1500. However, at the time of airing back in March of 2008, open access for Internet users looking to control “things” around the house was seemingly something only engineers and super geeks thought possible.

We can imagine this is probably how it would’ve gone down…

Bringing Next-Generation Technology to You

In order to make the scene above possible, an Atmel | SMART SAM D21 was hooked up to the WINC1500 and connected to a solid-state relay, thereby enabling the team to control the lamp.

If this captivated your attention, then you’re in for a treat. That’s because Atmel is taking its “IoT Secure Hello World” Tech on Tour seminar on the road — starting with Europe!

As an application space, IoT sensor nodes are enabled by a number of fundamental technologies, namely a low-power MCU, some form of wireless communication and strong security. With this in mind, the Atmel IoT Secure Hello World series will offer attendees hands-on training, introducing them to some of the core technologies making the Internet of Things possible, including Wi-Fi and CryptoAuthentication.

These training sessions will showcase Atmel’s Wi-Fi capability and CryptoAuthentication hardware key storage in the context of the simplest possible use-case in order to focus attention on the practical aspects of combining the associated supporting devices and software. This includes learning how to send temperature information to any mobile device via a wireless network and how to enable the remote control of LEDs on a SAM D21 Xplained Pro board over a Wi-Fi network using a WINC1500. In addition, attendees will explore authentication of IoT nodes, as well as how to implement a secure communications link.

Take the very fundamental use-case of switching on an LED, for instance, which will represent our ‘Hello World!’ For this IoT application, the LED will be controlled using a smartphone app via the Internet, while a sensor node will be enabled to read an analog temperature sensor. The first part of the training will introduce Atmel Wi-Fi technology, which connects our embedded development kit of choice, an Atmel | SMART SAMD21 Xplained Pro, via the Atmel SmartConnect WINC1500 Wi-Fi module to a local access point. The result will be the ability to easily and securely send temperature information to any mobile device on the network, while also having remote control of the LED.

From the moment a ‘thing’ is connected, it becomes susceptible to a slew of potential security risks from hackers. That’s why the second part of the training will delve deeper into how CryptoAuthentication can be used to authenticate the temperature sensor node and host application before it can read the temperature information to avoid fake nodes. A secure communications link will be implemented using a session key to and from the remote node.

When all is said and done, building for the IoT demands innovative and secure solutions while architecting a balance between performance, scalability, compatibility, security, flexibility and energy efficiency — all of which Atmel covers extremely well.


Atmel | Tech on Tour Agenda At-a-Glance

The Atmel team will be coming through a number of major cities, from Manchester and Milan to Munich and Moscow. Ready to join us? Be sure to register for one of the Atmel | Tech on Tour European, Asia, or North America locations today! Upon registering, you will even receive a WINC1500 Xplained Pro Starter Kit to take home.

8:30 – 9:00     Check-In and Preparation

  • Assistance with installing software will be provided

9:00 – 10:15     Introduction to Atmel Wi-Fi Solution

  • WINC1500/WILC1000 Hardware and Performance Overview
  • Software and IoT Solution Overview
  • Wi-Fi Network Controller IoT Sensor Application

10:15 – 10:30    Hands-on Introduction

10:30 – 10:45    BREAK

10:45 – 12:30    Hands-on: WINC1500 Wi-Fi Network Controller IoT Sensor Application

  • Sending temperature information to any phone or tablet on the network
  • Enabling remote control of LED0 on the SAM D21 Xplained Pro board

12:30 – 1:30    LUNCH

1:30 – 2:15      Introduction to Atmel CryptoAuthentication IoT Security and Technology

2:15 – 3:00      Hands-on Introduction: Authenticating IoT Nodes

  • Authenticate the temp sensor node and host application before being able to read the temperature information to avoid fake nodes
  • How to implement a secure communications link using a session key to and from the remote node to any phone or tablet on the network

3:00 – 3:15    BREAK

3:45 – 4:30    Hands-on: Authenticating IoT Nodes (continued…)

4:30 – 5:00    Wrap-up, Questions and Answers


Prerequisites

Software Requirements

  • Download Atmel Studio 6.2 software.
  • Wireshark Packet Sniffer will be provided.

Hardware Requirements

  • Attendees are required to bring a laptop. Atmel will NOT supply computers at the training.
  • Please make sure to have administrator rights on your laptop.
  • Laptop must have at least one Internet port and one free USB host connector.

Evaluation Kit Requirements

  • Atmel | SMART SAMD21 – XPRO host MCU board
  • Atmel WINC1500 module mounted ATWINC 1500 Xplained Pro Extension (Product Code: ATWINC1500-XSTK)
  • Atmel Digital I/O WING extension board for sensor and SD-card input target USB

1:1 interview with Jean Anne Booth of UnaliWear


“What really makes the Kanega Watch different is that it goes where you go, both inside your home and away. It is discreetly styled, so there’s no stigma from wearing an assistive device, and it speaks to you in words.” 


In this interview, we feature Jean Anne Booth, a serial entrepreneur with a successful track record in hardware innovation, having previously launched and sold two large and notable companies. Her current project is UnaliWear, a wearable health technology startup that has recently made its Kickstarter debut. She comes with a wealth of experience, and her timing could’t be better as the wearable digital health market continues to unfold. What’s more, Kanega Watch — which we recently featured on Bits & Pieces — is looking to bring a much-needed vision for practical usage to that space.

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Tom Vu: What’s the main driver to going about this once again? Well, considering you did this before as the first person to launch the ARM Cortex-M3 at Luminary Micro?

Jean Anne Booth: Great question! I actually retired for a couple of years after I sold my last company to Texas Instruments. During this period, my mom turned 80, and she had a couple of incidents that made me start looking for a personal emergency response system for her. Many of the assistive devices available are flawed in one aspect of another. Most importantly, there are three reasons, which make them quite hard for seniors to desire to integrate into their lives. First, they are ugly. Secondly, if they have connectivity, the devices usually require some complicated installation of a tethered smart phone or access point. And one of the most overlooked objections, there is a big “HELP” button. This big button is quite visually disturbing. When you see the big “HELP” button made large for usability and functionality, it is so socially stigmatizing. I wanted my mom to live safely while being independent and not being socially stigmatized.

