Quick update

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Hello everyone. I just wanted to quickly let you a few things that have happened recently. Last week we got the hardware design completely finalized and ordered a set of 5 prototypes to be manufactured. We’re expecting those to arrive at our office around the first week of January so long as the holidays don’t slow things up too much.

Furthermore, after lengthy discussions with our new partners we’ve decided to change the name of the product from the “Read ‘n Style pen” to the “Whispr Pen”. We all feel as though now is the time to make a change like this and we settled on the Whispr name because the product will speak quietly into your ear and because the word whisper connotes discreteness, which is the primary theme of this device.


Recent developments

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Hello everyone, how are we all today? I’m not sure where to start because a lot has happened over these past few months. First, I realize how long it’s been since the last update was released and I do apologize for that. I’ve been directing all of my focus toward the work described below and, as such, have been putting off writing this update for all of you. With that out of the way, I want to take a few minutes today to fill you in on what’s been happening.

So first some good things. We’ve been working with our hardware designer from New Jersey to create the new electronic design and it couldn’t have come out any better. They were able to hit all the dimensional constraints that we put on the project, meaning we should be able to use the original design from when we first launched.

The software that we’re building to run the pen is right on track and is where we expected it to be at this time. Initial tests are showing that our optical character recognition (OCR) system, the part of the software program that takes picture files and converts them into text files, is now faster and more accurate than Tesseract, Google’s open source program! That’s really good news because that is the most essential and difficult portion of software stack.


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The not so good news is that the equity investment that I mentioned in the previous update is taking far longer to close than we initially anticipated. This was primarily due to the fact that we’re pairing the investment with a multinational distribution agreement, meaning the company that is investing in us will also be selling the product worldwide us once it’s complete.

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The two major agreements, along with the dozen or so other supporting documents ended up being easily over 100 pages of highly technical legal work. Upon finalization, the documents will have taken months to negotiate, draft, revise, review, execute. This all has resulted in delays to our development schedule as we await the funding from the investment.

If the investment had come to a close quickly and easily then we may very well have been in production by now. Unfortunately the delay in the investment put the product development into a holding pattern for a little bit. For example, we were able to continue onward with the design of the new hardware but were unable to move forward into the prototyping stage.

This slowdown, while certainly frustrating at times, hasn’t been all bad by any measure. Instead of just rushing forward, as we may have done otherwise, and possibly making mistakes, this slowdown has given us time to reflect on and double check our work while simultaneously allowing us time to develop and solidify our plans for the future.

Moving forward, the next step that we are working toward is starting the production of the new hardware prototypes. Now that the electronic design is done we’ll be able to get started on the new enclosure design at the same time. We’ll be working with an experienced mechanical engineer that we’ve been paired up with through a engineering and design matching platform called Evocativo. Once the enclosure design is finished and the hardware prototypes are produced, we can test them both for fit and make any alterations to the enclosure that needs to be done. From there, the electronics will undergo regulatory testing (FCC for the United States, CE for the European Union). Once approved we’ll be able to begin production.

I’m hesitant to make any more predictions as to the expected shipment date because of how poorly we’ve been able to make that prediction in the past. It’s incredibly frustrating, on both sides I’m sure, to expect things to progress in a certain way and on a certain timeline only to discover that not to be the case. However, I know that the question on everyone’s mind is, “How much longer am I going to have to wait?” Reluctantly, I’ll say that I could see orders being delivered as early as January, though we won’t be certain until all of the parts have been manufactured and delivered to us for final assembly. Until then we’ll keep working and make sure to do everything in our power to move things forward as fast as reasonably possible.


(Nov. 5, 2018)

Important updates

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Hello everyone, it’s that time again. We’re here with a brand new update and there is quite a lot to cover this time. Now, before I get anyone's hopes up, I want to be sure and let you know ahead of time that the product is not finished and this is NOT the update letting you know we're shipping orders. With that said, there are some major developments to report on so let’s get to it.

Equity Investment

First things first, we’ve negotiated a major investment for Hidden Abilities! Jamee and I traveled to Florida in the last week of June to meet with potential investors and we were able to come to terms on an equity investment deal that will help keep the company funded well into the future as we grow and expand.

This is big and exciting news for several reasons. First, it shows their confidence and support in us and what we are doing which gives our company that much more validation. They believe is us so much that they’re willing to put their hard earned money at stake. Furthermore, the investment was large enough that it will enable our entire team to work on the company full time, rather than just evenings and weekends, which will greatly increase the the amount of work we can do and the speed at which we can do it.

Hardware design upgrades

The other important piece of news is the hardware design upgrades that are being made. After working with the present hardware design we discovered several aspects that were less than optimal and at least one item (the Bluetooth) that required a change. 

Knowing that we were absolutely going to have to make changes to the hardware really prompted us to think about what was working well with the current design and what we would have done differently if we had it all to do over again with the knowledge we have now.

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The first thing that came to mind was the Pocket Beagle. Shortly after the production of our prototypes, Texas Instruments announced the introduction for the Pocket Beagle development board. The Pocket Beagle is a brand new hardware development board related to the Beaglebone Black, which our current hardware design is based on.

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The major change in with this new board is that while it still features the exact same processor that we’re currently using, all of the ancillary parts needed to make it run as a computer is inside a single, self contained chip. Because it uses the exact same processor, all of the testing we’ve done and software we’ve developed for it will not be affected.

 

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By using this new chip, we’ll able to reduce the number of parts from about 180 down to roughly 40. That would allow us to decrease the amount of surface area we’d need for the parts and result in an overall smaller product. To give you a better idea of just how much smaller, both of the above pictures are actual size. If all goes well with these changes, we’re looking at being able go go back to our original design. 

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From the comparison picture above you may have also noticed some of the other changes to this new design. Firstly, you can see that we’ve eliminated the camera board in the new design. The camera board used to have the Bluetooth module, micro-controller, accelerometer, LEDs, and more. With the new changes we’ve been able to either eliminate these parts or move them to one of the other boards. Eliminating the camera board will greatly reduce the size and complexity of the final product.

Another major change was eliminating the use of off-the-shelf cable connectors that joined all the separate parts together. There were several problem with the off-the-shelf connectors was that made them a poor choice for this product. First, because of the odd angle that our components sit, we would need to bend and fold the front-most cable into place making assembly difficult and less repeatable. The folding may also have made the parts more prone to breakage as well, which would have been less than ideal.

