New Year, New Update

Welcome to Debian Linux.jpg

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. 


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. 


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.

Welcome to Debian Linux.jpg

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.


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. 


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.



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.



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.




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. 




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. 



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.



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


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



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


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.


Current Estimated Shipping Date: November 19th.


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.


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...



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.



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.



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.



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. 



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.



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...


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



Four new developments

Hi everybody. We’ve got some exciting news to share with you today. If you’ve liked our Facebook page I may have already given a few parts of it away. We’ve had four cool things happen since the last update in the areas of hardware development, packaging design, and accessories. Details below. . .

Phone call with our developer

If you recall from the last update, there was a bit of a miscommunication between us and our developer. We thought we were waiting on him and he thought he was waiting on us. This Sunday we had about an hour long phone call with him and we got things cleared up. We discussed the exact parts we’ve been using to prototype and ways to rearrange them in the pen. If we use the exact parts that we’ve been prototyping with, the code Shane's written would be able to be used without modification, saving a good deal of time.

Shane will be sending him a follow up email tonight including part numbers, links, schematics, and other supporting documentation for all the parts we’ve been using. As soon as our developer gets those, he’ll be able to really get doing with the hardware design and it should only be about 2 weeks before we get our first custom printed circuit board. 

This first board will have the same components (and maybe a few more) as the final design, but won’t yet have the size and shape required for the finished product. With this board we’ll be able to test everything out, make sure it’s working how it’s supposed to, and see if we’ll need those few extra components or if we can eliminate them. Once we’ve tested that board we’ll either confirm that it’s what we need or suggest revisions. At that point our developer will either make those revisions and send it back to us, or he will continue working to shrink  the board and make it the size and shape we need. From there we’d just design the housing and  finalize the software before it’d be ready for manufacture.


Earbuds shipment received

This week we also received two very large packages containing 400 sets of Bluetooth earbuds. These will be repackaged with the pen and shipped out to our Indiegogo backers.

Zack forgot his personal earbuds at home when he went to the gym the other day so he used the sample pair that he'd been working with instead and he loved them! He said they were really comfortable and didn't fall out, even while running. We really like these earbuds and we're pretty sure you will too. 


Charging stand accessory

Around Thanksgiving I decided on four topics I wanted to study this new year: Fusion 360 (3D modeling software), Python (programming language), calculus, and still photography. I decided that my final exam for the Fusion 360 learning goal would be to design a charging stand for the Read 'n Style pen. Above is what I came up with...

It'll take a 90 degree micro USB female to male adapter and four injection molded or cast urethane parts. All of the pieces will snap together to form a single body. The grey square in the bottom will be made of rubber and prevent the whole thing from sliding. You'll plug a normal micro USB charger into the side and rest the pen in the top cradle to charge.

We ordered a 3D printed prototype of the parts online to test the fit and stability of the product. If we’re lucky and things go well, the charging stands will be available by the time the pen itself is ready to go out. We've tentatively set the price at $15 but that's subject to change.


Packaging graphics

We met up with our industrial designer, Becky, last night and she came through with some stunning graphics for the packaging. The first 4 pictures are of the graphics she made, printed on heavy paper and folded. The other pictures are die cut prototypes of the actual box structure designed by ZenPack, a packaging design and manufacturing company from California. Now we’re just waiting on a final housing design (so we can create the mold for the insert) before we can place our first order.


Current estimated ship date: April 30th*

* (This is a new thing I’ll be doing. After each new update I’ll include an estimated ship date based on what’s left to be done.)

February 11th Update

Hi everybody. I just wanted to give you an update on our progress over the past couple weeks. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted one of these. I get to working on other things and I forget how long it’s been sometimes. I’ll try to make sure I’m updating you all more frequently in the future. We have a little bit of good news and a little bit of bad news to share with you this time. 


The Bad News - Miscommunication

Jamee and I were passing through our hometown this week so we decided to drop in on our hardware developer to see how things were coming along. The last time we’d talked, it was our understanding that he was going to get started developing the printed circuit board (PCB) for the pen using the new processor that we’d decided on, and we were just waiting for him to let us know when he was done. When we stopped by we asked how the PCB was coming along. After a brief moment of confusion, he explained that he had been waiting for us to get a benchmark reading for the new processor and to confirm that it was indeed what we needed. 

Put simply, we were waiting for him and he was waiting for us. It was an unfortunate situation and I would like to personally take full responsibility for the miscommunication. Luckily, we got the issue resolved without too much lost time. As I’m writing this, Shane is working on getting those benchmark tests completed so we can send them to our developer by Monday. (See photo above)


The Good News - Accelerometer Progress + Integration with Camera

While all that was going on Shane has been working with the accelerometer and has made real, meaningful progress. If you’re not familiar with what an accelerometer is, it’s a very small chip that senses movement. (Here’s a fascinating video by “The Engineer Guy” explaining how they work.