TV: How is the UnaliWear Kanega Watch different from other wearable tech?

JAB: Focus groups have called Kanega Watch a ‘wearable OnStar for seniors’ because we provide discreet support for falls, medication reminders, and a guard against wandering in a classically styled watch that uses an easy speech interface rather than buttons. What really makes the Kanega Watch different is that it goes where you go, both inside your home and away. It is discreetly styled, so there is no stigma from wearing an assistive device, and it speaks to you in words. The watch brand name “Kanega” is from Cherokee for “speak”.

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TV: Is what you’re creating really going to make our lives better?

JAB: Yes, it’s about being there when it counts. You can wear Kanega Watch on 24×7 basis, so you don’t forget to put it back on, and therefore you’re wearing when you need it. There is a very long battery life, unlike an Apple Watch, Android, or Samsung smartwatch. There is no need for an additional device, either an access point or a smartphone. For seniors, or those who are independent but vulnerable, it can help with issues at night like trips to the bathroom. It’s waterproof, not just water resistant, so you can wear it in the shower/bath (this is where a majority of falls happen), and also in your pool exercises. It works anywhere you go, and those who are vulnerable are not trapped at home. Importantly, there is a convenience to this as you’re wearing everything you need to stay safe.

For instance, here is one of the fundamental characteristics of how the watch works, and why our tagline is “Extending Independence with Dignity.” If the Kanega Watch wants to speak, it will ask permission first. It requests permission to speak by buzzing on the wearer’s wrist like a cellphone on silent, so there’s no visual or audible stigma of wearing an assistive device when socially inappropriate — like at church.

If it detects a potential fall, it will ask if you will need help, because two out of three falls do not require help. In fact, Kanega Watch will continuously monitor you – a kind of continuous welfare check. In a suspected fall, if you don’t respond to the request for permission to speak (for example, if you’re unconscious, unable to move, or unable to speak), then it will begin to escalate and then notify emergency and your contacts for help. There’s practical and smart logic built into the wearable.

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TV: How has your experience in this industry going to help in fulfilling the practical/adoptable use of moving wearable tech toward broader acceptance/use?

JAB: To me, it’s not about advancing a category of technology. It’s about harnessing technology to solve real problems, and in this case, about allowing people to live independently, safely, for as long as possible. It’s been an interesting experience transitioning from semiconductors to healthcare, and has proven to be very rewarding building products that directly make people’s lives better. It’s a fantastic feeling!

TV: What hardware startups do you think are actually doing some really interesting things right now?

JAB: That’s a hard question for me because I’m biased toward products that make a difference and are directly useful. Often what is the most cool and interesting is not at all useful! One thing that our Kickstarter campaign has taught us is that the average person buying things that are cool is not quite in the same category as the people who would buy our wearable for seniors.

TV: How would you describe your team?

JAB: Today, our team consists of a cadre of three founders. Our CTO Marc DeVinney does all the hardware. Brian Kircher, who I’ve worked with for 14 years, does all the software for the Kanega Watch. I do everything else.

TV: Who do you look up to as a mentor now?

JAB: Jimmy Treybig, founder of Tandem Computers, has been a close friend for years and has always been helpful. Jimmy has been a source of a lot of wisdom. For this particular company, another extremely important mentor is my mother, Joan, who is also our Senior User Experience Advisor. She’s put together a number of focus groups, and has also been a lot of help in detailing the use cases.

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TV: What improvements will your product provide society? Perhaps even help the movement of IoT, connected things and wearables?

JAB: The Internet of Things promises to transform daily life, making it easier to work, shop, merchandise, exercise, travel and stay healthy. Really, thanks to billions of connected devices — from smart toothbrushes and thermostats to commercial drones and robotic companions for the elderly. It also will end up gathering vast amounts of data that could provide insights about our habits, religious beliefs, political leanings, sentiments, consumer interest, sports, and even as far as go to other highly personal aspects of our lives. I think the maturation of IoT and wearables is intertwined together. In some respects, what we are building at UnaliWear is also helping cement together the more meaningful adoption of wearables. In our particular case with the Kanega Watch, we couldn’t solve our user problem unless we could provide a better wearable device that is constantly connected all the time. Ultra-low power is very challenging fundamental backstop for every wearable device, and for most IoT devices as well. Our wearable includes cellular, GPS, and Wi-Fi built into one seamlessly integrated non-obtrusive wearable.

Our design goal for the Kanega Watch is that it must be wearable 24×7. It cannot be in a pocket or have requirements of being tucked into a purse. It also must have enough communications capability so that a senior is not stuck in their home all the time. To meet this goal, we have a unique patent-pending quick swap battery system enabling a user to not have to take the watch off to charge. The wearable can last 2 days for most users, and it comes with four batteries. It’s designed to have two batteries available on the charger and two batteries on the watch at all times. The device eliminates the need to be near a base station or smartphone.

Today, simply using built-in smartphone or app presents a couple of problems. Most seniors today don’t have nor operate a smart phone. Less than 5% of seniors over 80 years in age have a smart phone today. For the few seniors who do have smart phones, there are still problems using a smart phone for falls and reminders, because today’s smart phones still have only about 10 hours of real usage time per day.

TV: By 2050, what are some of your predictions for consumers or users interacting with technology on a day-to-day basis?

JAB: I do think that speech will definitely play a larger part in our interaction paradigm. Remember that popular Star Trek movie scene where they come back in time to save the whales and Scotty goes with Checkov to analyze the strength of the materials being used to make a housing for the whales, and the computer he is given is the original Macintosh. Scotty speaks to the Mac, Checkov reminds him that’s not the interface, and then Scotty picks up the mouse and speaks to the mouse. This seems to show a natural interface into the future as Scotty mistakes the old computer for one he can easily and naturally talk to. Now looking at where we are today – the senior population is the fastest growing population segment in the US, and by 2030 will be 20% of our total population. Today, there are 17 million seniors above the age of 75 who are living independently, yet only 2.2 million of those independent seniors have any kind of monitoring system to get help. Today’s 17 million seniors will burgeon to 27 million seniors by 2030. Natural speech interfaces and connectivity will be control what we’re able to build in the future.

