When you think about open source, software is the thing that springs to mind. But the open source movement is not all about software: there is open source hardware as well, where the designer releases all of the plans of the device so anyone can build their own. Limor Fried is one of the leading lights of this movement.

The MintyBoost battery kit, which puts a USB charger into a mint tin

While studying at the MIT Media Lab in 2003, she started the online retailer Adafruit (from her nickname of Lady Ada) which sold kits of her design for gadgets such as the Tweet-a-watt , which posts readings from an electricity monitor to Twitter, and the MintyBoost, which converts a mint tin into a battery-powered USB charger. On the back of these kits, Adafruit has been a huge success, and now sells over $10 million worth of electronics kits and equipment a year. She was named the Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012 by Entrepreneur Magazine, and is well known for her forthright views on open source (which she likes and cell phones (which she hates: she built a cell phone and WiFi jammer for her MIT thesis). So, what gadget would someone who makes gadgets for a living use every day? One that makes gadgets itself…

Limor Fried and her favorite gadget, the Samsung Techwin SMT482 Pick & Place machine / Adafruit / John De Cristofaro

Richard Baguley: What is the gadget?

Limor Fried: I recently purchased a Samsung Techwin SMT SM482. It’s not the latest Android phone from Samsung (although we could make phones with this Samsung!) it’s a pick and place machine we use here at my company Adafruit. It can place 28,000 tiny electronic components in 1 hour. A pick and place machine uses computer vision to “pick” up tiny electronic parts, it follows a program to “place” the parts on a circuit board. The circuit has solder paste which holds the parts in place and then it is put in a reflow oven to melt the parts to the boards. Pick and place machines like this one costs $200,000 - more or less depending on options and accessories.

Richard Baguley: What do you love about this?

Limor Fried: It’s a work of art that makes things. The speed and precision of Moogi is off the charts (we named the pick and place Moogi, a Korean dragon). We fell in love with this machine so much we took a series of photos of it’s feeders, insides and more.

The Pick & Place machine making Adafruit’s Ultimate GPS breakout board / Adafruit / John De Cristofaro
The reels of components on the front of the machine hold the components to be mounted / Adafruit / John De Cristofaro
The feeders feed the reel-mounted components into the machine / Adafruit / John De Cristofaro
The Pick & Place head then picks the component from the reel end and places it on the circuit board. It is held on with liquid solder, which is then melted and cooled to lock the component onto the board /Adafruit / John De Cristofaro

Richard Baguley: What do you hate about this device?

Limor Fried: No hatin’ here!

Richard Baguley: What one feature/ability do you wish that this device had?

Limor Fried: We are makers here at Adafruit so we’re adding a feature we think our community will really enjoy - a web cam inside the machine. This way you can actually see the products being made live each day. Most of the time no one knows who or where their electronics come from, or who is making them. We want to share how we make things here in SoHo, NYC, USA in our factory.

Richard Baguley: If you were looking for a gadget like this now, would you buy it again?

Limor Fried: Yes, if and when we need more speed and manufacturing capability we’ll get the latest model!


Thanks to Limor Fried of Adafruit for answering our questions. Do you have a favorite gadget? Post a comment here and you will be invited to join Medium, where you can post about your indispensable gadget in the People & Gadgets group.

Limor “LadyAda” Fried , the co-founder of Adafruit / Adafruit / John De Cristofaro