By continuously measuring movement (acceleration) you’re able to derive the velocity (speed + direction), and track the absolute position in space. The Read ‘n Style pen will use this information in two big ways. First, we’ll need that data to form the image. The linescan camera we’ll be using takes thousands of vertical slices of information and stacks them up side by side to form the image. The camera needs the information from the accelerometer to know exactly where to put each slice. That data also allows the Read ‘n Style pen to sense how fast it’s moving across the page, which is critical for adjusting and smoothing playback speed.

Anyway, Shane was able to get the accelerometer working, capturing the raw acceleration data and turning it into the useful information that we need. He's now moving on to blending that information with the data we're getting from the camera so we'll get really good quality images.


The Good News - Packaging Graphics Progress

We’ve been working with our designer, Becky, to create some really nice graphics for the packaging the Read ‘n Style pen will come in. She got us a rough draft a few days ago that I wanted to share with you. We’ll be meeting up with her sometime in the next few days to go over things and discuss where to go from here.

If you think this looks a little funky, don't worry. It's not really going to look like the picture. The grey areas above are not printed, but rather a stand in for a secondary process called spot UV. With spot UV, a special photosensitive gel is applied and UV light is used to cure it. The result is a glossy layer like you see in the photo above.


Other News - TCEA Convention/Expo

In other news, Jamee and I made a trip to Austin, TX this week to attend the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Convention and Exposition. We plan to begin exhibiting at EdTech and learning disability conferences as soon as the Read ‘n Style pen is released and we thought it would be a good idea to see one first hand to get a better sense of how they are run. 


While we were there we ran into Leslie Fisher, a world renowned public speaker in the education space. She contacted us a few months back wanting more information about us so she could show us off in her “Gadgets” presentation. We saw on Twitter that she would be speaking at TCEA and we told her we were there too. She invited us to her presentation and then this happened.


We learned a lot on during this trip, made some really good connections, and had some fun along the way.

All in all, I'd say we’ve made some solid progress these past few weeks, but we’ve had a few hiccups as well. Luckily the delay caused by the hiccup was pretty minor and easily fixed so we’re still pretty well on track for an April ship date.



Big news this week!

Hi everyone. I’ve got great news to share with you today! Last week was very productive for all of us here, but especially for Shane. Shane took another week off from his day job to dedicate to Hidden Abilities and his hard work paid off in a big way. He was able to get all the benchmark testing finished which allowed him to make a processor selection, the biggest, hardest, and most important decision that needs to be made. 

(The Allwinner A13 is an impressive system on a module (SOM) processor used extensively in tablet computers)

With our new knowledge, Shane and I made a trip to meet with our developer/manufacturer, and share the news. He was happy to hear that things were progressing and was excited to get the chance to work with the A13 chip because he’d heard good things about it before. 

While we were there we also talked about the next steps that needed to be done. He said he’d work on getting a camera and accelerometer picked out for us, a MUCH simpler process than the processor. Before he does that though, he’s agreed to choose a bluetooth module for us to work with. That’ll allow us to send the ID number for that component over to the company that we’ll be working with for the FCC testing, and will let them get a head start on filing a “Declaration of Conformity.”

Once those three components are selected, the processor, camera, and bluetooth module, we’ll know the size and shape of the printed circuit board(s) we’ll need, meaning we’ll be able to move forward with the final design of the housing and the manufacturing of the vacuum forming molds for the packaging inserts.

Last week’s breakthrough was a big deal and it opens the floodgates for a tidal wave of new progress to flow through in the coming weeks. I hope you’ll share our enthusiasm for having reached this major milestone. Cheers.

Status Report

Hi everybody. Payden here with another campaign update. I wanted to take the time to give you a full update on what we’ve been working on, where we’re at, what work we still have left to do, as well as an updated timeline. I’m sorry about the length. I tried to keep it short and to the point, but it kind of got away from me. What can I say, there is a lot to talk about.


First, what we’ve done

Since the end of the campaign, we’ve been working hard, developing the Read ‘n Style pen and completing all the ancillary tasks that go into creating a new product. As you may imagine, this is a pretty complex process, but we knew that when we began and we like the challenge. 