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Instead of using an off the shelf cable, we’ve elected to create a custom rigid-flex circuit connector as pictured above. On one end, it will be connected directly to the main “computer board” circuit, while the other end will have a bare terminal what will connect to the “sensor board” with a standard connector.

 

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We’re also adding a screw hole to the computer board. This will allow us to fasten the electronics more securely to the plastic enclosure rather than relying on a thin pin to hold it in place.

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Furthermore, the new computer board design will feature two battery connectors. This is an improvement on the old design which would have relied on hand soldering. Using these connectors in this manor will end up being more reliable and will make product assembly much simpler and less time consuming.

 

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The design changes aren’t confined exclusively to the computer board. We’ll also be extending the lower portion of the sensor board and adding an LED. This will make illuminating the page that much easier because the light source will be closer to its destination and there won’t be as much of a routing issue to contend with when it comes to designing the light pipe.

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So, with all these changes, what does this mean the product as a whole? Quite a lot actually. It will still operate exactly as it did before, but the physical device will improve in nearly every conceivable way. The connections and  mountings will be more reliable. The product will be smaller, allowing us to return to a design that more closely resembles previous designs. It will be quicker and easier to assemble with fewer opportunities for mistakes. 

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Where do we stand in the process of developing this new design? Well, we've communicated our ideas to our hardware developers. They've reviewed our detailed drawings and explanations and came back with the timeline below.

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When we worked with these guys on the previous design they kept to their projected schedule pretty well. There were a few delays but that had more to do with additional changes we made and with certain part availability than anything though, so I'd expect this to be reasonably accurate.

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They began work on the first two stages of the hardware design about two weeks ago and have since come back to us late last week showing us that the first stage, the sensor board modification, was complete.  We're expecting to hear news back by the end of the week that the flex-circuit design is finished as well. From there, we'll have a series of phone calls to make sure we're on the same page with the new computer board design and they will get started.

Just to kind of recap everything, we’d thought about eventually changing over to this new design in the long term anyway, but because of the required changes and how much better this new design would be, we decided to go ahead and move forward with it now. Going this route will take add about a month to a month and a half to the development schedule but it will result in a much, MUCH better product in the end. I hope you'll agree that it'll be worth it.

 

SHIPPING TIMELINE: Expected late Oct. - mid Nov.


Quick update

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Hi everybody. I wanted to take a minute to do a quick write-up on our progress.

We had another 3D printed enclosure prototype made for us which worked quite a bit better than the last model. The changes we made were successful but a few issues still need to be resolved before we can take it to production. We've gotten it just about as far as we can ourselves so we've been collecting quotes from companies that can make a few modifications to make it production ready. It's not much but we could use some outside help to ensure a high quality product.

We've had a few headaches with the Bluetooth but we haven't put a lot of effort into that just yet as the camera and OCR improvements have been the higher priority. It's not really a cause for concern at this point but will be something we need to address.

As far as the overall development timeline goes, we're still expecting a summer release date but it'll likely be toward the end, probably just before the start of the new school year.

Also, a few people have emailed us directly to ask about how to update their shipping address so I thought I’d also go ahead and address that. Indiegogo themselves put out a helpful guide explaining the process to do just that. The link to that guide can be found here. I’ll be sure to remind everyone again just before we ship out the orders but I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and mention in now.

Have a good weekend. :)
 

SHIPPING TIMELINE: Expected late summer


April Update - 4/30/18

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Software

As was mentioned in the last update, Shane and Zack have been working together to integrate the software and create a fully working software demo. I’m happy to report that they’ve found success. The software is now fully integrated and the entire pipeline is now running from start to finish.  Currently this process is hard coded to run and process 50 image scans at a time and then stop, so the next steps with this is to write software that will allow this process to run indefinitely.

Going through this process we’ve learned that we are in fact able to do the OCR and TTS faster than the audio can play, confirming our earlier tests about reading speed. It is currently taking around 0.3 - 0.5 seconds to complete the OCR/TTS pipeline, giving us a reading speed between 120-180 words per minute. To give you an idea how that tempo will sound, here is a YouTube video of someone reading at different speeds. (Start at the beginning for 120 wpm, start at 14:25 for 180 wpm)

Here is a video of our software running and the output we’re getting. For reference, the passage that is being scanned is “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Please keep in mind that the OCR model has yet to be trained, which is why it is not accurately picking up all the words. However, based on prior tests we've conducted, we are confident that we’ll be able to achieve accuracy >98% once the OCR is fully trained.

We’ll be training the OCR using a machine learning model. We’ll be able to scan a book and match the characters/words up with it’s eBook counterpart. The way this will work is the model will get the data input from the camera, guess what word it should be, check it against the eBook for reference, and use that as feedback to improve itself.

Those are the main things that Shane and Zack are working on at the moment. There are still some small things that will also need to be done such as programming the button functionality and the LED sequencing, but that should be easy. They’re expecting to have a fully functional software demo for you within the next few weeks.

 

Plastic enclosure

We’ve been working to make improvements to the 3D model of our plastic enclosure recently and we received a new 3D print about a week and a half ago. 

 
There were both some good and bad things about this new model, but it taught us quite a bit and will help us make improvements for future iterations.

The good?
The ribs added a lot of strength as hoped, the button size, shape, and location are all great, the battery partitions were perfect, the shape of the lens mount was good. The lip groove extension worked well and it fit together a lot better.

The bad?
The lens mount was too thin and weak, still having trouble routing the cables and making it fit, The button fit was not good. It all fit together but there was no range of motion.  Assembly was difficult.

We’ve already made improvements to the design and sent off for another 3D print. We should receive it around the middle of next week. In this updated design we made it easier to assemble by putting all the components on one side. We strengthened the lens mount and made it to where there would be no undercut to allow injection molding. We made it 4 mm longer to give ourselves more room to route the cables and made changes to the button to give it a larger range of motion.

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As we’re making improvements we’ve been running the model through Protolab’s automated quote generator to estimate costs and see what changes will need to be made prior to tooling up. As you can see below, there are a few required changes, and we’re working those changes into each new design iteration.