TV: What question might you pose to someone in the middle of making a choice to purchase or carry something that is connected and electronically enabling for a senior in their lives?

JAB: I think the message is simple. We show over and over again that if you want to extend the time and quality of someone’s life, then extend their independence. That means you need products that a senior is willing to wear, and that fits into their active lifestyle. At its core, the wearable is based on an Atmel | SMART SAM4L Cortex-M4 MCU running FreeRTOS as the real time operating system and also includes the ATWINC1500 SmartConnect device for Wi-Fi. The Kanega Watch includes both Wi-Fi and cellular communications; when you’re at home, it uses your Wi-Fi. When you’re away, it transitions seamlessly to cellular.

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TV: Does the Kanega Watch have initial roots from the Maker Movement?

JAB: Yes, the roots are definitely Maker Movement – and also a lot of rapid prototyping (hardware’s version of the Lean Startup). We built our first industrial design prototypes at the TechShop in Austin, and our very first alpha design used a 3D-printed “box” as the “watch”. We make a lot of prototypes with rapid turn 3D-printing and CNC-machined aluminum. Before we built our own first prototypes, we created a software prototype on the Omate TrueSmart smart watch, which has dual 1.3 GHz ARM Cortex-A8’s running Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich.” Our only challenge with this prototype is that the battery life was an unsatisfying 5 hours – which meant that I had a battery pocket in my pocket and kept the watch plugged in with a cord hidden under my shirt when I needed to demonstrate over a long period, such as at a conference like SxSW. I like our current prototypes better!


Interested in learning more or have an elderly family member who could benefit from the Kanega Watch? Head over to UnaliWear’s current Kickstarter campaign here.

1:1 interview with Mitch Altman, Co-Founder of Noisebridge, San Francisco (Part 2)

…Continued from Interview with Mitch Altman (Part 1)

Tom Vu: What is the Hackerspace in Residence Program? Why is this important?

Mitch Altman: Let me start by giving some background…

Over the past decade, thousands of designers, engineers, artists, programmers, crafters, scientists, cooks, musicians, tinkerers, and the otherwise curious, have gathered at hackerspaces (sometimes also called makerspaces) to explore and do what they love — often finding subjects and projects they find meaning in pursuing. This happens because of the supportive community, as well as the tools and other resources found at these unique spaces found all over the globe. People work and play individually and collaboratively. People come from varied and diverse backgrounds, with varied and diverse skills. This mix of people, skills, community, and tools creates synergistic magic.

Each hackerspace is unique, each with their own set of focuses. Yet they all share in this magic. Through the sharing of skills, information, and other resources within community, we can design the worlds we want. The steps in getting there are often challenging. In fact, this is why we need these collaborative spaces, where people of different backgrounds and diverse skills cooperate and help each other.

Researchers are now starting to study the hackerspace movement, asking what these spaces look like, in what ways their practices changes across these sites, what values connect them, in what ways they differ from each other, and how they connect with and influence and help the wider world.

Along these lines, somewhat related programs such as after-school and out-of-school programs, as well as home schooling and unschooling, have been growing steadily in recent years. Students and instructors are still searching for high-interest content combined with hands-on creating that keys into areas of interest without the rigidity and sterility of most current classroom structures. In essence, it’s really about creating and playing and trying things. It is about hands-on, experiential, play-based science, art and learning. We can break things. We can take things apart. We can fool around. We can put things together again in our own ways. This is useful regardless of the topics of interest. This facilitates tinkering and making things, but also helps in learning science, math, and other more conceptual or abstract fields of study.

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Hackers In Residence Program Kickoff event at Tsinghua University | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

We are approaching 2,000 hackerspaces on the planet, and growing fast. Again: each space is unique, each perfect for the people who started it and the people who keep it going. Yet, each space is part of the international hackerspace movement. And, to varying degrees, hackerspaces all help each other.

To facilitate this process of growth and mutual benefit amongst hackerspaces — helping each other and the world — I am putting a lot of energy into the Hackers in Residence Program. For a long time now there have been Artist in Residence programs to support individuals in their art. Artists benefit greatly from this. And since the visiting artists have shared their skills, their knowledge, and their enthusiasms and passions for their art, the hosting communities benefit as well. People in a hosting community can pick up on these priceless gifts and cruise with them in their own ways. The artists also take their experiences and what they learn with them when they leave, further sharing wherever they go.

This Hackers in Residence Program is similar to an artist in residence program, only broader in scope. Not only art, in its many and varied forms, but anything can be shared and supported when someone is a hacker in residence. Not only the visiting hacker and the hosting community benefit, but all hosting organizations (hackerspaces, libraries, museums, art organizations, corporations) — and the world — benefits, since the hacker moves on from their visit, taking their new experiences and/or projects along with them to share, cross-pollinating wherever they go. And the joy spreads.

I have been both an artist in residence and a hacker in residence. These were fantastic experiences for me! They helped me create new projects. I was able to teach people what I love. I shared my enthusiasm. And I was able to take what I learned from the unique spaces and communities that hosted me, and I’ve shared these experiences with other spaces wherever I travel.

Teaching people what I do — at home, and as I travel around the world — my intent is to encourage people to explore and do what they love. On the surface, I teach people the simple skill of soldering, with which anyone, any age, any skill level, can make cool things with electronics. I also teach electronics and microcontrollers (using AVR microcontrollers, since they are so easy to learn and teach, especially with all the cool free and open source tools available for all operating systems — and with the zillions of projects available online). I give talks on many subjects, with the intent of helping and inspiring others to explore and do what they may find meaning in doing.

Many organizations — such as hackerspaces, libraries, museums, art organizations, corporations — can offer people residency opportunities where they can share their skills, work on their projects, explore their subject, learn from others, with mutual benefits and contributions in so many ways.