Let’s start by talking about some of those ancillary tasks. As you can see in the picture above, we received our first shipment of micro USB chargers around Thanksgiving. We ordered 300 of them to cover all the orders we’ve had so far, as well as any potential orders we may receive before we ship out our first batch. Our supplier was nice enough to throw an extra 3 dozen chargers in with our shipment for a total of 336. For our international backers, we either ordered chargers specific to your region if we could find them, or ordered adapters.



As you may have read in a previous update, we’ve been working with a contract packaging company from California called ZenPack. In that update they had developed a rough design sketch to mockup what the packaging might look like. We really liked what they had for us so we told them to move forward with the idea and create the dielines, complete the structural engineering, and create a prototype. 

The photos above show the prototype they’ve made for us. The box will be large enough for us to include either one or two Read ‘n Style pen(s), charger(s), and earbud(s) by simply swapping out the insert on top that holds the pen. That will allow us to easily combine shipping for people who ordered two, saving money for both you and us. The package will also come with a quick start guide that will explain how to get up and running with the Read ‘n Style pen, as well as information about our guarantee/warranty.

ZenPack has gone as far as they can at this point. The next steps will be for us to provide them with graphics based on their dielines they provided and also send them a final CAD drawing of the pen so they can create the tooling necessary for the molded insert.



We’ve ordered earbud samples from various suppliers on AliExpress so we can evaluate the quality and fit of the earbud and begin working on making sure there is an easy pairing process. We’re hoping to get it to where things are already paired and ready to go out of the box. We aren’t there yet but we’re pretty confident that we can make it happen that way. Once we are able to evaluate a few different earbuds, we’ll make the decision and place a larger order.

Business related activities

In addition to the activities directly related to the product development, we’ve also been undertaking the activities necessary for the business side of things. This includes legal and regulatory obligations such as completing an operating agreement, developing and maintaining our intellectual property, and figuring out what we need to do to become compliant with FCC regulations. It also involves meeting with people to strategize how to best market and distribute the Read ‘n Style pen so as many people as possible can realize its benefits.



As far as activities directly related to the Read ‘n Style pen goes, we’ve completed fewer but larger, more complex, and more time consuming tasks. We’ve gotten the code written that will allow the pen to communicate with the earbuds. We ordered this Bluetooth module from Sparkfun and developed the software to send audio files from it, through the air, to a set of earbuds. With a few minor modifications, the software will be able to be written to the Read ‘n Style pen and serve the same function.


Development boards/processor selection

When it comes to the all important task of selecting a processor for the Read ‘n Style pen, there are three things we need to take into consideration: price, size, and power. It’s very important to strike the right balance when it comes to these attributes, and it’s important to get it right before moving on in the development process so you don’t have to redo a lot of work if you find out that chip isn’t what you need.. 

The way you make this decision is by researching different processors and finding a few you think might be right (1-2 weeks). You then order a development board (5-10 minutes), wait for it to come in the mail (1-6 weeks), get it all connected (1 day-4 weeks), and get the system all set up and operating (1 day-2 weeks). Once you’ve done all that, you dump your software on there and hope it’s fast enough.

As we’re working through this process, we have some moderately good news and some moderately bad news to report to you. The good news is, we got the first development board up and running and tested our software on it. The bad news is that the board was too slow and it took an exceptionally long time to find this out delaying the project and likely causing us to miss the expected delivery date. The problem we’re having is that the optical character recognition (OCR) software that extracts the text from the image is too big and bulky, and it slows the whole system down. Right now our benchmarks are telling us that it’s taking about 3 seconds to process just a few words. That’s obviously not acceptable, but we have few options that will correct this. We can either use a beefier processor, a slimmer OCR, or both. I’ll talk more about this in a little bit.

What we still have left to do

Now that I’ve touched on what we’ve gotten accomplished since the end of the Indiegogo campaign, I want to talk about what we have to do and how long we think that should take. 

Select the processor/inform developer/create the custom PCBA (2-4 weeks)

By doing these two things, we may find out that the board we’ve already been using is fast enough after all. If that is the case, we’ll proceed with that chip. If that’s still not fast enough we’ll try out more and more powerful processors until we find one that is. Once we have that settled, we’ll let our contract developer know what we’ve figured out and he will continue developing a custom printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) using that processor.

Accelerometer/Gyroscope(1-2 weeks) 

While our hardware developer is developing the PCBA for us, we’ll be writing software for an accelerometer/gyroscope combo. This will capture positional data and help the Read ‘n Style pen understand how fast it’s scanning.

FCC certification (2 weeks)

Once he has finished developing our custom PCBA, we’ll need to have the board evaluated and certified by the FCC to make sure it doesn’t emit any harmful radio frequencies

Refine our software (2 days-2 weeks)

Once the PCBA has been certified by the FCC, the hardware is complete. We’ll dump our code on there and make any final modifications to ensure that our software works with the hardware.

