• Designing for Humans

    Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    5/21/2014– Kelsey Breseman

    Travis Huch from Zuora sent me a few questions leading up to my talk at SolidCon, Beyond the Screen: Humans as Input-Output Devices. Zuora published snippets of my responses alongside those of some thought leaders in the Internet of Things space.

    I encourage you to read their piece here: Internet of Things: The Big Picture

    Below are my full responses to their questions.

    How have connected devices already evolved beyond mere devices to completely interactive tools feeding and responding to human inputs and outputs? Specifically how do currently available devices already improve and enhance our lives providing more freedom, comfort, improving safety and health, etc?

    A completely interactive tool, one that seamlessly incorporates humans as a piece of the system, is a tool that people don’t even think about. That’s the end goal: Ubiquitous Computing as Mark Weiser imagined it. Every object is an embedded device, and as the user, you don’t even notice the calm flow of optimization.

    The Nest thermostat is a good example of this sort of calm technology. The device sits on your wall, and you don’t spend much time interacting with it after the initial setup. It learns your habits: when you’re home, when you’re not, what temperatures you want your house to be at various points in the day. So you, as the user, don’t think about it. You just live in a world that’s better attuned to you.

    There aren’t a lot of devices yet that interact seamlessly with humans in this way– as a society, we’re just beginning to explore ubiquity in computing. Smartphones and wearable devices are reaching in that direction, but I think within five years, we’ll find most of these interfaces fairly clunky.

    What groundbreaking human applications of these technologies are still on the horizon? What are some ways these can be used to make our environment more interactive, and responsive?

    I think that one of the most interesting things we’ll see in the near future is the creation of non-screen interfaces. Interacting with technology, we rely almost solely on screens and buttons. But in the physical world, we use so many other interfaces.

    Although it might be a while before consumer tech does much with the olfactory or gustatory sensations, audio and haptic device outputs are already interesting and fairly accessible. Lechal embodies a simple haptics concept: shoes which vibrate left or right navigational directions as you approach a turn. And though audio has also been used for a long time, innovations such as audio spotlighting open up possibilities for personal/non-disruptive audio without the need to put a plastic device (headphones) on your head.

    Those are all inputs into humans, but there’s a lot of fascinating work going on to receive outputs from humans. The consumer-oriented Myo armband uses myoelectrics– the electrical signals from human muscle impulses– to read gestures. Or you could spin your own myoelectric device with this much cheaper muscle sensor. Similarly, you can buy an Emotiv headset to read your brainwaves, or you could DIY it. The implications there are amazing: you can wire up your own body as an electrical input into any electrical system– like a computer, or a robot, or whatever else you might build. You can control physical and digital things just by thinking really hard or by twitching your fingers.

    Current electrodes with long wire leads are a bit impractical for everyday wear, but research labs are working on that in a field called epidermal electronics. This field puts electronics right on people’s skin, for example in the form of a temporary tattoo or more like a band-aid. A circuit adhered to your skin could monitor and wirelessly transmit your heartbeat, temperature, motion, location, or any of various other sensor data, 24/7, while keeping a low profile on your body. Graphene is another move in that direction.

    Epidermal electronics photo from ucsd.edu

    Meanwhile, systems in the consumer space explore accepting input from humans without requiring physical attachment. The simple motion detectors on lights, on automatic faucets, on self-flushing toilets are good examples of simple and intuitive interfaces. These accept natural human motions to perform previously manual tasks. More complex interactions move up to gestural control, such as on the Leap or Kinect controllers, or even facial emotion recognition with Emotient.

    On the whole, I think (hope) we’re about to get a lot better at interfacing machines with people outside of computer screens.

    Kelsey Breseman

    #kelsey breseman #solidcon #internet of things #iot #zuora #connected devices #ubiquitous computing #mark weiser #design #interaction

  • Update: Modules are in, Tessels starting to come off the line

    Thursday, May 15, 2014

    5/15/2014— Updates

    Manufacturing update:

    We have all of our modules back from manufacturing as of yesterday.

    The last Tessels are going through assembly as of this morning, so they’re moving full-force into the process of programming and testing. The testing process actually uses a Tessel and a Raspberry Pi to program the new Tessel boards and live stream their test results to an internal webapp that Jia wrote. You can read more about it on her blog post.