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SHIPPING TIMELINE: Expected late summer


Integration underway - 3/24/2018

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Hello everybody. I hope your weekend is going swell and your spring is off to a great start. I don’t mean to rub salt in the wounds of those of you living on the coasts but we’ve been fortunate enough to have some beautiful weather here in the center of the country for the past few weeks. During that time the team has been hard at work and we have some news to share with you.

 

Subsystem integration:

To start off, we’ve begun to work on integrating all of the subsystems into one cohesive unit. Up until this point, we’ve worked on and tested all the subsystems in part, but have yet to put the entire pipeline together to run from beginning to end. The reason that we did it in parts was to reduce the number of variables (and potential failure modes) that we're working on at one time. When you’re testing in small units and something doesn’t work how you expect it to it’s a lot easier to figure out what the problem is. We are far enough along in the process now that we can begin to put it all together and iron out any problems that may arise.

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Although we have refocused on integration right now, there is still some work left to be done to improve the accuracy of the optical character recognition system. The type of camera that we’re using stretches and squishes the picture depending on how fast it is scanning and it requires some post processing in order to create an accurate image and have accurate word recognition. This is not particularly difficult but it is a trial and error process to figure out what works the best.

 

FCC testing: Preliminary results

Next up, we got the preliminary results back regarding the FCC testing of our hardware. The device is currently outside of FCC part 15B class B limits. The testing facility stated that there looks to be a clock frequency around 24 MHz that is getting multiplied as harmonics. This suggests that because there are multiple clocks keeping time on our boards, where the different clock frequencies match up we’re getting a spike that is putting us outside the limits acceptable for home use.

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To give you a better example of what this means, imagine you have two buzzers. One buzzes every 4 seconds while the other buzzes every 12 seconds. If you start them both at the same time, the first one will buzz at the 4 second mark and again at the 8 second mark. Then, at 12 seconds, both buzzers will buzz and it will be twice as loud. That’s essentially what is going on with our hardware. Where the clocks match up we get a spike in radiated emissions that falls outside of acceptable limits. 

Fortunately, we know exactly what is causing this and in all liklihood we’ll be able to write a bit of code to turn one of the clocks off and pass the test, so we’re currently working through that. 

 

Enclosure Design:

Last but not least is the case design. Like I mentioned above, we're to the point where we can begin integration of all the parts and begin testing on the nearly final form factor rather than testing each part individually. To test the full stack, the enclosure needs to be far enough along to hold everything in the correct position.

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The first step was to arrange the parts in such a way that minimizes the overall size. We've done this before but Jack was able to come up with a configuration that was more compact and better overall. After that was finished we had to model the body as a solid object and shell out the inside, making sure to keep a uniform wall thickness so the part doesn’t warp due to inconsistent shrinkage as the molten plastic cools.

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After we had the shell we could begin working on modeling the internal structures that secure the components in place. We modeled mounts for the camera and lens, as well as bosses that fit into the small holes on the PCBs. Once the parts are seated and the two halves snap shut, everything should fit snugly and securely.

To make sure that worked properly we sent away to have a really nice 3D print made by Shapeways.com. They use a process called selective laser sintering to create a really finely detailed 3D printed model that you can use to test fit. 

This iteration of the model helped us figure out what worked well and what didn't. Overall, the size and shape were good, though we may need to extend the case a few millimeters to allow room for the cable between the camera and the camera board.  It's easy to grip, weighted nicely, and the button placement is spot on. The mount for the camera could be better if it had an additional rib but the supports for the PCBs couldn't have been more perfect. The lens mount didn't work as expected. As you push the lens into the slot, it displaces the plastic causing it to spring back out. That should be a simple fix but it does need to be redesigned. We also need to add ribs to increase rigidity and create a partition on the left half to prevent the batteries from moving.

Those changes aren't that difficult to make and we should be able to get that finished this week so we can order another 3D print.

 

Summary:

Overall, things are coming together pretty well. There are still some issues that we need to work through but they are all well within our skill set as a team. We can see the finish line ahead of us as we are sprinting toward it. 

 

TIMELINE: We're expecting to

begin shipping orders this summer


FCC Testing Underway - 2/17/18

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One of our hardware test units was shipped to Arizona this morning to undergo the required FCC compliance testing. This is to certify that our product doesn't emit any harmful radio waves such as those that can interfere with airplane avionics.

Because we're using a pre-certified Bluetooth module this should be a rather simple test to pass and should only take about a week to complete, but it represents a big step in the development process as it means that the hardware design is completely finalized and no further changes can be made without recertification.


New Year, New Update

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Hello everybody. I wanted to take some time to update everyone on our progress of late as a lot of you have been asking about us. We’ve been hard at work since the last two updates, and even though we haven’t said much lately, we’ve accomplished one big thing and several smaller things in that time 

The big accomplishment lately has been getting the hardware working. Depending on how you look at it, we’ve been working to solve this problem for 2 months (first received prototypes of our custom hardware), 5 months (first contact with our current hardware design company), or 21 months (first approached a hardware developer about our project), so this is big news. It’s also the last major technological hurdle before shipping out all of your orders. 

These last two months have been especially tricky as far as product development goes. When we first got the prototype boards in we (naively) thought that we’d be able to plug it in to power, flash our code onto it, and we’d be off to the races. Little did we know at the time, that is almost never the case. 

To frame the problem a little bit, one of the reasons that hardware is hard is because there is little to no feedback in the very early stages to let you know what you’re doing right or wrong. To add to that, if you’re not getting the expected output you don’t know if there’s something wrong with your software or if it’s actually a hardware issue. Then, even if you know it’s a problem with the hardware, what’s causing it? Was the board poorly designed and never would have worked in the first place? Was the board designed correctly but something went wrong in the manufacturing process? Or did it make it out of the factory in perfect condition only to have a static discharge cause a short? It’s impossible to tell when your electronics just sit there like a brick. 