Early next year we will launch the HackerInResidence.org website, a totally free website where any organization can list themselves, and create pages for Residency opportunities. It will also allow anyone in the world to easily search for Residency opportunities that they can apply for. (We can use another volunteer web-programmer — if you’re interested, please contact me! Mitch AT CornfieldElectronics DOT com)

For example, I have been an advocate in helping solidify Tsinghua University’s Hackers in Residence program. Tsinghua is considered one of the most prestigious universities in China. Their president is wanting education at Tsinghua to be all about learning to live a life each student loves living. Creating a hackerspace at the university is an experiment in education towards this end. By inviting creative hackers from all over the world, including China, to become residents, working on projects, sharing their skills and knowledge and interests and passions, leading events, such as hackathons and exhibitions — by doing these things, and whatever else the resident is moved to do, students will be exposed to a world of diverse creativity, learning in ways people learn at hackerspaces (and, unfortunately, not at most schools), learning in ways that have been proven to work, ways that lead and inspire a lifetime of learning, creativity, and innovation.

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Hackers In Residence Program Kickoff event at Tsinghua University | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

I have become involved in helping some of the budding hackerspaces in China such as Beijing Makerspace, Chaihuo Hackerspace in Shenzhen, and Xinchejian Hackerspace in Shanghai. Some interesting projects have grown out of these hackerspaces that make people a living — and, as with all projects created out of the shear love of doing it, these projects are good for the others in the local community, in this case, local Chinese culture.

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Chaihuo Hackerspace in Shenzhen, China

What if there were a lot more opportunities for people to take advantage of? This could be really good for the individual hackers, the individual students, people in the outlying community, and perhaps, if there are enough opportunities, for all of China. And if it works in China — and all indications show that it probably will — it can work everywhere, as they have at hackerspaces around the world over the last several years.

But we are just at the beginning now.

Hackerspaces are a global phenomena and changing the very fabric of how we can learn, share, interact, and create. Hackerspaces.org (which I helped form at its inception in 2008) is a good informational and networking nexus site that helps people starting and running hackerspaces around the world. This site allowed the early creation and spread of what is now the hackerspace movement.

Since then, the hackerspace movement has grown exponentially, providing opportunities for lots of people! But, we need more. To benefit the world’s 7 billion people, we need a million unique hackerspaces planet wide. I think that the Hackers in Residence program, with its HackerInResidence.org website, can help a lot.

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Kung Fu Hacking at Hackers In Residence Program Kickoff event at Tsinghua University | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

TV: Tell me more about how you started this Hacker in Residence program?

MA: For the past few years I’ve organized an annual Hacker Trip to China, where a bunch of hackers (note to reader, this implies the earlier stated original sentiment of a “hacker”: people who use any available resource to make their projects cooler, and share the results) from around the world to go to China to (amongst other cool things) help transform some portion of education there. After several years, all this organizing is paying off! At the end of last year’s China trip, Tsinghua University officially started a Hackers in Residence Program. The program is still nascent, but there will soon be a constant stream of diverse hackers from around the world staying at Tsinghua to mentor students!

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Hackers In Residence Program Kickoff event at Tsinghua University | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

The culmination of our trip last year was the Hackers in Residence Kickoff event at Tsinghua University. The event was mongo! Including a mongo LED display showing a hacked version of the “Kung Fu Fighting” music video. All of our talks were on top of a huge crane. It was lots of fun. And celebratory. And lots of education bigwigs were there. The Hackers in Residence is now an official, for-credit, ongoing program at Tsinghua. We’re expecting this to continue on, and grow, and eventually spread all over China, and hopefully everywhere. It’s pretty exciting.

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Maker Carnival | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

We also visited Shanghai for Maker Carnival, my manufacturer in Shanghai, XinCheJian hackerspace in Shanghai, HAXLR8R accelerator program in Shenzhen (where I’m a mentor), Chaihuo hackerspace in Shenzhen, and many other cool events and places. In this first half of the year, I have been busying organizing Hackers In Residence Program abroad.  Since my return from last year’s Hacker Trip to China I have been busy furthering the Hackers in Residence Program there, and everywhere. I’ll be leaving with this year’s Hacker Trip to China at the beginning of November, bringing another great group of diverse worldwide hackers who are wanting to share what they can, and learn from all of our experiences, and bring it all back to share at home. Our first stop will be Tsinghua University.

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Hackerspaces in China | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

TV: What does the Hacker In Residence Program provide to the learning participant?

MA: It can be different at different organizations, depending on what the organization has to offer, and what they require of the Resident. At Tsinghua, they want to provide their students a constant stream of diverse hackers from hackerspaces around the world, overlapping with other Residents staying there. As well as providing travel expenses, food, an apartment, access to way awesome tools, and space to work on their own projects, each Resident collaborates with students to come up with their own cool projects that they will show off at the end of the semester. They also make themselves available as mentors for the students. Most importantly, it’s all about the Residents and the students having an amazing experience of a lifetime.

The last point is very important. These hackers in residence can perform peer-to-peer interaction, providing encouragement and inspiration, as well as help with skills and knowledge. They can help guide students’ ideas, help bolster a student’s curiosity and interest, supplemented with pathways drawn from the student’s own hands on experience.

Since Tsinghua University is so well respected in China, the program will probably be spreading to universities and schools all over China. And hopefully, spreading throughout the world.

The Hackers in Residence program is needed. It is needed because education today is too far behind the curve, focusing on standardized tests rather than learning what a given person wants and needs to the life they want to live. It is needed because it will be so cool to have Residency opportunities for people everywhere to take advantage of, and to share of themselves, and help the hosting organizations and communities. Everybody wins.

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Hackerspace in Residence Program| Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

The Hackers in Residence program offers people a chance at real, live, actual learning opportunities (at universities, schools, hackerspaces, libraries, corporations, museums, art spaces and all of the places it will exist).  The resident will collaborate with students to choose projects they will work on in small groups. In turn, they will also be available as a mentor for students and help assist in local hack-a-thons. Most importantly, it’s all about having an amazing time and doing work in cool projects that can be shared so new opportunities and potential residents in the future can gain from these interactions just as well.

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Kung Fu Hacking Tsingchua Style with Hacker in Residence Program

TV: How does this dove tail into something larger? Such as in priming for the next industrial movement or even development of applications around the Wearable Tech, Internet of Things, or 3D Printing? Perhaps reinforcing the Maker Movement?

