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Ask HN: Advice from Hardware hackers
7 points by Jonovono 977 days ago | 5 comments
Hey! So I have not worked much with hardware - I have an Arduino but have not done too much with it, yet. But that is my extent :p

However, over the weekend I thought of a project that I would like to work on that would involve hardware and software. I think it could be an interesting project for Kickstarter (I am Canadian so that wouldn't work though). I think it might be something others would be interested in as well, and I don't think overly complicated to make.

But what I am wondering is, what is the best way to get into hardware and get funding for it (or find partners). And the process from going from prototype to completed product, what kind of tools / advice etc are useful. I don't know a lot of people in my city (fairly small) that would be able to help, but I could probably track down some electronics engineers. But how do you even start to make hardware projects that look as good as ones like: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/martinkallstrom/memoto-lifelogging-camera?ref=category.

I have no doubt that I could hack something together that does something like I want but I would not know how to produce something that looks good, nor do I have the connections right now to find people that could.

So if you have any advice I would like to hear from you. If you are more familiar than me and have made some cool hardware projects in the past and have some free time and want to discuss and maybe team up I would love to talk! It involves a rotating camera, internet, some recognition, and fun times.

Please feel free to message me at me@jonovono.com or tweet: @Jonovono

I was somewhat involved in two projects, one which was a physical object (but no electronics) that failed on Kickstarter, the other had electronics but was abandoned before even reaching Kickstarter.

So while I can't comment on how to succeed, at least I could offer some insights on how to fail ;)

First of all - it's hard. I'm not saying software is easy, but it's harder to pull off a HW project with just a couple of hours on the weekends. It's also much more expensive. The two projects I was referring to failed because the team just couldn't allocate enough time to really push it forward. By the time the Kickstarter campaign launched, everyone was already exhausted, and just didn't have enough "juice" left to push the marketing portion.

But enough about failures, let's talk hardware development.

Note on the Memoto page how their working prototype looks. It's a whole bunch of different boards linked together with cables. That's a good way to start - you can find many "evaluation boards" for pretty much any component you could think of. In this case, they have a camera board, a GPS board, a processor board and an antenna all hobbled together.

Evaluation boards cost much more than the actual component (could be ~$100 for a EVB of a component that costs just pennies), but it's still much much cheaper than developing a custom pcb.

So you order what you need, and make it work. Than, it's just a matter of shrinking it down, and cost reduction. You either hire some freelance engineer who will take all the schematics of all the EVB's you're using, and redesign just the portions you need (normally you'll just be using a small subset of each EVB), or (depending on the overall size, etc.) you could find a couple of tiny modules you just need to connect with a smaller custom pcb. It's always a good idea to browse alibaba.com, and many of the vendors there will even modify their products to you if the order is large enough.

After you have the working prototype, but before you start spending money on shrinking it down, you may want to get an industrial designer to do a mockup of how the product will look. When you have a working prototype and a mockup, you can get funding (Kickstarter, for example).

Note, that investors (via Kickstarter or not) will want to know exactly how much it will cost to manufacture, so you have to do all the design and manufacture "leg work", just to get the numbers right. This is rather tedious, but a necessity.


Awesome! Thanks a lot. This was helpful.

I had not heard of some of that for sure.


- I think the best way to get into hardware, is to work on DIY/Electronic Projects (like you plan on doing).

- To go from prototype to completed product, requires alot of patience and resilience. Do you plan on using PCBs as well? If you do, do you know about OrCad or Eagle?

- I'll like to work with you, (if you don't mind).


Thanks. For the prototype I would probably just use an Arduino or something similar. But I am thinking it may go the PCB route eventually if the idea goes beyond that. I want the device to be fairly small. And no have not heard about those. I will keep those bookmarked!

I would like that. I am always trying to meet people to work on things with. Shoot me an email me@jonovono.com. I am just about to graduate university so am looking for things to do (and to get out of the city).


Build it and they might come. With hardware, the best way to convince someone to buy or fund your gizmo is to have them play with it.


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