Adafruit’s Limor Fried Wants To Make People Comfortable With Their Electronics, Inside And Out


Recently, consumer electronics have tended to be more about closing things down then opening them up, but New York-based Adafruit is working to help reverse that trend, and to make it so that people aren’t afraid of what’s inside their devices, and instead become more comfortable with electronics components and the concepts behind how gadgets actually work. Adafruit founder and CEO Limor Fried was on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY today, and talked about how her company is going about achieving that goal.

The mission helps the company generate revenue, by priming an audience early on to become buyers of the components, DIY kits and open-source devices Adafruit sells through its online store. The key is to start young, Fried says, and to take advantage of urges that children already have around exploring their environment and the things around them.

“At a certain age, they just want to be comfortable with it, and everyone here probably liked to take stuff apart,” he said. “That’s how we learn, we take stuff apart and then we learn from them. That’s how software works, too.” With software, we pull apart the code to find out how it’s put together, she said, and we should be doing the same thing with hardware.

“We open the box,” she said, referring to our instincts when young. “The gadgets you have now, tablets and smartphones, theyr’e not easy to open anymore, so we provide that.” The idea is to make sure that if the need to break something down and repair it does arise, we aren’t afraid of it, and we don’t feel like we need eight years of specific education just to replace a broken capacitor.

Adafruit recently launched a video series for children called Circuit Playground to help familiarize them with electronics at a very early age. The company also put out a coloring book for electronics, which you can print out and use under a creative commons license. This is designed less to provide a rigorous early-age electrical engineering education regimen, and more to help get kids comfortable with terms, designs and shapes early on so that they’ll find it easier to pursue that kind of formal training later on. Basically, it’s about planting the seed for a generation of makers to come.

Asked about Adafruit’s identity, and whether it’s an educational organization or a business, Fried said her company is an ‘educational, tutorial company” that then has essentially a gift shop at the end. The model works in the same way that art supply stores functions; you could technically make your own paint, she says, but most people don’t because it’s easier to buy. Budding electronics hobbyists can likewise build their own PCBs, but they instead turn to supply stores and pre-fab components like those supplied by Adafruit. But in the end, the emphasis is on education and open source.

Fried envisions a world where people treat hardware the same way they do software, by mostly leveraging open source tools to quickly start up their own companies. But that change represents a major shift that will require fundamental changes in how we think about hardware, and Adafruit is trying to bring that about starting as early in our educational lives as possible.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Wii U Reportedly Hacked To Allow Users To Run Games From USB Devices


The builders of Wii hacking devices, Wiikey, have announced that they’ve found a method to hack the Wii U to play content via USB media. The kit also claims to work on devices from any region and requires no soldering.

Because there is no mention of “homebrew” content like video players and the like, this looks to be a hack that enables piracy on the platform. Called the WiikeÜ, the device will connect to the Wii U via USB. The current WiiKey device allows you to hack the original Wii in a similar way.

The quest to hack the Wii is not new. The homebrew community is also working on methods to run media via USB and there are ways to add a Homebrew Channel to the Wii U, allowing users to download apps not licensed by Nintendo. Users cannot yet burn copies of games onto recordable disks because the Wii U copy protection is built directly into the Blu-ray drive, making a software hack difficult.

While this is no good for Nintendo in terms of piracy, it could pique interest in the platform as a homebrew system. Sadly, piracy usually comes first and foremost in cases like this one.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

3DLT Launches The First Store For Printable 3D Objects


Cincinnati, Ohio is best known for the Bengals, Bootsy Collins, and Skyline Chili but it’s about to become famous as one of the first cities with a true market for 3D printable designs. 3DLT, a small company based in Cincy and founded by a team of programmers, is bringing the free-for-all world of 3D modellers into line and essentially making an Etsy for ABS.

The team consists of Pablo Arellano, John Hauer, Colin Klayer, and Tim Maggart and has raised $ 10,000 in personal investment thus far. Today they’ve announced a plan to give away $ 10 million in free 3D object credit. They are also going to build a network of 3D printers across the country to allow users to connect with printers who can build their purchases on demand.

“We’re big fans of Graphic River, iStockPhoto and other content marketplaces,” said Arellano. “We felt that when 3D printing became viable, a market for 3D printable content would be needed.”