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So the first thing to do it put some power to it and see if an LED comes on. The first day we got the prototypes Jamee and I spent the day running all over Kansas City to find the right power supply unit and connectors so Shane and Zack could work on it when they came in later that evening. When they got there, they started getting everything put together, hooking it up to power, and a solid red light came on indicating it was getting electricity. Great news. Now let’s try plugging it into the computer to see if we can get something useful. No luck. We’re just getting the letter “C” a bunch of times and the light stayed solid. It took a few weeks of research and testing to figure out that we probably weren’t getting enough power to the board so it wouldn’t operate properly. Luckily Zack is still a student and knew where we could find a more suitable power supply unit to see if that would help. It did. So we order ourselves one of those units so we could keep working. 

Now we figured out how to get the proper power to it, but we still weren’t able to load the operating system onto the board so we could run it as a computer. We were still getting the Cs but the red light that had been solid was now blinking in recurring pattern, and now instead of one light, there were 3 red lights. That’s all the information we had to go off of. The next 6 weeks consisted of trying to figure out what was going on and at least get more feedback to work with. We sought help online by asking questions in places such as the Texas Instruments website, the Beaglebone forum, Reddit, and Linux forums to name a few. We reached out to our mentors with a hardware experience, met with Zack’s professors, talked it out with the development company that designed it, reached out to 3rd party companies that may be able to help, and took it home over Thanksgiving so our tech oriented family members could help us with. While all this was going on, we kept trying different system images thinking that the problem may be that. Finally, somewhere along the way, we decided to try some different flasher images to try to get the operating system to load. That was a big breakthrough because finally things were starting to happen. Code was being loaded and we were now getting tons of great feedback, all of which was being logged in the terminal so we could read through all the data pinpoint any problems.

 At this point in time, the system would try to flash into memory but it would quit at around 60% and restart. To further complicate things, it would restart at a different point each time. Sometimes it would make it to >70% before restarting, but other times it would only reach the mid-thirties. There was no consistency to it whatsoever. That led us to believe that there was a bad connection between to computer board and the fixture we were using to flash the system image. 

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It turns out that the boards were being clamped to the fixture in a way that was causing it to bow, giving us solid contact in the middle but really spotty contact near the sides, causing the connection to break momentarily and restarting the process. As soon as we figured that out we took the clamps off, held the board in place by hand, started flashing it again and BAM, half an hour later it ran through the whole process, flashed the memory chip, and welcomed us to Linux.

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So yeah, that’s done now. And like I mentioned above, that should be the last major technological hurdle before we’re able to ship out orders, and it’s finished. We still need to bring the other board up before we move on to the next step, but that one should be an order of magnitude simpler, and within the last week we’ve already gotten about 90% of the way there.

 


In other news, we received a grant from the KC Digital Sandbox in September. This program was put in place to help startup companies by paying for one vendor contract of up to $20,000. After receiving this grant, we elected to have them help us out by paying for our patent. Without getting into too many of the details of it, we’ve been working with our intellectual property attorney over the last few months to draft a non-provisional patent application to help protect our invention and make our company more enticing to potential investors who will help us grow and get the Read ‘n Style pen into more hands. We received the final draft on Friday and should be filing all the paperwork this upcoming week.

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One sad but awesome bit of news is that Becky, the industrial designer that we’ve been working with from the start, received a really great job offer in San Francisco and has decided to accept. Luckily for us, before leaving Becky put us in touch with a friend of hers named Jack who she met in industrial design school. Jack is very talented and quite accomplished already having designed a wide variety of new products that range from high end custom flatpack furniture to soft goods like hiking boots and backpacks, all the way to ergonomic virtual reality controllers just to name a few. He’s also skilled in graphic design as well which will come in handy down the road.

Jack has some mighty big shoes to fill but we're confident that he’s up to the challenge. His job now is to take over where Becky left off. He’s working to come up with the best configuration of the components to minimize the bulk and evenly distribute the weights so it’s comfortable to hold. As he’s doing that he’s modifying the enclosure design that hold all the parts together. The current thinking is to include a few ribs to give the body added strength and durability, place a few bosses in there to hold the parts in place, squeeze in a few pieces of cut foam to make sure everything fits snugly and doesn’t wiggle (and to give it some extra padding in case it’s dropped), and then hold the two molded halves together with a tongue and groove joint around the seams. 

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Currently the design looks a little something like this. It’s already pretty small but we think we can further slim it down by about 30% in width. In the final version the exterior will be more stylized with different lines and textures, but this will likely be the rough shape of it.

Despite making some substantial progress, there is obviously still more work to be done before we can get it in your hands. If you’re anything like us, you’re probably more than a little frustrated by this. We get it. We are too. If we had it all to do over again, we probably would have waited an extra 6-9 months before launching the Indiegogo campaign because we really weren’t as far along as we thought we were at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 though and all we can do right now is continue to work hard so we can get the product to you as quickly as we can. Right now, we’re probably looking in the ballpark of early summer for a ship out time. I honestly think it could be a bit sooner than that. As you can tell though, I don’t exactly have the best track record for accurately predicting these sort of things, but early summer does seem to be pretty reasonable.

Thank you all for reading and I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. Happy New Year.    :)

Quick Update - 12/16/2017

Hi everyone, just a short update today. We’re still in the process of troubleshooting the hardware. It appears as though the hardware is properly designed and manufactured based on the output it's giving us, but we’re having difficulty getting it to load our software. We’re enlisting the help of an outside company to try and help speed up the process, so with any luck we’ll be able to break through this hurdle shortly.

Everything else is proceeding nominally.

11/4/2017

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Hello again. I hope you all had a fantastic week. We sure did. We have some exciting news to share with you today but we’ll have to get to that in a second. There are other, not quite as exciting but still important, things that need to be mentioned first. Let’s get started.

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Lens prototypes

In the last update we shared a 3D render of the finished hardware design, but you may have noticed the lens that was included. To get the camera to take sharp, usable images we had to design a biconvex lens.

We originally designed the lens to be made from injection molded polycarbonate but because of its shape, the lens would likely warp as it cooled if we used that material. To solve that problem we redesigned the lens to be made from Poly(methyl methacrylate), or better known as acrylic. Acrylic doesn’t shrink as much as it cools so the variable thickness of the lens shouldn’t cause the same problems. 

Before we spent any money to make the necessary tooling for the injection mold we wanted to make sure this lens will work as we expect it to, so we ordered a few 3D printed acrylic prototypes from Shapeways. When the lenses came it, they had obvious machine marks and were clear enough for light to pass through but still far too cloudy to see a clear image. We did a number of things to try to polish the lens but what worked best was a series of fine grit sandpapers before finishing it off with a fingernail buffer. This process made the lens clear enough for us to test.

