Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pants Interface - Open Hardware Summit & Maker Faire NY 2011

At the end of September, in a flurry of solder, wire bits, and threads, we finished a prototype Pants Interface controller. I threw it, still smoking, into a suitcase and flew off to New York to show it off - and ask for help. Here's what happened.

Pants Interface beta controller

Open Hardware Summit is in its second year, and is an amazing hotbed of conversation about this growing field. Topics popping up over and over for me centered around how to share ideas, especially legal licensing and functional software tools for filesharing. It was great also to run into Autumn Wiggins, longtime collaborator from the indie craft world, there to talk about Upcycle Exchange and reminding me once again of the interesting and growing intersections between craft-making and electronics development. Mitch Altman of TV-B-Gone fame, a Noisebridge pal of mine, gave a really inspiring talk, as did Bunnie Huang from Chumby. According to Bunnie, hardware development cycles actually favor small businesses!

Developing licenses that let people share their ideas is clearly important to a lot of people, and a lot of interesting options are developing. It gets pretty esoteric but is still really interesting stuff. CERN is developing an open hardware license . OHANDA has an open trademark solution .

The founder of Sparkfun gave a practical talk on how they open up their documents, to what extent, and the basic functionality concerns that raises for an operating business. I went to the breakout session 'Documentation, Distribution, and Community Building for Open Hardware'. Joseph Prusa from RepRap was there along with others, talking about how the crazy varieties of files that project uses are all managed. That project, an open source 3d prototyping printer, is an amazing international effort. Also in that session were reps from DIYLILCNC and Upverter. It was really great to hear different perspectives on document & version management, and to get some tantalizing glimpses of how the approach chosen here will affect the user communities.

I met Glyph, the founder of Twisted a few years ago, and got to pick his brain on how they built a vibrant community around that open-source project. Glyph said that the project has to give users something that works before they will get excited about it. It's interesting to note the differences between what this means for a hardware vs a software project. The prototype milestones we reached in time for this conference put the Pants Interface tantalizingly close to a point where we can publish, and start this dialogue with an actual user base.

Maker Faire New York was the same weekend as OHWS, and it was really fun to check out such a wide-open field of makers at the faire, after the intense focus at the summit. I presented the prototype at both events and got lots of interested questions and feedback. My Maker Faire presentation seemed to inspire a lot of people to consider getting involved with wearables, which was super exciting for me. I also got a couple of really great tips on solving specific problems, and more detail on how certain aspects of the project work. It is great to find such an engaged group of people that are interested to see our project, and give feedback on it.

Special highlight for me was meeting up with Clothbot one of our Kickstarter supporters - and getting awesome experimental 3d-printed fabric circuitboard connectors to try out. You can see them, and lots of other goodies, in this photo of my swag from the weekend. Lots of notes on everything if you click through!

Open hardware summit/maker faire swag scrapbook

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