MA: The way I see it: community is very scarce at the moment in our modern world — and it is very much needed. At the same time, people are often too afraid to be creative. Yet, we need to express our creativity to thrive in our lives. The era of good little workers for factories and massive industry is past — the pendulum is swinging toward a new paradigm of meaningful and sustainable innovation. The old production paradigm does not make for a healthy human spirit; it does not provide a world full of people feeling their lives are way worthwhile. We can help transform workers and vocational and professional training to encourage people to take more vital roles in contributing to fulfillment in their lives — this is what can lead to a well-balanced global ecosystem, fueling innovation, creativity, opportunity, and community. With more people having the opportunity to experience community that supports our creativity, all areas of human endeavor can be enhanced.


TV:
Does “hacking” need to be part of DNA for the inception of great Product Ideas?

MA: Need? No. Desirable? Yes.

Many of the products available for purchase today are things we don’t necessarily want or need — they were created primarily to maximize profit. Of course, we need money to buy food, shelter, and many other necessities. We also need some money to buy resources we want so that we can live lives we find way worthwhile. But how much money do we need? The concept of enough is an important one to consider. The howling engines of Marketing manipulate us through our hopes and desires and fears with the goal of maximizing profit — we’re needed to buy things to feed this engine. Sadly, the choice to maximize profit is often chosen over making our lives and our world better. Sadly, some of us choose to maximize profits even when it is known that the consequences are likely to make the world a less safe or less good place… Does it really need to be this way?

Hackerspaces along with its core methodology helps foster things that people really love. Participants become passionate around their creations. This creates a higher chance that these ideas, woven with much imagination and passion, are good for those that create them, as well as for the surrounding community. If you create something you love, chances are that others will love it, too. And when people love what you do, they may even pay you to do it. If it is a product or service that others love, these may actually be helpful and relevant in their lives. If this is the case, then the world is actually becoming a better place. This is the result of more people working and playing with what they love, what they find meaning in doing. That, rather than maximizing profit, can be the primary factor in why we do what we do. The net result is that more people feel they are living lives that are way worthwhile. This is the way I see things.

Let me talk a bit about China again. One of the big economic games there now involves Western corporations manufacture their goods there. For a while now, it has been more profitable to take advantage of the differing economies, despite the costs to ship the products half way around the planet after production. This game is changing, however, for three reasons. First, the Chinese economy is improving, causing labor costs to go up (as they should). Secondly, the exchange rates for Chinese to Western currencies are going in the wrong direction to be advantageous to the West. And thirdly, shipping costs are continuing to go up. Sometime soon, it will be cheaper to manufacture elsewhere in the world. And China needs to adapt so that Chinese people are directing their creativity and innovation towards goods and services that are good for China.

If culture in China can change so that even a significant minority of people explore and do what they love doing, then chances are they are coming up with goods and services that are good for the local community in their part of China. This leads to vibrant local economy that works for their part of China. If enough people make enough money to live lives they want to live, this is good for China. Which means that it is good for one seventh of the world’s population. So this would be good for the world. And I can’t help but add that hackerspaces are great places for people to explore and do what they love — places that can help encourage peoples’ creativity and innovation.

This same process can also work in other parts of the world.

I have friends involved in setting up hackerspaces in Egypt where they help organize communities and witness people there making a living with small projects. The economy is such that not much money is needed to do a lot there. People create, grow, and sustain themselves and others in this way.

Things are somewhat similar in Detroit, which has been economically depressed for quite some time. There are many resources left behind from its heyday as an industrial center, including inexpensive space, and cheap materials, making it a wonderful place for creation. Creative people have been moving to Detroit to take advantage of this. There are a few hackerspaces there where people come together and support each other in making all sorts of way cool projects, some of which make a living for many people.

Let’s create more opportunities for people everywhere to be part of supportive community where people can create.

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Regional Hackerspaces provide opportunity to create and help local innovation in the culture

TV: What is hacking? Can we make this a positive orientation for our youth and innovation?

MA: The origin term for “hacking” has been warped by the mainstream media. Historically, the term was coined by the model railroaders at MIT in the early 1950s. They used all sorts of things as resources to make awesome model railroads — it didn’t matter what those resources were originally intended for. They made awesome model railroads. They saw what worked, and what didn’t work so well, and they shared it with each other, and with other model railroaders. This is the ethos of hacking that we still use today at hackerspaces. It is a way of life — do what you love, make it more awesome with whatever resources are available, and share it!

When computers started to become available, the model railroaders at MIT made use of them. Over time hacking become more about computers. But it was never limited to only computers.

In the 1980s, as computers were just beginning to become more of a household item, the mainstream media used the word to describe a small number of people who used their computer skills to do some questionable or outright illegal activities, often doing things merely for profit or power. Let’s not pay too much attention to that definition.

At hackespaces, people are doing things and making stuff because they really love it. The world is full of resources. We can make use of anything in the world as resources for our projects, to make our projects cooler. We can see what works well and what doesn’t work so well, and we can share the results. This is hacking. And anything can be hacked: electronics, art, food, science, craft, ourselves, our communities, society, the planet! Everything can be improved. Hacking in this way makes our lives better. It makes the world better. We can all benefit from the hacking ethos and mindset. People of all ages, youth on up. Innovation is an obvious result.

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Hacker in Residence Program Panel hosted by Patrick Schmidt

TV: Hack? Does this personify someone who is learning and growing? Sharing? Building?

MA: Yes! Next question. Really. These are elements of what the hackerspace movement is bringing forth. To be ideal and optimistic, we can potentially expand this hackerspace notion. More and more hackerspaces can potentially usher us into another Renaissance era similar to artist and painters sharing and meeting together back in that age. With my previously stated 1 million hackerspaces spread all over the globe, a huge number of people can simply walk to the closest one, like the parks we have today in some communities. All of us can push toward the positive and come together in our own domain, each playing our part.

If we are wanting to learn, then we will. What transpires in our lives is the result of the choices we make. We make choices, big and small. We have no control over the consequences of our choices. But we can learn from them. And then make new choices. If we choose to, we can make choices on what we believe will make our lives (and those around us) a little bit better, a little bit cooler. Then, it seems to me, there is good chance our lives (and the lives of those around us) will get better over time. And if enough of us are doing this, the world gets better. This is hacking. Hacking ourselves. Worth a try? If you think so, then why wait — make a new cool choice today! And if you’d like some support, visit a hackerspace.