    When they’re done, they go in a bag with some stickers and a cable. This is the first one off the line:

    Our manufacturers made a really cool video of the whole process, which you can see here.

    Software update:

    We’re cleaning everything up to get ready for release! We’ve open sourced the module drivers for Accelerometer, Ambient, GPS, Relay, and Servo. Enjoy, and pull requests welcome!


    While all of this was going on, we also moved to California! Feel free to visit at our new address: 1101 Cowper Street in Berkeley CA. Jon blogged about it.

    Until next time,
    Kelsey, Jon, Eric, Tim, Kevin, and Jia

    #update #updates #tessel #technical machine #manufacturing #progress #modules #open source #module drivers

  • Wednesday, May 14, 2014

    #tessel #technical machine #manufacturing #worthington assembly #pick and place #packaging

  • Testing Tessel with Testalator

    Tuesday, May 13, 2014

    5/13/2014— Jia Huang

    We recently started a production run of 2.5k Tessels. When we put something in production, it’s not just a matter of telling our manufacturer to start placing components on boards. We also have to make sure that every Tessel we produce is programmed and tested, and that’s where Testalator comes in.


    Testalator is Tessel’s programming and test rig. It programs Tessel up with all its firmware and then makes sure the Tessel can operate to spec.

    The physical Testalator is made up of a few key parts:

    • A mechanical jig that holds the Tessel in place
    • A second Tessel that checks that all the pins on the Tessel being tested works.
    • A Raspberry Pi that hooks up to the jig, programs and checks Tessel, and then streams those logs online.

    The jig

    This is the physical setup required to connect all the pins of Tessel for testing. It involves around 60 pogo pins, 22 standoffs, and 2 cut pieces of acrylic that hold the Tessel in place. There’s also a few indicator LEDs showing the progression of the test.

    “Wow Jia, you should try Mechanical Engineering”, said no one. The clear flanges that held the Tessel in place were too loose at first so Eric “fixed” it with some hot glue.

    The Pi

    A Raspberry Pi operates the entire test. The jig connects to the Pi’s GPIO and USB ports. Testing & programming involves going through the following stages:

    • One Time Program (OTP) the board. This sets up the version of the board, and makes it boot from internal flash by default. We also stick on our custom bootloader so we can update the firmware later.
    • Put Tessel’s firmware on the board
    • Upload some JS to do a pin test
    • Upload some JS code while switching power sources
    • Connect to wifi and do a ping test

    There are some more checks in between each stage, but this covers most of the functionality of the board.

    Tessel tests Tessel

    One core part of Testalator is the pin test. The pin test is the test that checks to make sure that all the pins on the module headers (GPIO/SPI/I2C/ADC/etc) can operate as intended.

    We use a Tessel to do the pin test on Tessel. The Tessel tester is hooked up on the bottom of the jig using vertical headers:

    The Pi uploads some JS code to the Tessel being tested which starts up the pin test. After that, the two Tessels communicate for which test is commencing and what the expected output should be.

    Streaming test logs

    Testalator also streams all the test logs online as it operates.

    Since manufacturing is still done in Massachusetts and we’re across the country in Berkeley right now, these logs give us an easy way to see which tests have passed or failed, and which bench did the testing. We’ve found this pretty helpful in debugging any consistent failures during manufacturing. Using this, I can see which failure modes are happening often, ssh into the Pi, and fix the test remotely.

    The Testalators have programmed and tested about 100 boards so far, so there’s still quite a few more to go.

    Here’s to hoping everything goes according to plan.


    #jia huang #testing #hardware #testalator #tessel #technical machine #manufacturing #qa #quality control #firmware

  • Hidden Costs of Office Space

    Friday, May 9, 2014

    5/9/2014— Jon McKay

    In the past year, Technical Machine has worked out of an incubator, college dorm rooms, various apartment buildings, and a co-working space. But we’ve always wanted an office to be able to hack on projects with other people and to generally be our loud, boisterous selves without upsetting others. We started looking for a space in March, and now we’re finally moved into a beautiful workspace in Berkeley!

