Electronic Design
Kickstarter Changes How Consumer Electronics Ideas Turn Into Gold

Kickstarter Changes How Consumer Electronics Ideas Turn Into Gold

Kickstarter has fundamentally changed how consumer products are developed and delivered, including embedded computing products. If you haven’t heard about Kickstarter, you probably have been staring at your pet rock too much.

The site generates cash for startup projects from people interested in supporting them. The projects can range from TV shows and movies to 3D virtual reality platforms.The ultimate goal is to create enough cash to build a product or support an endeavor. Project supporters benefit as well. For example, they may be first in line for the product once it’s finally released.

Projects must meet a monetary target within a specified timeframe. Supporterspledge money via credit card, which is charged only if the project exceeds its monetary goals. The project creators receive most of the money, and Kickstarter gets a cut. Projects that don’t reach their goal within the specified time are closed, and the supporters’ credit cards are not charged.

Successful Kickstarts

Some projects have been very successful and popular, moving from ideas into the marketplace. The wireless, e-paper Pebble watch from Pebble Technology is now available at Best Buy, and it isn’t the only smartwatch funded through Kickstarter (Fig. 1). The Square smart-phone credit card reader,which costs just 2.75% per swipe, was kickstarted too.

Figure 1. The wireless Pebble smart watch from Pebble Technology uses an E Ink e-paper display.

Kickstarter isn’t limited to consumer electronics. My daughter funded her Project Ninja Panda Taco game via the platform(see “Is Kickstarter The New Way To Get Capital?at electronicdesign.com). Even movies and events have been launched using it.

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In the consumer electronics marketplace, three successful Kickstarter projects really stand out: the Virtuix Omni 3D VR platform, Oculus VR’s Oculus Rift 3D glasses, and the Sixense STEM System 3D position sensor (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Sometimes Kickstarter projects can play offof each other like Virtuix’s Omni virtual reality platform, Oculus VR’s Oculus Rift 3D virtual reality glasses, and Sixense’s 3D position sensing controllers.

Using an Omnivision OV9715 RGB camera and dual 204-MHz NXP LPC4330 microcontroller, the Pixie CMUcam5 from Carnegie Mellon University and Charmed Labs is another success (see “Tracking Movement Optically And Cheaply” at electronicdesign.com).

The Pixie’s open hardware design and open-source software will give robotic developers a flexible platform for experimentation (Fig. 3). The Pixie itself isn’t a consumer electronics product, but it is a building block for developers who may eventually come up with an idea that could be turned into something solid via Kickstarter.

Figure 3. The Pixie CMUcam 5 from Carnegie Melon University and Charmed Labs uses an NXP dual-core microcontroller to give robots a visual experience.

Gumstix’s Kickstarter project for its Geppetto development platform is another example of building on Kickstarter(see Interview: W. Gordon Kruberg Explains How To Kickstart A Gumstix). Geppetto is a high-level, Web-based board design tool with one function: create a carrier board for Gumstix modules.

Normally a designer would use Geppetto to design a board and then order a bunch. There are startup costs plus the cost per board. Gumstix has made it possible for a design to be made public as a Kickstarter project. Essentially it allows a minimum number of boards to be ordered by supporters where the startup costs are amortized among the initial group.

Some projects specifically target the consumer electronics market, like the Ouya (Fig. 4). Like the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox gaming consoles, this tiny gaming platform connects to HDTVs. The difference is the price—the Ouya costs less than $100.

Figure 4. The Ouya game platform has more than 500 games that are free to try. It is based on NVidia’s Tegra 3 SoC.

An NVidia Tegra 3 system-on-chip(SoC) powers the Ouya, which also runs Android. That’s comparable to higher-end smartphones and tablets.The Tegra 3 doesn’t have the performance of the Playstation and Xbox, but it does provide sufficient horsepower for more than 500 games. It can even be a video playback platform using the XBMC app. More are available each day.

Not convinced yet? Check out Kickstarter for the latest in consumer technology. It offers everything from mobile heart monitors to credit card readers and probably the next big thing in consumer electronics.

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