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TV: How do people from different walks of life engage with Embedded designs?

MA: Phones and microwave ovens, cars, thermostats — all these devices and more use microcontrollers. They are all embedded devices. I think it is important to have at least some understanding of the devices we use all the time in our day-to-day lives. This is one reason why I teach how to make cool things with microcontrollers. Anyone can learn the basics. It isn’t really hard. I have led workshops teaching people ages 10 on up how to play with microcontrollers. They are simply small computers. They have electronic parts connected to their pins. They run a computer program running that controls those parts to do something cool. That’s all there is to it!

There are people all over the world teaching this stuff. It’s fun.

The more hackerspaces there are, the more people can learn this, and other things they want to learn.

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TV: How about people who don’t live near a hackerspace?

MA: Start one! This is the way all hackerspaces happen.

But, there is also the internet. It’s not a substitute for actual community, but it is a great resource. The internet provides us with so much information and choice at our fingertips. The UN now considers access to the internet a basic human right. A while back, more opportunities were available to those who had access to universities. It is the case now that people with internet access have more opportunities than people without. Just about anything you want to learn is available to some extent (probably quite a lot!) on the internet.

And if you can become part of (or create) a supportive community for learning (such as a hackerspace), then it is even more powerful. Anything is possible. The hackerspace movement itself is one result. The huge DIY 3D printer industry is another.


TV:
Does this mean that technology is a signature of who we are? Tech adds definition to what we build together?

MA: Technology is an outgrowth of who we are, sure. It can add to who we are. It can also get in the way. It is up to each of us what we choose to do, what technology we create, what technology we make use of, and how we make use of it. These choices, along with the other choices in our lives, define who we are. And since technology is such a powerful force in our lives, the choices we make regarding technology has a very large effect on who we are.


TV:
Where would you like to see the hackerspace movement lead?

MA: I would love to see more people living lives they feel are way worthwhile. My definition of success: living a life doing what you love, and in so doing what you love, make enough of what you need to keep doing what you love! What if you lived that life? What if a huge number of people in your neighborhood lived that life? What if a significant number of the 7 billion people on the planet lived that life?

Perhaps hackerspaces can lead towards that ideal. I think it’s worth going for.

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TV:
Why are AVR chips so pervasively used as the microcontrollers of choice in many hackerspaces?

MA: They are an easy-to-learn microcontroller. They have really good datasheets compared to many others — they are actually readable! Because of this they are easy to teach with. AVR chips are used in the super-popular Arduino platform (and Arduino clones), which make it even easier to learn and to teach microcontrollers. Atmel was very smart to support free and open source development tools for the AVR chips. There is a large online community of people helping and supporting each other. There are hundreds of thousands of projects online, many free and open source, that make use of these chips.

I’m seeing these chips used in numerous crowdfunded embedded projects, including solutions for wearables and connected devices. Because Arduino (with AVR chips) makes microcontrollers so accessible, developing microcontroller projects is open to lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise have made use of them. Even very complex projects are possible, such as 3D Printers. The early ones started by using Arduinos (with AVR microcontrollers).

I’m comfortable using lots of different microcontrollers. But I really like using AVR microcontrollers since they are so easy to learn and to teach with. I lead frequent workshops teaching how anyone can make cool things with embedded microcontrollers. These workshops can range from making a simple kit to learning the ins and outs of how embedded devices work. Certainly, Arduino makes it less intimidating, yet super powerful.

For beginners and the highly advanced, the AVR framework and devices are very accommodating. Atmel has done well in doing their part for the community, promoting free and open source dev tools. There are packages for Windows, Mac OS X, and tools for Linux, all using the C++ compiler, and GNU Compiler tool chains (GCC). (Me and my friend Jeff Keyzer created an easy-to-follow cookbook approach for anyone to follow for installing the AVR toolchain on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.) Again, this was a really good choice on Atmel’s part. Because of this, people in the early days of the Maker Movement adopted Atmel chips over others. Because of this, the Arduino people chose to use Atmel chips. Arduino boards are available all over the place (online, and even at Fry’s and Radio Shack), and there are probably hundreds of people making Arduino clones, with at least a hundred thousand projects available to download for free online. All of this is part of what helped the Maker Movement as we see it today.

AVR chips have been used even in emergency response disasters such as Japan for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Many DIY/Maker radiation Giegier counters were quickly put together. SafeCast is an international hackerspace project that helped people collect data across the region.

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TV: How do hackerspaces relate to crowdsource funding?

MA: Hackerspaces make things inexpensive and accessible. When we pool our resources, we can do a lot with very little. At hackerspaces we can create things that people love. But if we want to turn our project into a product, and make a lot of them so that others can benefit from it, we may need some money for manufacturing it, or otherwise put it out into the world.

Until recently, it used to be that people would seek funding from banks or from Venture Capitalists. This is changing now with the advent and success of crowdsource funding. Now anyone with internet access can fund projects via Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and other crowdsource funding sites. And this can be done almost anywhere in the world.

You don’t need to give your project (or fledgling company) away to your funding sources! With crowdsource funding, you enlist the help of lots of people who invest in you and your project because they are truly enthusiastic about it! If it your funding campaign succeeds, you know that you have something that people want, that there is a market for what you have to offer.

Right now, we can see on many crowdsource funding sites, projects for home automation, gardening, water quality, energy production, and many other imaginable and unimaginable things. There are so many things are being explored and most of all, this is just the beginning. People are really exploring now. It is way too early now to see how this plays out. Some ideas and products will eventually become fads. On the other hand, some will likely take off and cause a disruption to how we’re used to doing things.

 

TV: Another option is to join a hardware accelerator.

MA: Yes. There are a several hardware accelerators starting now, helping to build out not only phone apps, but actual physical hardware products.

There’s Highway 1 here in San Francisco. I am a mentor at HAXLR8R, in Shenzhen, China. These are both places where someone with a cool hardware idea can go from having a proof-of-concept prototype to having a manufactured product, ready to sell, in as quickly as 3 months. It’s kind of amazing. This was unheard of even a few years ago.