Unfortunately, we were unable to secure the lens in the proper spot with regard to the camera and the text without dismantling the camera we're using for development, so we weren't able to reach a hard "yes" on whether the camera will be suitable. We're still very confident that this lens configuration will work, but we'll have to wait until we have the custom hardware and a 3D printed enclosure before we can know for sure.

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Hardware prototypes

And now for the really big news! Are you ready for it? We got the first batch of 5 custom hardware units in this week! This is a huge leap in the development cycle and having the tangible hardware has really charged the team with a whole new energy.

The one downside though is that our development/manufacturing partner was a few weeks late in getting us these prototypes. If you combine that with the revisions that needed to be made before production, we are again a bit behind schedule, though the team has been working extra long into the night in an effort to make up for lost time.
 

Right now, as I’m typing, Shane and Zack are working together to figure out how to load the system image onto the machine. This is challenging work because there is not much feedback from the system to help them troubleshoot. By connecting it to their computers they are able to get a very basic user interface but mostly they are relying on a series of LED lights to tell what’s going on with the board.

We have numerous people who we can help us out if this begins to take longer than expected, but with a little bit more time and struggle we should be able to figure it out on our own. 

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Enclosure design

Now, with the lens design complete, the hardware finalized, and the batteries selected, Becky can adjust the final dimensions of the plastic enclosure in order to make sure everything fits snugly and securely. This involves modeling the bosses, ribs, and gussets that hold the components in place and gives the body strength, as well as the snap fits that hold the two plastic halves together.

Becky is planning to model two or three iterations each with slight variations in the exact sizing of the parts before sending it off to be 3D printed. The process of getting the parts to fit together perfectly can be as much of an art as it is a science so we’ll be ordering a couple different versions at a time to cut down on total shipping time. 

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What’s next

Once Becky finishes the enclosure, we’ll be able to send off to have the tooling made for the injection mold. We’ll also be able to create the vacuum form tooling for the plastic packaging inserts and get the packaging sent to us.

We also still need to send one of the prototype units off to Compliance Testing after we get it working so they can certify that it does not emit any radio signals that may interfere with other devices.

Then lastly, we'd just need to have the electronics and plastic enclosures manufactured and sent to us for final assembly and ship out.

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Estimated timeline

I wish I could tell you with more certainty exactly when we will be shipping your orders, but there is still some work left to be done before the product is finished and not all of it is within our direct control with respect to how long it takes. Product development is a lot like playing a game of hot potato. We try to get the potato out of our hands as quickly as possible, but a large part of the game is waiting for the potato to come back around.

I want to be clear though, I’m not saying this to absolve ourselves of responsibility. At the end of the day we are accountable for any delays. I only mention this because we want you to know we are doing everything in our power to get your orders to you in as timely of a manner as we can.

That said, looking at the work that still remains, it’s likely going to take us at least until the end of this year or the beginning of next for everything to come together so we can begin shipping out orders.

 

Current estimated ship date: Around the beginning of the year


10/2/2017*

Assembly breakout.jpg

We made a few minor tweaks to the button placement and the LED rotation but the design is finished now. It took 58 days from first contact with this new company to final design files! We ordered the first complete hardware prototypes yesterday and they should be here in two weeks. Once we receive them we will still need to test the hardware, polish the software a bit, and finish the plastic enclosure, but things are progressing nicely. With the changes we made we ate into our cushion a bit but the November release date is still looking promising.

Current estimated ship date: November 19th

 

* This update was modified from a Facebook post on 10/10/2017 and backdated to correspond to the date of the post


9/8/2017

vvvvvv.JPG

Hey everybody, we got some good news yesterday. The PCB design, for both boards, is now complete. This new company we've been working with has been great. Over the next couple days they're going to work up an updated quote for us and then begin producing the prototypes.

We're still expecting mid November for the ship out date. We have all the PCB files now so while we're waiting for the hardware prototype we're going to finish up the outer plastic enclosure and order a really nice 3D printed prototype of it. The plastic prototype should be in around the same time the hardware prototype gets here so we'll be able to test the fit of it and make sure everything is as close to finished as possible. 

Current estimated ship date: November 19th


8/18/2017

Hi everybody. We have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, we now have a much clearer idea of how long it's going to take to complete the project. The bad news is that it's going to take longer than we last expected.

A few days after the last update, our developer came back to us once again and said he needed a few more weeks and a lot more money to complete the project. This was a continuation of a trend and not an isolated incident and it caused us to lose confidence in his ability to complete the project.

I’m sure you’ve noticed over the past few months that I’ve continued to tell you that we are very close to completion and we should start manufacturing and be able to  ship the product soon, only to come back later and tell you that it’s not quite ready. While the information was factually incorrect, I’ve always tried to be honest and transparent with you all throughout. I’ve tried to give you the most accurate information that I could, it’s just that I wasn’t receiving good information either, leaving us just as frustrated with the situation as I imagine all of you are.

With that said, I’m not going to make excuses and shirk responsibility for issue. We should have recognized this pattern and taken action to resolve the situation sooner. That part is on us. For first time entrepreneurs, it is incredibly difficult to have perspective needed to be able to distinguish the “this is just the way it’s done, you need to suck it up and push through it” (an “A” type situation) from the “something isn’t right, we need to cut our losses and move on” (a “B” type situation). Where we went wrong was in experiencing a type “B” situation but mistaking it for an “A” type situation. 

Luckily, we have a group of several personal mentors and business advisors that we speak with on a semi-regular basis. We explained the situation to them and asked for their perspective on the matter. They told us straight up, this isn’t typical. It shouldn’t be taking this long and the continued delays and money issues should be a red flag. There are plenty of other companies out there better equipped to help you, and you shouldn’t hesitate to fix this. 

So that’s what we did. We quickly and cordially ended the relationship with our developer, made sure to get all the project files so we wouldn’t lose any progress, and sought out someone else to help us. We researched several dozen companies online, contacted 15, heard back from 7, got quotes from and extensively vetted 3, and then just this past Wednesday, we submitted a purchase order for the needed PCB design engineering work needed to finish the project. 

