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Interview: Ask Limor Fried About Open-Source Hardware and Adafruit 139

Posted by samzenpus
from the ask-away dept.
With her signature pink hair, MIT engineer Limor Fried has become a force in the maker movement. Last year she was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine, and her company, Adafruit Industries, did $10 million in sales. Limor has agreed to take some time away from soldering and running a new company to answer your questions about hardware, electronics, and Adafruit. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Interview: Ask Limor Fried About Open-Source Hardware and Adafruit

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  • Synergies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:04PM (#45455555)

    Every community has tinkerers, I think you'd agree. We all have that friend with a garage full of tools and a workbench, and whenever something breaks and needs fixing, we go to him/her. I do believe you, along with other entrepreneurs, have given people unprecidented access to robotics and automation tools at a very low cost, and this opens many doors for these jack of all trades types to build replacement parts. Combined with 3D printers, I can imagine these people building all kinds of things to fix broken equipment, or fill a niche need, in their communities.

    But there is one hold-up to these technologies having a happy and fruitful marriage: Copyright. Specificially, that once we have all this equipment, we're going to need a catalog, a google of sorts, to get blueprints and construction materials from. We had thick ACME Electronics parts catalogues in the 90s, but today there doesn't really seem to be that kind of centralized one-stop access to large numbers of blueprints for these tools you've created.

    With that background stated, what, if any plans, do you have to start addressing this need within your emerging market?

  • wearable computing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nani popoki (594111) on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:09PM (#45455595) Homepage
    Do you intend to take the idea of wearable computing much beyond the eye-candy fashion accessories AdaFruit currently offers? It seems to me that there are opportunities for things like shoes which provide a built-in pedometer, for example.
  • EE or MBA? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:15PM (#45455631)

    I've been a follower of your youtube channel for years. I've watched Adifruit grow from a little corner of your apt to a $10mill company.

    I loved the old school hacking vids you used to post. Not only were they informative but also gave us a glimpse of what your true passion is.

    As your company has grown Ive watched you have to transition more from a Geeky EE who gets to engineer cool stuff to someone that has to deal with the headaches of trying to run a company.

    As a ME myself and my wife a CE, we got into engineering because we LOVED engineering. But now that we are 10+ years into our careers, most employers want to push us toward project management or flat out management and we get to do less and less of the "core" engineering we love to do.

    Do you find it difficult to balance the "I want to do EE engineering" with "I have a $10 mill company to run"?
    Do you miss being an engineer first vs a business owner first? Will you hand most of the business reins over to some MBA type, giving you more time to go back to those engineering roots you love?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:17PM (#45455643)
    to sell baubles on the internet? How can you charge the prices you do?
  • My Hero (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:18PM (#45455649)
    I just had to post this. Limor Fried is a cute, smart, hardware hacking, gadgeteering, successful entrepreneur chick. Pretty much most geeks dream girl.

    You go girl!

    That said, when I was a youngster, being a geek was nearly a death sentence. Especially in the rural jock culture where I lived. Now it seems geekdom is chic. Even though it is not as much a target of bullying as it was, it still seems that there is a lack of women in many geeky hobbies/fields.

    My question is how do we change that and engage more females in our culture? What drew you to this, and can it be applied to draw in others?

  • Start-up Capitol (Score:5, Interesting)

    by depressedrobot (1067078) on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:20PM (#45455671)
    How did you get the money to start-up for Adafruit? Did you use VC, if so how did you avoid becoming their indentured servant?
  • by rotenberry (3487) on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:22PM (#45455697)

    As a happy owner of the Adafruit Blue&White 16x2 LCD+Keypad Kit for Raspberry Pi I have used and modified the software that originally came with this kit.

    There are some obvious uses for this kit. Two examples would be displaying its IP address and using the keypad to shutdown the Pi.

    However, when I was modifying the software I could not find specific instructions on how to contribute software back to your site. I just checked again this morning (even the FAQ), and, if these instructions exist, I could not find them.

    How does one contribute back?

  • The Future (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MonkeyDancer (797523) on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:27PM (#45455743)

    As the DIY electronics and robotics evolve, what do you see as the next logical progression?

  • First the hair (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slim (1652) <john@noSPaM.hartnup.net> on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:31PM (#45455783) Homepage

    With all your accomplishments, how does it makes you feel that the introduction to this Q&A begins with your hair?

    Seriously, would we do this for a male engineer?

  • How do you compete? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:31PM (#45455785) Homepage

    Companies like "sparkfun" and the hordes of china knockoff makers must really take a bite out of AdaFruit's sales figures. I see a lot of times when you come out with a new product sparkfun copies it within a month, and china knockoffs are flooded on ebay within weeks. How does that affect your bottom line when you put all the hard work into designing it and even writing an entire arduino library for your product and then other companies come along and sell a knock off of your product?

  • MIT And IRC (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:36PM (#45455829)

    A very long time ago, there was a very active community of MIT IRC users on EFNet, including yourself - do you see that kind of community happening again, and if so, under what guise? Jabber? Continued on IRC (admittedly I've not used it much in the past decade)? Or something else?

  • by EricBoyd (532608) <(mrericboyd) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Monday November 18, 2013 @01:46PM (#45455891) Homepage
    Adafruit has been doing a lot of interesting stuff around wearable electronics recently, having hired Becky Stern. Do you have a vision for where you want to go with that stuff, how much of your own time is spent on wearables now?
  • Re:My Hero (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hubie (108345) on Monday November 18, 2013 @02:01PM (#45456011)
    Excellent point. Another thing I find interesting whenever I see press about her, it is usually "MIT engineer." I'm not sure why MIT is always thrown in there. I guess it has more cachet than "Purdue University engineer" or "University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign engineer" or just plain old engineer, but I find it largely irrelevant nonetheless.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 18, 2013 @02:46PM (#45456423)

    It appears that way. For example:

    http://www.adafruit.com/products/1535 [adafruit.com]

    No schematics. No BOM. Details for FCC certification were kept confidential:

    https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/eas/reports/ViewExhibitReport.cfm?mode=Sum&calledFromFrame=N&RequestTimeout=500&application_id=375407&fcc_id=S6OBLUEFRUIT [fcc.gov]

    So, is Adafruit still Open Source or not?

  • by afranke (1400099) on Monday November 18, 2013 @02:47PM (#45456433)
    As someone who sucessfully founded and now runs an open hardware company, do you have any advice for people that want to follow your path? Anything from business tips to community, production or even engineering pitfalls to avoid? How about finding partners?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 18, 2013 @04:41PM (#45457505)

    While I'm certainly not suggesting that this is a reason *not* to release the schematics and other details of the project and let people negotiate the legal landscape themselves, the FCC certification requirements for radio-oriented stuff seem to be a bit of a foil to the idea of open source hardware.

    Even if you buy the Bluefruit or their similar CC3000 wi-fi board direct from Adafruit you can't really go beyond hobby work with it without requiring a new certification for your entire product.

    This is, unfortunately, one of the issues with open source hardware: there's a lot more to hardware than the "source code".

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