At these hardware accelerators, financial support is available, typically about $50,000, in exchange for a few percent of equity in the startup company. The funding is packaged with mentors and training, and connections to contract manufacturers in China, where people can choose to manufacture their product.

I like making myself available as a mentor to those who are making hardware projects that they really love. I am a mentor at Noisebridge (a non-profit Hackerspace in San Francisco that I co-founded) and at HAXLR8R in Shenzhen, China. There are others, too. They all have a bunch of people really focused on creating the projects of their dreams, and turning them into products for others.

For the 3-month program at HAXLR8R, everyone starts out living in Shenzhen, where every day everyone is surrounded by the other groups working on their projects, supporting each other. Experts in their field are there to help, with mentors available to help as needed. There is also access to lots of great fab tools, such as laser cutters, CNC mills, 3D printers, pick & place machines, and other equipment for making high quality prototypes. The program ends with a Demo Day in San Francisco, where people show off their projects to media and potential funders (though many choose to use crowdsource funding only).

There have been several projects that have turned into successful products as a result of these hardware accelerators.

It is now possible for entrepreneurs to do a lot with very little. My TV-B-Gone universal remote control project, for instance (a keychain that turns off TVs in public places), cost only $2,000 in development costs to create the first prototype.

People with cool projects can raise enough money in a crowdsource funding campaign to complete hardware prototypes and do an initial run of manufacturing. Kickstarter has really taken off! Kickstarter has the advantage of being one of the biggest and most popular platform. Since its inception in 2009, the crowdfunding platform has raised more than $1.14 billion for 63,056 successfully funded projects. Pretty amazing.

On average, about 43 percent of campaigns are successful. Some of these get courted by Venture Capitalists, but after their successes, they do not need to give up much of their company. One of the famous popular successes was Pebble. Another is Oculus Rift, which raised $2.4 million in 2012 on Kickstarter for its virtual reality goggles. It went on to be acquired by Facebook for $2 billion. Crazy! Clearly, Kickstarter gave Oculus Rift the visibility it needed. But even for smaller scale projects, crowdsource funding can be a very good indicator of the market and demand for a product.

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TV: Are hackerspaces important for enterprise?

MA: They can be. Lots of cool projects have been created at hackerspaces, which later went on to become products launched by startup companies. Lots of 3D printer companies, for example, have grown from hackerspaces.

People at corporations, large and small, have started using hackerspaces’ websites and IRC channels, as well as peoples’ github, to find people to hire. They also recruit for hack-a-thons, which are also used for recruiting for hiring. There has even been many field trips to Noisebridge from well-known companies. Companies are also trying to learn from what works at hackerspaces, and wanting to re-create the creativity-spawning process that hackerspaces promote, and add that to their corporate culture. Some have even added hackerspaces in their companies. Ford, for instance, has a hackerspace. This allows everyone at Ford, even people who don’t normally design cars, to come together and play, sometimes coming up with ideas that are later incorporated into Ford’s cars’ designs.

Companies can benefit if their employees have opportunities toward growth and education. This can happen at hackerspace, and it can happen at companies, too. If companies become places where employees actually want to be, that helps the employees, and can only benefit the company. It’s great to have people in all sorts of realms creatively converged on a mission. They are very much missions with open ended curiosity, energy, and ingenuity.

I’ll add that many schools, universities, museums, and libraries are also starting to incorporate hackerspaces into their missions, making it a part of their cultures. (And if they also incorporate a Hacker in Residency program, even more will benefit.)

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TV: What does the future of embedded and hacker spaces have for the culture of tech.

MA: The future is entangled and threaded into the fabric of the choices we make — including what we choose to do with our time, and what we choose to make. In so many ways, that’s who we really are: how we use our creativity, what we make and what we do. People have always made tools in our attempts to make our lives better. Everything we make is Tech. Culture is Tech. Tech is Culture. Culture defines Innovation. Culture sets the context for how things we make are used. Hackerspaces, incubators, accelerators, startups are some examples of early adopters of this transfusion in making more of culture blend with technology and art. I hope we can make the results positive for more people to live fulfilling lives. I’ll be doing what I can towards this end.

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TV: Last question, well really not a question… Please consider us friends. 🙂

MA: Off course, let’s go out and do more cool stuff!

 

Haven’t checked out the first portion of this interview? You can find it here.

Hackerspaces: A prelude to the Maker Movement and today’s Maker culture

So, what exactly is the Maker Movement? Do you remember that ever so distant yet memorable quote by Michelangelo? “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” 

Now, to further set this, [white fuzz] the channel just switched, we are tuned. Things will change right? They have changed. We have the Internet; we will have one layer more, eventually the arrow of technology will continue. There is one congruent dataset, which manifests all things to a new exponent. It’s the pulses and signals resulting from the exterior world meshed with the existing datasets of infrastructure, enterprise, and the consumer. Let’s speak of this layer. It will be filled with sensors, microcontrollers, and code. Already, we learned this from the app revolution and we are not going to remain in just this stage right? The code will be leaner and smarter. Coupled by the signal readings from millions of device upon device, node to nodes, nodes to node, the true power of distribution and networks will again marry now with other application recorded data in a mosaic of diversified integrations resulting from the intersection of data easily bridged from the cloud apps. Yes, the ones we are already familiar today touching from screen to screen to anticipate the next arriving notification.

The arrival of this integration of data will help filter and augment the world before us. Let’s reset to the modern era, thread modern computing to this notion, [for technology’s sake] we have also seen the Gartner quote by Jim Tully stating, “By 2018, 50% of the Internet of Things solutions will be provided by startups which are less than 3 years old”.

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The Digital Renaissance and the Maker Movement

Together with the accessibility and progress of open source and availability of community and embedded development boards [specifically wider use of Arduino Maker class boards], the times have certainly changed. A great deal of the complexities of these development boards are relaxed with onboard abstraction layers to loosen the programmatic rigidness of “hardware,” combined with the collective tuning of the community toward its development software.