This new company that we’re working with is based in New Jersey and is a much better overall fit for us. They’ve been in business building electronics since 1968 and their facilities are much more advanced. They also work on well defined timelines, and from reviews that we’ve read, they tend to stick to them.

We’ve received three separate quotes that will take us from where we are now to final production. The first quote includes reviewing our schematic, revising the schematic in a way that will make the design work, and the updating the circuit routing. In total, this should take 7-8 business days from the time of payment (which went though on 8/16).

The next stage is fabricating the prototype boards (the boards we recently received are no good anymore and must be scrapped), procuring the components, and assembling them onto the bare board. That quote allows for 3 weeks of lead time, but they’ve expressed that once they finish the design section, they will provide us with an updated quote with prices for 1 week, 2 week, and 3 week turnaround times for the prototypes. As long as the cost for the expedited work is reasonable we’ll try to do the 1 week or 2 week turnarounds. Once they are finished building the prototypes they’re going to ship it to us so we can verify that it works and begin making the final changes to the software.

Once we can confirm that it works we can give them the go ahead to produce the production units for your order. The production quote stated that there would be a 4 week lead time for this segment. That gives us just enough time to finish the housing design, create the tooling, and order the parts, as well as finish up the packaging design and have that produced and delivered.

Below is an updated timeline detailing the steps we need to complete to bring the Read ‘n Style pen to market and how much longer it should take.
 

Capture.JPG

Current Estimated Shipping Date: November 19th.


7/21/17

Hi everybody. We’ve got some news to share with you. A lot has happened since the last update so let’s get caught up. When we left off we’d just talked with our hardware developer. He was 60% done designing the camera board, had just finished designing the computer board, and had just placed the order for the prototypes. A few days later he was notified that the order was rejected because the vias (little holes that connect the different layers of the circuit board) needed to be smaller than what whis company could produce.

Our developer spent about 1.5-2 weeks seeing what could be done about it, but concluded that there were no design fixes, so we had to find a different company to fabricate the boards. With vias that small there are only a handful of companies in the U.S. that can do it and it’s very expensive ($3,200+ rather than about $250-$300). In the past, the only time he has had to deal with this issue was for aerospace or defense projects where money was no object, so this came as a bit of a shock. But that goes to show just how complex this little thing really is.

 

Because they were so expensive our developer spent some extra time to make sure everything was just right in hopes that he’d discover any possible errors before the board was ordered. We also decided to have this other circuit board manufacturer go ahead and place the more delicate chips on a few of the boards just to make sure there were no issues. Our reasoning was that if we messed something up with the boards, we were out $3,200, but if they messed something up, they’d have to fix it. 

 

This past Tuesday we got our first shipment of blank circuit boards in, but late last week we came across a little snag. When our developer was sourcing components he noticed that the main memory chip we'd need was out of stock at all the major chip distributors. Luckily he was able to find find a compatible part that can be substituted in so the assembled boards should be in very soon. Our developer should have more information about the timeline of that in the very near future.

We also want to make it known that although our developer has spent a couple hundred hours designing, checking, revising, and getting second opinions on this board, there is still a chance that there is an error somewhere and it won’t boot up when we give it power. Unfortunately that’s just part of the game and there is no way to avoid that chance. We all feel pretty confident that it will boot up just fine, but I wanted to share this information with you because it could set us back a couple weeks if that were to happen. If it boots up the first time, we’re in the clear and we’d probably be able to ship out around the 2nd or 3rd week of August, but if it doesn’t we’ll have to do some troubleshooting to find out what went wrong, fix it, and then try it again. If that’s the case  we’re probably looking at the second week of September.

 

In other news, the camera board is finished and should be here any day now. There may be a few small revisions to this board to get all the components situated in the correct spots, but that should should be relatively easy. That's why we put them on two separate boards. The other board is the more expensive one and we don't want to have too many revisions with that one. Later, once we're in production, we may combine the two boards which should help reduce the cost a bit. The photo above has been blown up to help you see it, but in reality it's about the size of a postage stamp.

All of us here at Hidden Abilities are very appreciative of your continued support. Because of all of you, we've made a significant amount of progress since the Indiegogo project launched late last year and the finish line is within sight. We're glad to be able to share this journey with all of you and we look forward to finishing the project and shipping your products soon!

 

Current Estimated Ship Date: August 18th or September 15th, depending on whether the circuit board boots up correctly.
 


6/6/2017

Hi everyone! We’ve gotten a lot of important things figured out recently and we thought it would be a good idea to take a second to share it with all of you. Let’s just dive right in...

 

Hardware

As you may know, our hardware developer is designing two separate printed circuit boards for the pen. The first, more complicated board is what we refer to as the "computer board." It's the board that has the microprocessor and acts as the brains of the device. We call it that because it’s literally an entire computer that’s packed inside which we think is pretty remarkable. That part is completely finished being designed and a prototype is on it's way to our developer's shop so he can put it together and make sure it boots up for us.

The other, simpler circuit board is what we call the "camera board." It's going to have the camera, the LEDs to illuminate the page, a button, and a few supporting components on it. That board is about 60% finished right now. Because we'll need to get the placement of those parts just right, our developer needed a 3D model of the housing to be made. That will give him a better idea of the geometry requirements and will allow him finish the camera board design.

 

Design

Because the computer board turned out to be a little bigger than we expected, we're redesigning the case just a little bit to better accommodate the electronics. It's hard to tell the size from the image above but when it's released it will be smaller than any other product on the market.

The new design will look quite a bit like the old one when it's finished but the pooched belly had to go because it would have made it too difficult for small hands to grip if we'd just scaled it up. The gripper portion will be be made of an engineered rubber called Santoprene and through a process called overmolding, will be mechanically bonded to the main part of the body. Because the mandatory material thickness of Santoprene would have required us to make the housing wider, we decided to only have the gripper material on the sides where it's really needed. 

The first rough draft of the new design is finished and will allow our developer to move forward with the camera board while we work to improve the cosmetic details of the case. Once the case design is completely finished, it will take about 10 days for the injection mold to be made, the parts to be manufactured, and sent our direction.

 

Software

The software that our team has been building is in the final stages now. There is about a week or two worth of work still to be done, and then a little cleanup once we get the new hardware in, but it’s just about finished.

