HDDG 33: Transforming a Hobby into a Full-Scale Product
Radu Motisan recounts his journey of scaling a hobby project into a full-fledged product
The thirty-third gathering of the Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic welcomed not one, but two speakers. Radu Motisan, a software engineer with a Masters in computer science, told his story of turning a DIY hobby project into a product that he could sell.
He’s a software engineer by day, but outside of his day job Radu is a chemist, physicist, and electronics amateur who seeks to create tech that changes people’s lives for the better. For those who couldn’t see his talk in person, let’s discuss his journey from project to production.
Radu Motisan: From DIY to the First 100
Radu’s presentation begins with him telling a story, which begins like many stories do with “Once upon a time…” He assures the audience that the story has a happy ending as well.
His story involves a board with an ATmega8 microcontroller. When using the board, Radu was surprised when it suddenly received an IP address. It was exciting to see a tiny microcontroller doing TCP/IP protocols, especially given the fact that this was well before the mainstream use of IoT as a buzzword.
Radu tried to mix this with his love of high voltage experiments, and quickly discovered the two don’t mix very well. Despite this, he continued to experiment a lot with these types of devices, eventually building very small transformers to create his own coils. These lessons led him to the following equation:
Ethernet connectivity + Geiger tube = IoT?
The first IoT device Radu built was a Geiger counter that logged its readings on a webpage. In addition to radiation, the device also measures temperature, humidity, luminosity, and barometric pressure.
The data is gathered using an ATmega168 and transmitted using an ENC28J60 Ethernet chip. The project was also featured on Hackaday, which resulted in a lot of feedback from the community.
Radu took the useful input to heart and started to improve the device. He was able to scale a newer version of the device up to ten, by focusing on a design that’s easily replicated. He made sure everything was conveniently placed, using only the minimum number of components.
Scaling Upward and Onward
Radu’s device made it all the way to the semi-finals in the Hackaday Prize that year, which gave him a boost of confidence and attention from others in the community. This boosted Radu up to 100 units pretty quickly as he continued to scale the project upwards.
At this point, Radu decided to go the commercial route. He founded his startup, Magnasci, in October of 2015 with the goal of developing new and innovative technologies.
As he pushed forward, Radu looked for new sensors he could add that would fulfill the needs of a wider audience. He continued doing much of the work by hand, saying that he finds soldering relaxing with a beer and a movie in the background, but the process of debugging the boards quickly became too time consuming.
Radu decided to outsource some of the work. He utilized a company in China to manufacture and test the boards. While he did run into some small issues, he vastly preferred this route overall.
Soon, the project was scaled to 1,000 units worldwide, thanks to support from the community and success selling his products on Tindie. Radu is incredibly grateful for the success he has found thus far, and he’s more than willing to answer questions from others who seek to scale their projects upward in a similar fashion.