This 5-questions interview is with Limor Fried (Ladyada of Adafruit Industries), and in it I ask some questions about open hardware and, more specifically, the Flora, her newest open hardware creation.
When I took part in Red Hat's POSSE during the summer of 2009, they provided us with a very thoughtful gift: a copy of Producing Open Source Software. I already owned it, but this copy had been circulated at a large FLOSS conference, and every name I knew (and a bunch I didn't) in the world of open software had stuck their name on the inside of one cover or another.
That was cool. And, being a hip, young professor, I kept my cool. I mean, computer science faculty are, as a rule, so hip that they have a hard time seeing over their pelvis. (Honest. Check the next time you're around a college with a computer science department.)
So when I say that I'm not at all phased by the fact that I got to do a five questions interview (even if it was only over email) with Limor Fried, you'll understand. I'm not completely overwhelmed by her open source hardware engineering genius, consistently impressed by the Ask an Engineer video series, or the excellent documentation that permeates the Adafruit site. No, I'm not completely overwhelmed at all.
I'm completely SQUEEE! overwhelmed. (Note: I have never used "squeee" in writing before. This is a special moment.)
In this interview, we talk about the Flora, Limor's latest creation for introducing people to the art and craft of electronics
Q. "Wearable technology" is a broad term---plate mail and pocket watches were, in their way, wearable technology. What does it mean to you, and what are some of your favorite examples in this category?
A. Wearable technology to me is just a temporary term for what's happening with electronics. Practically everyone has an internet-connected, super-computer in their pocket now, it's usually stuck to your hand too - maybe there's a Bluetooth headset or headphones. It's becoming "wearable," so I think we'll see more types of electronics occupy human real estate. The popular open-source Arduino platform has become an easy way to "glue" ideas, sensors and applications together. Over the last few years I've been working on make it easy to get sensor information in and out of Arduinos, I think wearables is the next place for all this. I think we'll see an intersection of elegant fashion and thoughtful engineering.
My two favorite wearable projects at the moment:
Becky Stern's "Beating Heart Headband": http://sternlab.org/2012/01/beating-heart-headband/
Waldemeyer's "Wil.I.Am - tailored video jacket: http://www.waldemeyer.com/will-i-am-tailored-video-jacket
What makes the Flora special?
Q. I feel like the Arduino project started something exciting in bringing together open hardware and open software. The Lilypad, LittleBits, and many other embedded (and/or embeddable) projects are gaining their own following and momentum, born of and inspired by this movement. What, to you, makes the Flora special in this space?
A. I started with what I wanted to do, and what customers/the open source community wanted in an embedded platform - there wasn't anything out there so like any motivated engineer, I designed my own. I have a complete list here (http://www.adafruit.com/products/659) but here are some of the major things that make the FLORA special:
- Based on my experiences shipping my own, in-marker, customer-testedAtmega32u4 Breakout Board (https://www.adafruit.com/products/296).
- The FLORA comes with projects at launch, the FLORA addressable and chain-able 4,000 mcd RGB LED pixels and premium stainless steel thread.
- The FLORA has USB HID support, so it can act like a mouse, keyboard, MIDI, etc. to attach directly to cellphones.
- The FLORA's modules include: Bluetooth, GPS, 3-axis accelerometer, compass module, flex sensor, piezo, IR LED, push button, embroidered + capacitive keypad, OLED and more.
- The FLORA has onboard polarized 2 JST battery connector with protection schottky diode for use with external battery packs from 3.5v to 16v DC in. Can be used with LiIon/LiPoly, LiFe, alkaline or rechargeable NiMh/NiCad batteries of any size.
For the beginners
Q. The Flora aspires to be friendly to the beginner. What does that mean to you, and how will you know you've achieved it?
A. The FLORA has built-in USB support. Built in USB means you plug it in to program it, it just shows up. No additional purchases are needed! Works with Mac, Windows, Linux, any USB cable works great. Currently the PCB comes with a mini B connector but future versions may change to microUSB. Either will work great. The FLORA is extremely beginner-friendly - it is difficult to destroy the FLORA by connecting a battery backwards due to polarized connector and protection diodes. The onboard regulator means that even connecting a 9V battery will not result in damage or tears.
And the awesome is...
Q. If you could highlight only one feature of the Flora platform that sets it apart in the open hardware (and/or wearable tech) space, what would you choose?
A. "Wearable movies".
Sounds crazy, but that's our goal. The FLORA LED system is really unlike anything out there, you'll be able to embed LEDs and play animations on clothing easily. It will be somewhat basic at first, but 1 year, 3 years and 5 years from now the cost will go down and the resolution will go up. Our designer has said "I'm going to finally be able to wear Bladerunner".
Contributing ("The Ask")
Q. If I was looking to bring students to your project to contribute---either in terms of code, hardware, documentation, or anything else---what would you want most? And, since this is "the ask," feel free to help me understand and and all of the ways you'd like to see people pitch in.
A. We've moved everything to Github, from hardware to software so fork and pull requests are always welcome. The project is completely open-source so as usual the community will surprise everyone with what the come up with. When we released the Kinect data dump and did the open-source driver bounty, we really had no idea what would happen - but within a few months hundreds, then thousands of hackers, artists and scientists made amazing projects, completely unexpected and took the Kinect to new places. That's what I think will happen with the FLORA. Besides the great projects that will come out of it, as always - documentation and tutorials are always the most valuable thing for any project, given it's such a visual thing, wearables, that's where I think we'll see a lot of great work too.
Answers provided, in her own words, by Limor Fried (Ladyada), founder and engineer at Adafruit Industries. You can find her work (and everything you need to start your own maker uprising) at http://www.adafruit.com/.