 

Packaging Material

We also received a shipment of packaging materials recently. When it’s time to ship out, we’ll place one pair of Bluetooth earbuds, one micro USB charger, one Read ‘n Style pen, and a quickstart guide into our custom designed box. The box will be sealed with two clear plastic adhesive circles and placed inside a blue plastic shipping sleeve. The sleeve will protect the box from any scuffs and cosmetic damage that may happen during delivery. Then we’ll print out a shipping label with your address and take it to the post office. 

 

Design Aids

I may be the only one to find this kind of thing interesting, but I do  and I’m not ashamed to admit it!   :)  We received a few little toys in the mail from Protolabs recently. These “toys” are meant to act as design aids to help their customers get a better sense of how to properly design plastic injection molded parts. Pictured above in order we have the Design Cube which highlights common errors in the design process and shows what the result looks like. The Demo Mold is used to teach people the names of different parts of the injection mold and help people better understand the mechanics of injection molding. The Torus is covered with several complex features such as bump-offs, bayonets, and clip-cams, and is meant to highlight the flexibility of the injection molding process. The last one is the Protogami which is a turnable material selector. The Protogami has 6 different types of plastic material around the sides, and when you turn it, it shows the different plastics with the three different mold finishes that you could choose from. Using this tool helped us decide to make the body of the pen out of a white ABS/PC plastic with a bead-blasted matte “T2” surface finish. If any of you or your children are interested in product design or manufacturing, Protolabs is a great resource to learn more about the subject.

All in all, we're getting really close. We may be able to get this all finished within a month, but a month and a half seems more likely.

 

Current estimated ship date: July 15th

 


PCBA Complete!

Hi there everyone! We’ve got some huge news! The main printed circuit board assembly design is complete! At 3:19 am we received an email from our electronics developer. He was letting us know it was finished and made sure to send over some files so we could get started on the next step. We’re sorry to have kept you in the dark for so long, we have been anticipating this news for a while now and we wanted to wait until it was done before putting out another update.


But it’s here now, so what’s next!? Our developer still has to finish one more small circuit board that will connect the camera, button, accelerometer, and LEDs, which he should be able to get done over the weekend. Compared to the board we received this morning, this camera board will be a snap. The only real difficult part for this piece is making sure the geometry is just right because the button and LEDs on it and it needs to be spaced just right.

 


Size

One thing to note, now that the main PCBA is complete, is that the device will be about 25% wider in one axis than originally anticipated. The reason for this is because we went with a physically larger, more powerful processor capable of the real time reading feature. If we were to make it any smaller we would have lost that functionality, so there was a bit of a trade off. We’re happy with how it turned out though and we’re pretty sure you will be too once you get your hands on it. 

 

Bluetooth

Shane and Zack have been working together to tackle the Bluetooth software. For about two weeks they were going through some significant troubles and things just weren’t going their way, but they kept pushing at the problem and figured out what was wrong. It was one of those problems that was tough to figure out the issue, but once you do it’s easy to fix. Jamee and I are extremely fortunate to have linked up with such good people. We're really proud of these guys and how they never give up.

 

Timeline

We have a couple of important decisions to make within the next few weeks that could affect the ship out date, but as we see it today, the most likely scenario will put us shipping out  near the end of June.
 

Current estimated ship date: June 27th


4/2/2017 Update

Hi everybody. I wanted to give you a quick update today. We don’t have a whole lot to report on this time around, but that’s not to say that there hasn’t been progress, there has, it’s just that there hasn’t really been any new, exciting developments to talk about. The past two weeks have mostly been just continuing to work on the things that we have going. Jamee and I have been maintaining our relationships with our vendors, making sure things are in place and ready to go when the time comes, and ensuring that our T’s are crossed and our I’s dotted. Shane and Zack have been working on software for the camera and Bluetooth, respectively, and making sure it’s ready for when we receive the hardware our developer is working on for us.

With that, it seems like one of our developer’s other projects took priority over ours, so he had to put ours on the backburner for a week. We’ve been in close contact with him and it sounds like he’s working on it now, so he should have something for us here pretty soon. He was able to get us the FCC ID# for the Bluetooth chipset that we’ll be using, so we were able to get that sent off to Compliance Testing, LLC who will be helping us get the device FCC/IC certified, proving that it doesn’t emit any harmful radiation.

That’s pretty much the extent of what we have to talk about right now. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let you all know. With that said, I want to thank you all again for your continued patience and understanding. I know things aren’t happening as quickly as any of us had hoped, but I appreciate the fact that we haven’t been receiving a constant barrage of angry emails. Instead, we’ve been getting nothing but love and encouragement and that really speaks to how open and understanding and beautiful this community really is, and we are very thankful for it. We wouldn’t be having the successes that we are if it weren’t for you. So we’ll keep plugging away at this and let you know if/when anything exciting happens.

 

Current estimated ship date: April 30th-May 14th


St. Patrick's Day update

Hi everybody,


I hope you’ve had a good week so far. Sorry it’s been so long since our last update. Two and a half weeks, yikes! We've had a busy few weeks and things are about to pay off, so I hope you’ll understand.

 

Packaging quote

First of all, we received an official quote from the California based packaging design company we’ve been working with. The quote came in right on budget, which is really good news, but for our first order will need to go with air freight from their production facility in GuangDong Province which will add about $1,100 to our first order. That’s about $200-$300 more expensive than ocean freight but it will cut the transportation time down from 34 days to 7. It’s certainly worth planning ahead a bit to minimize the number of times we use air freight in the future, but since we’re already behind schedule, it’s definitely worth it this time. Before we received this quote, we were a little concerned that the shipping could hold up our delivery timeframe, but it doesn’t seem like that will be an issue. If everything else works out in a similar fashion, we should be in really good shape.

 

Brent Sopel/Dyslexia Buddy Network event in Chicago

The first weekend in March we made a trip to Chicago to do a joint promotion with Dyslexia Buddy Network and former Chicago Blackhawk, Brent Sopel. Brent has dyslexia and will be starting back to school soon after his 18 year hockey career. Dyslexia Buddy Network reached out to us and asked if we would be willing to gift Brent a Read 'n Style pen to ease his transition and we happily agreed.

