The rewarding experience making Brick Sound Kit together with my son: Part 1

With our exciting campaign off to a solid start, we’ve received a number of congrats and inquiries into how my son and I invented this innovative toy, together!

To our early backers and all those looking closely at Brick Sound Kit, we want to tell you a bit about how we went from a homegrown, father/son maker project to this sleek, interactive device. In sharing this detail, we also want to advance the overall mission of our project — to enable kids and their parents, teachers and others to invent together as we have.

As our campaign video reveals, Chase and I began building our first prototype together shortly after Chase sparked the idea in June 2014. I was already considering playing with Arduino and/or Raspberry Pi as a hobby. I called good friend Stacey Mulcahy for guidance on where to start.

Getting Started!

We got our feet wet and had lots of fun building some starter projects. Once we understood the key components needed, we were able to lock in on the parts to attempt Brick Sound Kit. We visited a nearby Radio Shack to purchase our first of many Arduino Uno boards. It was super easy to get our first program running.

It was the discovery of SeeedStudio’s incredible Grove sensors and components that really got us going. In late July, we started ordering many Grove components to try out. With incredible support and easy connection, these were the perfect way to expand our experience and quickly get things working.

With a combination of the Grove Shield for Arduino, the Grove BLE HM-11 and the Grove Digital Gyroscope, we had our first functional prototype of Brick Sound Kit. This photo shows it all together in September 2014, mounted directly to our custom Lego spaceship.

Using a combination of libraries we found and wrote, we were able to get the movement data from the Gyroscope, through the BLE and on to an Android app. From my lengthy career, I had experience coding Java for Android, but my son was very new to coding. Chase and I wrote an algorithm (yes, he was writing conditionals at this point) to process the dominant direction. Our first responsive sound effects app followed shortly.

Having written software for the web, desktop and mobile device, it was incredibly unique to code simultaneously for the device firmware and paired mobile app. Given my day to day workload, I attribute my patience with this learning curve almost every evening to Chase, who was so inspirational and eager to learn and build with me.

The feeling of excitement we both had after achieving this first milestone was unreal. Honestly, we could have stopped there and moved on. We were compelled to share our achievement with others and their encouragement propelled us forward.

Next steps

From here our mission continued, pursuing smaller components and experimenting with different power supplies. I think this was a natural course and it worked to both grow our appreciation for what we were building and dramatically advance our knowledge and skills.

Over the next several months and many prototypes, we were able to cut the size down by 1/3 and eventually by 1/2. We went from the easy connectors of the Grove sensors, to working with pin wires and breadboards. Eventually, we attempted actually soldering components together. This introduced us to new tools, supplies and techniques.

From January, 2015, this is where we started staging components for eventual soldering on a “perma board”. Probably the most significant component pictured here is the Adafruit FTDI friend, which remains part of the product today and is included in all of our Mission Commander rewards. This is the FTDI USB adapter that makes it possible to program the Brick Sound Kit’s firmware. [The FTDI friend, it’s what makes Brick Sound Kit programming possible!]

From February 2015, our final prototype would feature Adafruit’s impressive Trinket Pro, BLE and Gyro breakout components. We used their LiPo battery and Rider Pro to power the prototype. We also added their light up LED buttons, which was incredibly fun. So much of our evolution on this prototype has remained with the final product.

Conclusion, for now

This first look at our journey building Brick Sound Kit, my son and I learning together, has been incredible to share with you. It’s been important for Chase all along to know our work together and the Brick Sound Kit we made available to everyone would inspire many to invent as we have.

We are happy to share our experience with everyone, especially those supporting the project. In fact, all those receiving Brick Sound Kit(s) upon our successful Kickstarter campaign will be invited to access our firmware code, application code and SDKs we’ve made to pair the Brick Sound Kit with iOS and Android.

If you have any questions on Brick Sound Kit’s capabilities, or are looking to embark on a project with someone, please reach us on Facebook, Twitter, or using the campaign comments.

Thank you for supporting Brick Sound Kit!

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