Herding Code 204: Sara J. Chipps and George Stocker on Jewelbots

The guys talk to Sara J. Chipps and Geroge Stocker about Jewelbots: smart jewelry for a smarter generation.

Note: They were called Jewliebots when the podcast was recorded, but were since renamed to Jewelbots.

Download / Listen: Herding Code 204: Sara Chipps and George Stocker on Jewelbots

Show Notes:

  • Hello There
    • (00:55) Sara and George introduce themselves and how they got involved in Jewelbots.
  • Jewelbot Features and Platform
    • (02:12) K Scott asks what Jewelbots is all about.  Jewelbots are programable wearables for teenage girls. They’re friendship bracelets that help them learn how to code. K Scott remarks that they’re not just wearables that track the number of steps taken each day, and Sara says from their interviews, teenage girls couldn’t care less about that. Out of the box, they have communication and friendship features, but they’re open source so they can be extended to do things like let them know when they have a new Instagram follower or when their mom is on the way. There will be code snippets available to allow them to get started by copy / paste, then to share code they’ve writing. There will be a repository on GitHub for sharing and collaboration.
    • (05:06) K Scott asks how they decided on this platform. Sara talks about how they were inspired by Minecraft, and how they saw young people learning Java so they could write their own mods. They talked to over 100 girls, and learned that some of their initial assumptions were horribly wrong.
    • (05:55) Jon asks what was horribly wrong about their assumptions, and Sara says that just having jewelry change color to match their clothes wasn’t that exciting to them – they’re really interested in their friends and friend groups. You configure them to react to your friends and friend groups.
  • Hardware Specifics
    • (08:00) Kevin asks what it’s like from a coding perspective. Sara says it’s based on Arduino, so you can use the Arduino library on the bracelet to control the Bluetooth, microprocessor, LEDs and motor. George says the code for the predefined APIs will be available so girls can consult the existing code to see how things were built.
    • (08:50) K Scott asks if Bluetooth is used to detect nearby friends. Sara explains that it’s a mesh Bluetooth network (something they’ve patented) that allows the bracelets to work without requiring their phones with them. 
    • (09:15) Scott asks why they didn’t use RFID instead of Bluetooth. Sara explains that RFID only works for a few inches, whereas Bluetooth gives them 30 to 50 feed.
    • (10:10) Jon asks if it’s possible to extend the software, or to connect other devices via Bluetooth.
    • (11:22) Sara explains that the actual hardware is in a small disk, so it is possible that it could be applied to other use cases.
    • (12:25) K Scott asks what was the hardest part about developing it. Sara explains that hardware is so much more difficult than software, and how it’s so much harder to change things later.
    • (13:28) Jon asks about the power and battery life. Sara explains the bracelet stand that can charge via USB charger and says they’re still figuring out the battery life.
    • (14:32) Scott says they should build in kinetic charging and and asks about adding in sensors. Sara says that for size and cost constraints they decided to leave out sensors.
    • (15:35) Scott asks if they’re 3D printing them themselves, or working with sweatshops in New Jersey. Sara says they’re working with PCH and will be manufacturing in China for production, but they’re currently working with local manufacturers for small runs.
    • (16:54) Jon asks what hardware is onboard. Sara runs down the list: a microprocessor / Bluetooth unit that’s 4mm square, a motor, 4 LEDs, and a button and a battery. George says that the button can be used for a lot of things, including morse code or other codes they come up with.
  • Cost, Funding and Kickstarter
    • (18:59) Jon asks how much they’ll cost. Sara says they’re shooting for $60 but it will vary based on a lot of factors. They targeted $60 as it’s the cost of a video game.
    • (19:58) Scott has another product suggestion: a backpack locator that shows hot / cold on the LEDs.
    • (20:19) Kevin asks about how they got started from a funding perspective. Sara talks about the funding history and hardware projects are more costly.
    • (21:26) Jon says Jewelbots sounds like something he’d see on Kickstarter. Sara says that they’re planning to launch a Kickstarter soon, but they want to get the Jewelbot cost figured out first. There’s the obligatory discussion of Kickstarter successes and failures. Scott says that the companies that already have their production pipeline figured out before launching are a lot more successful than vague "I have a dream" Kickstarters. Sara says they’ve also heard that you really need to have your costs figured out before launching a Kickstarter.