“We are disruptive in two ways: We will accelerate the adoption of 3D printed products by the everyday consumer by offering a wide selection of well-organized, curated designs across multiple categories. We also make it easy for consumers – from your grandmother to your grandson – to purchase 3D designs they can print at home, online, or at a local 3D print shop,” he said.

They also aim to commoditize 3D printing and make it more “financially accessible” by partnering with 3D print providers.

The company launched on stage today at Disrupt in New York.

“3D printing is already being used extensively in the $ 23 billion prototyping market and quickly gaining traction in automotive, fashion, toys and many other areas. In the near future, everyday items, from frames to furniture, sneakers to stilettos, will be 3D printed. 3DLT is what the industry needs to cause a tipping point,” said Arellano.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

KISI Launches Its Keyless Home Access Management Platform On Indiegogo


Munich-based startup and TechCrunch Disrupt NY Battlefield contestant KISI Systems is launching its Indiegogo campaign today. KISI and KISIBox together comprise a keyless entry solution that lets users provide timed, revokable access to their own apartments on an as-needed basis. It’s the perfect complement to collaborative consumption services like Airbnb and TaskRabbit and in general a very useful addition to any household.

KISI takes its cues from enterprise-grade tools that allow businesses to control who can and can’t gain access to a facility – co-founder Bernhard Mehl explained that he and his co-founders decided it was an idea that would make perfect sense when applied to a consumer setting, too.

The KISI system is a combination of hardware and software, with a set price of $ 479 up front when it hits retail. Initially, backers can get it for $ 249 for the first Indiegogo supporters, and the best part is that the service is included with the hardware purchase, so this isn’t something that you end up necessarily paying for on a continual basis. There is a SaaS model planned as well, for people who’d like access to premium features, but Mehl says that in general, they aren’t interested in making homeowners feel like they’re renting the locks on their doors.

“We stripped an enterprise product down to a consumer-friendly version, and provide very easy-to-use key-management tools, so we have a web app and you can manage or see who accessed your apartment, or who currently has access on their smartphones,” Mehl says. “It’s a more decentralized or democratized access, so that it’s not the house owner who controls all the keys, but the resident themselves.”

KISI is designed for apartment tenants primarily, and can be made to integrated with your intercom system to provide complete building access from a web-based dashboard. Mehl says that where in the past this has been accomplished through sharing of hardware keys, that’s a dramatically outdated prospect, since it involves granting a type of access you can’t easily revoke, at least not without changing your locks. The platform is why KISI isn’t just another Lockitron, providing things like integration with an intercom system, and a record of when keyholders have accessed your apartment, and for how long.

The big opportunity for KISI is to take advantage of the rise of services like Airbnb, Exec and TaskRabbit, and collaborate with those companies to help provide temporary access to service pros who might only need it for a few minutes, a week or an afternoon.

“All the hardware parts are installed in your apartment, and you can open even the front door of the house with your smartphone, and yet nothing changes for anyone else who has physical key access” he said. “Up to now, you had to change the whole system to get automated access, but the cool thing is that we’ve managed to accomplish that without requiring a complete overhaul.”

KISI has already impressed enough to win an entrepreneurial startup grant from the German government, and they’ve won various prizes, including from the NYCEDC, which provided them with $ 25,000 for the “Next Idea” award.

KISI will launch in New York City and Munich first, and will then expand to other markets after that. It doesn’t replace existing standards like Z-Wave, but works with them, and can also be used in combination with existing devices like Lockitron, so there’s opportunity for it to grow into existing home automation systems.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Overheating HTC Evo Shift Burns Owner

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A Columbus, Ohio woman found that her HTC Evo Shift had branded her after overheating while it was under her waistband. The woman, Jennifer Grago, reported that she was using the phone’s FM radio while she did yard work.

“I didn’t have pockets so I just put the phone in the band of my sweats. Seemed like an alright option… I felt my phone getting warm so I moved it and trucked on. Figured sweatpants and 70 some degrees was a factor. Went to move it again and it hurt like a #%&@! and skin with it. I swear to god I almost passed out,” she wrote.

Best Buy, where she purchased the phone, told her that phones need “correct ventilation” and should be placed in form-fitting casing.

The phone left a clear outline of the casing on her skin. Phones, which are in essence compact radios, can easily overheat for various reasons but for a device to overheat so egregiously is frightening. The phone is two years old and is currently available for free with contract on Sprint’s network.

TechCrunch » Gadgets