At the event, the kids got to skate with Brent for about an hour and a half while he signed their jerseys. Afterwards everyone gathered upstairs, had pizza, and listened to Brent speak out about his dyslexia and how he plans to use his platform to advocate on behalf of dyslexics everywhere. The event turned out great and we were so happy to have been a part of it.

 


Carrying case

Not many new developments to report on regarding the carrying case. We got a generic sample in the mail to verify quality and potentially see if the premade case size would be acceptable for us. If we were able to use the premade size, we would save us a few hundred dollars in tooling costs, but after receiving the sample and talking with Paula and Cate, a few of our fans we met in Chicago, we decided that it would be worth it to create custom tooling to reduce the size. 

While we were talking with them, Paula and Cate also pointed out how helpful they thought it would be to have a strap that you could use to sling the case over your shoulder to make it easier to carry to class. Cate is in junior high and mentioned that they aren’t allowed to carry backpacks with them to class, so she has a stack of books, pencils, electronics, and other supplies that she has to carry to and from every class. Having a strap/sling would help her manage the transition between classes a little easier. Because of that, we’re going to talk with the carrying case manufacturers and see what our options are when it comes to adding a strap to it.

We’re still waiting to get the finalized pen housing design so we can create the proper foam cutting dies, so this subproject is on hold until that happens. Once it does, it should be a pretty quick turnaround.

 

 

Charging stand

After getting quotes of $17k and $33k to make the tooling for the charging stand, we changed up the design a bit in an effort to reduce costs. The new design will be 2 pieces instead of four and will no longer require a "side pull" which was a major contributor to the high tooling cost. We also changed up how it's joined. The last way caused a small undercut which could make the part hard to eject from the mold. This new design will be joined with male and female rods. 

The parts will be made of an ABS/Polycarbonate blend and during assembly the end of the male rods will be dipped in acetone which will slightly dissolve the part and chemically weld the two halves together. Based on Jamee's suggestion, we're looking into using four thin strips of cut rubber instead of an injection molded square to further reduce tooling costs. 

We requested a tooling quote from Protolabs around the end of last week and this Monday it came back. As it stands right now, it’ll cost around $5,000 for the tooling, which sounds very reasonable.

We received a few material samples that will help us pick out exactly which type of plastic to use and what finish we’d need on the injection mold tooling. The finishes range from a really smooth, buffed finish which will make the resulting parts have a glossy shine to them, to a soft bead blasted finish which will give the resulting part a matte finish. There is not much left to be done on the charging stand until we get the finalized design of the pen’s housing. Once we have that, we’ll be able to make a small modification to the geometry of the 3D model and get the injection mold made. 

We also just got a cheap 3D printer to work with. This will allow us to quickly and cheaply test out designs of both the charging stand and the pen housings, as well as any future project we take up.

 

 

Chat with our hardware developer

Last weekend we were in our hometown visiting our families so we decided to stay an extra day so we could stop by and talk with our hardware developer/manufacturer. He mentioned that he currently has three projects that he’s working on right now and they are all in their final stages just like ours. (In fact, when we talked to him Monday he mentioned that he was there until 4 am  the previous night working on stuff.)

With that being said, he has been working really hard on our project and expected to have a PCB layout/schematic finished by Wednesday. Now our guy doesn’t manufacture the circuit boards themselves as that involves some potentially dangerous chemicals and he prefers to leave that part up to larger companies that are better equipped to deal with them safely. So he’s going to have that sent off to be produced and he should hopefully have that in hand early this upcoming week. Once he has that, he’ll program his pick-and-place machine to assemble the board, putting the processor, camera, Bluetooth chipset, and all the little resistors, transistors, and capacitors in just the right spots. Once they’re all in place, the board will be sent through a reflow oven, nicknamed the pizza oven, to solder them all in place. Once that’s completed we should have a custom built PCBA (printed circuit board assembly) to try out. 

This custom board is built around the electronic architecture of a very common and well known hardware development board. Because of the extensive documentation and supporting material, our developer felt fairly confident skipping a step and decided to make a final sized version right away. This has two major implications. First, it means that this new board may just not boot up. If that’s the case he have to make a few tweaks and try again. This would still have been a possibility even if he hadn’t skipped that step though, so even if that happens, it wouldn’t set us back any. The second implication is that even if he has to modify some aspects of the design, the size and shape of the circuit board will remain the same. So once we get a hold of one of the custom boards, we can begin finishing the design of the outer housing. And once that’s finished, a whole load of other things will begin to fall into place. For example, we’ll be able to finish the packaging inserts and have our first shipment sent, make the modifications to the charging stand and get that tooling created, and finish the dies for the cut foam in the carrying case and have those produced and sent to us as well.

As you can tell, that’s a big step in this whole process and it should be coming to a head soon. The anticipation is killing us, as I’m sure it is for you all as well, but we’re getting closer and closer every day.

 

Current estimated ship date: April 30th

 


Happy March! - 3/1/2017

Hi everyone. I’ve got some more to share with you if you don’t mind. Here it goes...

Hardware

Shane was sick with the flu this past week but was still able to put together an email with all the documentation that our hardware developer will need for the PCB. We should hopefully have version one by the end of next week if all goes well.

 

Charging stand prototype

Yesterday we got a 3D printed prototype of the charging stand in the mail from Shapeways and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. We’ve asked for tooling quotes from three companies and we’ve gotten one back so far. For the four parts that we’ll need, the tooling would cost $16,000 as it sits right now.

We think if we modify the design a bit, eliminate the “side pull,” possibly make the body two pieces instead of three, and shop around, we could get the tooling cost down to about $4,000-$6,000. I’m fairly certain we can can make that happen. If we’re not able to get the tooling costs down though, we’ll have to wait a bit before the charging stands come out, and when it does, it would be a bit pricier than I told you last time.

 

Carrying case

This weekend we began working on a plans for a custom carrying case for the Read ‘n Style pen. We found a company that specializes in making custom cases to help us out. The final product will look like the blue case from the pictures above, but with the approximate size and shape of the black case. Inside will be three pieces of cut foam to securely hold the pen and earbuds during travel. This company is sending us a generic sample (not customized at all) so we can verify the quality before we create the custom tooling needed. That should be in either late this week or early the next.

 

Current estimated ship date: April 30th