Arduino IDE is now quite anchored into well-received feedback/contribution loops supported by the open source model — crowdsource progress and joint development roadmaps. Let’s not forget all the risky and obviously passionate Makers out there doing and bringing ideas to the forefront. The timing is right — found in the appetite to feed the market, the maturing cloud, the developed community, parity in prototyping, and the global production.

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Globalization of Hackerspaces and the Maker Movement | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

As a whole, and to its sum of its parts, all community members are participants in the evolution of the ecosystem and community effort of “Making” with ease. At all aspects of the innovation engine cycle, the open source community couples quite well with hackerspaces, where one can congregate to surface ideas and mature them to fruition.

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Open Source Community and Hackerspaces | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

This is especially true where it applies to the mere process of creating a product. In fact, it’s now true to building things that 10 years ago you needed to be in a big company to make innovating things, but now it truly possible from an individual. Made possible to said horizon, there are the hackerspaces. It’s a place that shows signs of innovation and development, infusing wider spread of technology and community across all economic classes or cultures. In these facilities, these are technical and creative social clubs facilitating activities that include tinkering, machine tooling, 3-D printing, coding, open source, collaboration, and sharing. Some hackerspaces market themselves under the more benign-sounding label of “maker space”. More bluntly, this is really drawing attention as private incubators such as hardware accelerators fueling entrepreneurship and startups [an emulation of an innovation success formula taken from the original hackerspaces.

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There is something about hackerspaces that brings people together that are made of some pretty awesome stuff. Call it “Voltron” if you will, why not? With drones rising and Maker Faires (or similar) blooming all around us, it all seems like the perfect unison of having people interlock together. As the notion of building robots continued to unwind, one fellow by the name of Chris Anderson saw that it would be much easier to have robots fly first than walk bipedal. More simply, it just felt and saw it to be much easier. Perhaps, something even more achievable and widespread adopted as the next step to bring about the age of drones.

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But still, wait, there’s even more to how this started. We also owe the spawning of drones to a unique origin where a group of people, hive together pursuing one ultimate quest.

Call it social science and synergy if you will. Something happens when a group gets “too large” and suddenly it all transforms from a conversation into a cacophony and a team into a mob then something incorporated too soon begins may wield the ugly cues of politics. Yet, going it alone is usually impossible if the task at hand is at all sometimes complicated [maybe the next best thing for technology]. Assembling IKEA furniture is probably best done as an individual, but things like raising a family, having a stand-up meeting, or shipping a meaningful product is definitely a team sport…

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For hackerspaces, one of these unique values is in having opportunities to meet different people from all sorts of backgrounds. Combined in a common pursuit of sharing and making, there is a common thread of being willing to be giving their time and talents to others. Note, it was in what’s said as “giving” as the common notion in hackerspaces are the more you give, the more you get back, helping to change the course of things to come [individual pairing of ideas to the intellectual hackerspace benefit of networking ingenuity]. It’s all about the community. This is the hallmark of the Internet. The Internet started as a community in its deeper past with ARPANET. We are all reaping those originally rooted benefits today [first operational packet switching networks implementing TCP/IP] creating layer upon layer new industries, service models, and ecosystems (ie Apps, Cloud, M2M, IoT, etc). Now what we are seeing today sprout from city to city are hackerspaces. In fact, we may begin to see every community in a city drawing upon good reason to incubate and nest new hackerspaces. Perhaps, it’s a progenitor to something more in the next trend of innovation.

The digital life now is a result of the collision of software and hardware. Technology is fashion. Fashion is Technology. Both are now intertwined together in the speed and making of culture. Have you ever tried leaving your home without the mobile touch screen device or everyone has out grown to wearing the old flip analog/cdma phones of the past. Digital influence upon culture and self move along prevalently—the desire for hackerspaces are becoming more acquainted in many metropolitans.

There’s a secret sauce to the structure of the hackerspaces. Unravel this structure. From within, it reveals a true community based packed with peer-to-peer involvements. People with skills converge in distinct trades upon others with other skills. Combined, they make this union, transforming their once ideate policy of making, broadening their abilities coupled by a giving and sharing of others to expand the design envelope of possibilities.

Surely, one may see it as a digital and hardware renaissance, comparatively from the distant spark of the past. The foundries of artistry in Florence and Rome once prevailed, urging communities of artist to congregate and make creative expression toward emulating realism via sculpture, oil and canvas. Well, now it’s about achieving a more meaningful product. The canvas has changed, coalescing digital and hardware. Giving rise to an idea where the ideas mature into a minimal valuable product that is mapped to some form of developed connectivity. This some form of developed connectivity is what we call the Internet of Things or many of the products sprouting from emergent crowdfunding rooted by makerspaces or hackerspaces.

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A common construct. Make Ideas, Make Genuis, and Make Things | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

Now, let us imagine a place where people get together without a common construct or preconceived established code, they then converse, and collaborate. It is filled to the brim with entrepreneurs and inventors of all types working on projects that they hope will change the world or at least convinced to usher an adoption to things making what we usually do more easier or enhanced.

Many of them are on laptops or standalone computers frantically typing business plans or hacking out code; others are making phone calls while trying to set up connections wherever they can.

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Hackerspaces have an environmental core that keep ideas flowing | Photo Credit: Mitch Altman

As all the chaos goes about, one can see that in this space is an environmental core that keeps the magic flowing around innovation. It is the center foundation of what the area will turn into. While the outer linings are being fine-tuned and polished, the inner workings remain relatively unchanged. The concrete has been laid; the electrical wires have been strung throughout the wooden frames and the insulation and drywall is mostly there, all while a wireless network is hangs throughout the air. Projects can begin even if the air conditioning isn’t hooked up yet.

As long as there is a good foundation, people can get stuff done. The rest of the work on the outer edges will always be changing. Paint will cover the walls in different shades and dust will always need to be cleaned up. However as time goes on and unless a major change happens, all the people running the space will need to do is adjust the dials of the environment (when needed) and continue progressing the community. Once the foundation is done first, the rest will fall into place.

Next up, read the 1:1 interview with Mitch Altman, co-founder of Noisebridge San Francisco as we dive deeper into hackerspaces, the Maker Movement and more