  • The First Rule of Introducing Girls To Coding: Don’t Call It Coding
    • (24:50) Kevin asks if there are concerns that the Arduino IDE may be too low level, and if they might make an easier onramp. Sara says they don’t think they’ll convert every young girl into a coder, but they’ll help a lot of them to look at code in a way they haven’t before. One important thing they’ve learned is not to call it coding as that scares a lot of people off. Sara says that the opposite of maker is not girly – they want to make being a maker accessible. So if a small percentage actually become coders but the rest just become more comfortable with the idea of coding and engineering, they’ll have accomplished their goal. Sara talks about Super Awesome Sylvia – a 13 year old girl who does all kinds of cool things with Arduinos.
  • Getting Started With Hardware… And Just How Hard Is Hardware, Anyway?
    • (27:22) Kevin asks how Sara made the jump from software to hardware. Sara talks about her introduction by Emily Rose (@nexxylove) at Node Dublin 2012 with a bullfighting drone and an out of control fog machine, and she was hooked on the spot. She started with getting LEDs to light up – the hardware equivalent of Hello World – and went from there.
    • (29:30) Scott talks about how much more you have to think about with hardware as compared to software, and how it’s probably a good exercise for software developers to think differently about how they write their code. George talks about how he’s new to hardware, and how power drain and battery life concerns made them think about things like haptic motor startup and different power consumption for different color LEDs.
  • Important Questions In Random Order, e.g. Charging, Release Date, the Phone App, and Piglets
    • (31:43) Jon asks for more info on the charging connection. Sara explains the 4 touchpoints on the charger which are used to both charge the bracelet and upload code to the device. Scott asks if they considered using Bluetooth; Sara says that they had and the Bluetooth chip allows for that, but since many of their target users use desktops they didn’t want to require Bluetooth for data transfer.
    • (32:40) Jon asks if they’re continuing to do user testing. Sara says that they’re doing that constantly, and it’s been really important.
    • (33:45) Kevin asks how soon they’ll be shipping, and Sara says hoping to ship by late 2015 / early 2016.
    • (34:24) Jon asks if they’re experimenting different charm designs with 3D printing. Sara says they’re using injeciton molding for the charms, and that Jewelbots will ship with a default charm and band but they’re interchangeable so they’re expecting and encouraging people to make them their own.
    • (35:35) George talks about the phone app which allows for more of an if-this-then-that style of programming, which will be simpler.
    • (36:32) There’s a question on twitter about Sara’s thoughts on piglets.
    • (37:27) Jon asks for more details about the phone app. George says it’s an Android and iOS app that allows you to add new friends and set up how your Jewelbot should react if you’re around different friend groups. He explains a bit more about how things are stored on the bracelet, the phone app, and a central web server.
    • (39:14) K Scott asks how devices are identified so you can select your friends. George says you’ll identify yourself when you set up the device and standard Bluetooth pairing handles connections. He talks about how some of the Bluetooth things they’re doing use new parts of the BLE spec that nobody’s done yet, so they’re figuring things out.
    • (40:18) Jon asks if it’s possible to do firmware updates. Sara says that the Bluetooth chip they’re using allows for over the air updates, so they can distribute firmware updates to all devices from Jewelbot Central. George talks about the complications in the hardware world you don’t think about in the software world – for instance, someone can decide not to take a firmware update, so you have to make sure things still work even if they don’t take firmware updates.
    • (41:20) Sara says that Jewelbots will not help parents find their daughters. You’ll need to manage that yourself.
  • Important Things You Should Click On
    • (41:43) Sara talks about the upcoming Kickstarter as well as the (now available) Quire campaign so you can be part of their growth and part of their company.

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