Final design dimensioning, injection mold creation (3-6 weeks)

After the hardware and software are finished we’ll be able to tweek and resize the design of the outer housing to ensure that it can accommodate the custom PCBA. After the final design is complete we’ll machine an injection mold out of a block of aluminum which will be used to mass manufacture the housing.

Finalize packaging insert (1-2 weeks)

Once we have a final CAD model of the housing we can send it to ZenPack and instruct them to machine a thermoforming mold from a block of aluminum which will be used to mass manufacture the insert that the Read ‘n Style pen will be seated in within the box. We’ll also make sure the final packaging graphics are completed and the files sent to ZenPack. From there, the packaging will be manufactured and delivered to us.

Manufacture/Delivery (1-2 weeks)

The final steps are to determine how many units to produce, manufacture and assemble the PCBAs and housings to create Read ‘n Style pens, match each one up with a charger and set of earbuds, then package and ship the orders to all of you.


All in all this process should take a total of 8-20 weeks, putting us on track to deliver some time between February 11th and June 5th. You may be saying to yourself that those numbers don’t add up, and you’re correct. If you add the number of weeks each individual task should take, you would come up with somewhere between 12 and 26 weeks. The reason for this incongruity is because many of these tasks overlap and can be done at the same time by different people.

TL; DR We’ve gotten a lot done, we’ve still got a lot left to do, we’re running behind schedule but we’re making significant progress and we should have the product to you between February 11th and June 5th with an expected ship date around April 8th.

Quick update

Hi there everyone. I’ve got a few updates to share with you all. First, I wanted to let you know that Shane took a week vacation from his day job so he could spend more time working on the project. We’ve been in the office full time this week and have made some really good progress toward our goal.

We’ve also been talking with Raider Ink, our t-shirt supplier, to figure out which colors are available and would look good with our design. Once we have those options nailed down we’ll be emailing all the t-shirt backers to find out what size and color they would like. From there, we’ll go ahead and have the t-shirts made and send they out.

That’s all for now. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. Cheers.

Processor selection/Packaging

(Olimex development board featuring an Allwinner A13 Cortex-A8 processor)

Hi everybody. I wanted to take a second to update you on our progress. We have two main areas of progress to share with you today. First is in regards to the chip selection. I mentioned last time that we were having difficulties getting the last development board hooked up. Well, we had our developer/manufacturer stop by our office to take a look at everything and see if he could help us troubleshoot. It turns out it was a simple fix and everything is up and working. We’re in the process of testing that chip out now. Because there are often long lead times to get development boards like this made and because we aren’t 100% sure this chip will be what we need, we ordered another development board featuring a different chip that we can test out if we need to.


(Blown up view of the packaging)

The other main area of progress to report on is the packaging. We’ve been in continued communication with a packaging producer out of California who is helping us design the packaging for the Read ‘n Style pen. They’ve drafted this proposal for us to review and okay. The package will consist of an outer box similar to what most smartphones come in, a smaller, inner box that will secure the charger and earbuds for safe delivery, a quick start guide to get up and running with the Read ‘n Style pen in a timely manner, and an insert that will hold and display the Read ‘n Style pen. We’re still working out the details of it but this should give you a pretty good idea of what it should be receiving in the mail soon. 

Have a good rest of your Friday and I hope you enjoy your weekend!

Best wishes,

Getting to work

(Shane and Jamee setting up to test a new processor)

With the conclusion of the campaign fast approaching, we've begun to shift part of our focus back toward product development. Our team members all have day jobs so we typically meet in the evenings after everybody gets off work and eats dinner. This Friday we stayed until about 11pm trying to get a new development board set up so we can test a new processor. Our contract developer researched this chip for us and believes it will meet our needs, but asked us to test it out with our software to make sure before moving on. It’s important that we get this right the first time because the rest of the hardware will be designed around this one component. If we have to swap it out for a different one we would have to start over from scratch, delaying the project.

As you can see from the picture above, this is kind of a tricky ordeal. The we had to order a cheap, refurbished computer with the connection type we needed as well as a few other parts to make it all work together. Getting this accomplished has caused a bit of a hold up but we should be able to tackle this obstacle soon and move forward.


(Package design mockup)

Last Friday we also had a consultation with a packaging company out of California called Zenpack.  We're working with them to create a packing solution that will beautifully, securely, and inexpensively house the Read 'n Style pen, charger, and Bluetooth earbuds. The box itself would be like those that most smart phones come in and above is a rough mockup of a design we came up with.