    As with most tasks involved with starting a company, I had no experience finding and leasing an office. As someone who hasn’t lived in the same place for more than a few months since 2009, the process of securing a multi-year lease was pretty abstract. In my mind, the only operating figure was rent but I was wrong. Some of the logistics will be familiar for anyone who has rented housing before, but others are unique to offices.

    Below is a list of costs associated with leasing an office that may not be apparent if you’re in shoes similar to mine:

    • Rent: I thought this would be a simple term in the lease but it turns out to be way more complicated. Obviously, rent will vary from location to location; property in Berkeley is about $1.50 per sq. foot, whereas SF proper is about $4 per sq. foot. You will probably be required to pay several months of rent up front. You might have more negotiating power if you can pay more upfront than the landlords originally ask for. Here are some other good questions to consider:
      • How many years will you be leasing at this price, and do you have the option to stay longer?
      • If you are staying longer, is the price for the extension pre-negotiated or will you figure it out in the future?
      • What’s the fee for paying rent late?
      • Can you rent your space out to other people? For example, if you wanted to let a smaller companies rent extra square footage.
    • Security Deposit: There will be a security deposit to make sure you don’t destroy the building. Ours was $10k for the 2800 sq. feet workspace.
    • Insurance: Most leases will require you to get several types of insurance before you can step foot on the premises. Your insurance costs will vary by the insurance coverage and size of your company. As a benchmark, our insurance for six people will cost about $1500 a year. If an incident occurs, you will have to pay a deductible – ours is $500. I recommend asking around for an insurance broker to save you from having to talk to insurance companies directly. They charge anywhere from 15 - 25% of the annual cost. The common types of insurance are:
      • General Liability (if a non-employee gets injured on the premises, someone drives their car into a wall, etc.)
      • Property (cover the items inside the property such as computers, furniture)
      • Business Interruption (if something outside your control prevents you from doing business and you lose sales)
      • Worker’s Compensation insurance (an employee gets injured on the job).
    • Utilities: Gas, electric, and water! Don’t forget to set it up before you get there. As with personal housing, you may be splitting your utilities with other tenants of the property, or you’ll have to set it up yourself. I don’t have a good estimate of how much utilities will cost per month yet but I expect it to be several hundred dollars.
    • Internet/Phone: You may not need phone service, but you’ll need internet. Check with the landlord to see what service is already available at the building. You can get a cheaper installation cost with a service that’s already routed to the building. This will cost you $100-$200 per month depending on the speed of internet. I recommend buying your own cable modem and router.
    • Furniture: As we found out the hard way (literally), you’ll need things to sit on besides the floor if you want your employees to be happy and healthy. We went to IKEA, bought about $4k worth of shelves, desks, chairs, and conference tables. The real kicker here will be the time spent putting it all together. We opted to use TaskRabbit to hire to guys to come put it together for us. Instead of paying IKEA $3k to install it, we paid for 15 man hours with only $300. Don’t try to do it all yourself!
    • Miscellaneous: You never really notice all those little items you depend on every day until you try to work in an empty office. I’m talking about tape, scissors, kitchen towels, printers, drills, vacuums, soap, and TP. This is where you could really break the bank. I’d estimate that we’ve spent about $2k on these types of items so far.
    • Time: The biggest cost here is time. Negotiating lease agreements back and forth, opening up Amazon shipments, online shopping, putting checks in the mail. It takes hours out of your day and pulls your attention away from the product. You really need to outsource as much as you can. Use insurance brokers, real estate brokers, TaskRabbit, Amazon Prime. If you have the money, it’s totally worth it.

    If we include all those factors, (non-recurring costs spread out over the remainder of the lease), the actual cost per month is about 20% higher than just rent alone. Be sure to account for that in your planning.

    Now that we’re starting to get acclimated to the new office, I love it and think that the whole process was totally worth it. I can’t wait to get some picnic tables in here, start hosting events and meet the community. If you’re in the bay area starting next month, keep your eye out for meetups! Or just drop on by:

    Technical Machine
    1101 Cowper St.
    Berkeley, CA 94702


    #jon mckay #tessel #technical machine #office #startup #budgeting #startup advice

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