Framing It: 1.14.20

Brian Benchoff
Jan 14 · 5 min read

The Internet of Potatoes! Cynicism! The FAA wants to put drones on the Internet! A Right to Repair! A bigger Arduino!

A Decade of Hardware Startups!

The decade is over, and it’s time for a retrospective on the last ten years. Tony Larsson at deDesigned has a few tips for what makes a successful hardware business. There are three key points, and they’re all exceptionally cynical:

  • Provide a sense of belonging. You’re not selling a product, you’re selling something that will signal belonging to the in-group. The classic example is Harley Davidson. No, a Harley isn’t a good bike unless you want an oil stain on your garage floor. The Harley, though, is the bike of renegades and outlaws and driving two thousand miles to Sturgis. You’re not doing that on a Ninja. Well, you could, but you’re going to take a pool cue to the kneecaps if you do.
  • The product is a platform. Amazon has it figured out. They’re selling Alexas and smart speakers for less than it costs to build them. They make it up by getting advertising data. The same goes with Nespresso — the coffee maker is cheap, but you make up for it with proprietary capsules.
  • Smoke filled backroom deals. These are called Inside Sales Channels. Maybe the CEO of your company knows the CEO of another company, and maybe they can work something out where that company buys all your product. What’s meritocracy?
Drones, with luxury handbags. Image Credit: Venturelli / Getty Images

Drones are troublesome.

  • For the last few years, the FAA has been throwing a hissy fit over drones and R/C airplanes. It started with drone registration, and now we’re at the point where drones will have to transmit their location to law enforcement.
  • The FAA published a notice of proposed rulemaking, saying it is possible UAVs may be required to send their GPS coordinates to the Internet, where anyone can check out who’s flying what and where.
  • From an engineering standpoint, this is very, very hard. UAVs and drones are very power constrained, and adding a cellular radio to a quadcopter will eat a lot of power. It adds weight, which again means more power. There’s also the privacy aspect, and the fact that Congress has barred the FAA from promogulating any rule on model aircraft.

The Internet of Potatoes!

The World’s First Smart Potato. Image Credit: Nicolas Baldeck
  • We’re only two weeks into it, and already we have the most important technological advancement of the decade. The World’s First Smart Potato was at CES and now it’s live on Indiegogo. There’s even a stretch goal of putting the Blockchain on a potato.
  • The Smart Potato harvests electrolytes (what plants crave) from a Potato to turn it into a Bluetooth Smart Potato.
  • How does it work? Just shove the Neurospud into your favorite tuber, then connect with your phone. Using advanced Artificial Intelligence, the potato will then form a neural net.
  • Actually, this is a fairly interesting project from an engineering standpoint. Could it be possible to create a Smart Potato? The potato only provides electrolytes, with the ‘battery’ being formed from a PCB. Yes, that means you want two different metals on the PCB (and not gold, because then it won’t work), then you have to harvest that electricity and turn it into something useful. Add some conformal coating, too. Low power Bluetooth modules to the rescue!
  • You didn’t think that a Bluetooth Potato would be the most interesting engineering at the Consumer Electronics Show, did you?
The Arduino Portentia. Image Credit: Arduino
  • The Arduino is getting bigger and better. The Arduino Portenta H7 features a dual-core ARM Cortex-M7 and Cortex-M4 microcontroller, using one of the latest chips from ST.
  • The idea behind this chip is that the high-power core will handle all the heavy lifting — displays, networking, and what have you — while the Cortex-M4 handles all the real-time stuff. Yes, your next thermostat will be dual-core.
  • Yes, there are only a handful of through-holes on the board, but there are some very fine pitch connectors on the back. There’s a carrier board, and the expandability is crazy. There’s Ethernet, a SIM card connector, a LoRa module, video output with MIPI, a miniPCIe connector, as well as CAN and RS232/422/485.
  • Oh, and it plays DOOM, too.

You got machine learning in my microcontroller

  • A piece from VentureBeat says the biggest new trend in tech is coming for our smallest units of computation. Machine Learning, specifically TinyML, is going to enable smarter products and more interesting tech.
  • This argument is predicated on the idea that microcontrollers have seen strong growth in recent years, largely driven by the Internet of Things.
  • Yes! Machine Learning is becoming a thing in microcontrollers, driven by people saying, “Okay, Google” and “Hey, Siri” to their phones. This phrase-detection is machine learning, and more product designers want it.
  • Further than that, the authors cite retail as a growth market, with the application of monitoring store shelves and sending a message to a warehouse to reorder.
An old tractor Image Credit: Matt Cardy / Stringer

The Right To Repair… Tractors.

Brian Benchoff

Written by


Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

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