Snapchat Spectacles : Do They Have a Future?

To be honest, I thought the Snapchat spectacles were a waste of money when I first heard about them. “Oh great, another company trying to make glasses with a gimmick”. So I put them out of my mind and moved on despite hearing about all the craze in Los Angeles and New York regarding their pop-up Spectacle vending machines.

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Fast forward to this past weekend. I was on a trip with a group of friends and a couple of them brought their Spectacles along. Every now and then they would press the button on the side of the glasses to start recording a 10 second video. Although they used it quite regularly, I almost never noticed them filming except for in darker areas where the ring of light around the camera would animate while it was recording. At this moment I had revised my opinion of them to “They’re great “spy-like” glasses for recording video”.

The true “aha” moment came at the end of each day when my friends would view the footage and transfer it to their phones. As we watched each clip I felt that I was seeing each moment through their eyes, not just some video they had recorded. It turns out that the 115 degree angle lens being placed on a pair of glasses right next to your eyes is a great POV (Point of View) recording combo. This led to the next realization, “Why bother taking out a camera/phone, or strapping a GoPro to your head to record?” Just throw on a pair of Spectacles and press the button to record while still living in the moment. There’s no need to check a screen to make sure you’ve got the shot, or fumble with opening up an app or sending it right then an there. The key to the future of the Spectacles (in my opinion) is that it allows you to live in the moment, record the moment, and relive the moment.

However, there are a couple of improvements that I think would greatly increase its adoption for “capturing the moment”.

  1. Waterproof it (allows you to take it to more areas)
  2. Hide the camera better or make it smaller (allows you to put it into other styles)
  3. Make the lenses swappable so that you can have clear ones for night-time or indoors but shades for the day (allows you to wear it in more areas)
  4. Make the battery last longer (always on the list for any electronic)
  5. Make the video capture capabilities longer (having options is always better and being able to select the default length of clips would be nice. Press the button again in the middle of recording to stop it earlier)

Will I buy one now? Maybe. But I’ll be looking out for the V2 for sure.

 

 

Unboxing the Bluz Dev Kit – Kickstarter

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In April of 2015 I found a Kickstarter called Bluz which offered a cloud-connected Bluetooth LE development kit that could be run off a coin cell battery for months or even years on end. The Bluz is very similar to a product called the Particle Photon released earlier last year and the Photon has quickly become one of my favorite development platforms for developing Maker projects. I figured that a Bluetooth LE dev kit would be a great addition to my maker tools.
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After a bit of wait, it arrived on my doorstep and I figured that I would record an unboxing video and a simple test with the Bluz.
Since I pledged $49, I received what they call the Wearables Kit which included one Bluz dev kit, a Coin Cell Battery Shield and an Accelerometer shield.
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The accelerometer shield that I received was not a custom Bluz created one, but actually a Sparkfun branded shield that I had already purchased on my own (an extra never hurt).
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The coin cell battery shield is unique to the Bluz and allows it to be powered off a single coin cell battery. Included in this shield is an on/off switch that is surprisingly missing from the number of other battery shields that I’ve bought and tested.
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The Bluz itself looks very similar to the Particle Photon and actually has the same footprint so that it can take advantage of the same shields as the Photon. It even piggybacks off the Particle’s online development tools and the same deployment pattern (aside from the need to be hooked to a gateway that I’ll talk more about later). One big difference in the immediate presentation of the Bluz is that it does not have a micro USB port for powering it. This is partly due to the fact that it can supposedly last longer periods of time on very little battery and its primary purpose is to not be continually connected to an outlet. The’ recommended method of powering it is to use the coin cell shield, or the VIN, or 3.3V pin
For my unboxing, I didn’t have a method of powering it through the Vin or 3.3V pin directly or a coin cell battery lying around, so I decided to use a Particle Shield Shield in order to breakout a DC Power connection (which ends up powering it through the Vin pin anyways).
The major thing to know about the Bluz is that it needs to be connected to a gateway or the Bluz iOS or Android apps in order to communicate to the cloud. While there are plans to open source the iOS and Android connection code, they haven’t been released yet and this is a pretty big limitation for anyone like myself that wants to use a direct communication line between Bluetooth devices and the Bluz. However, Bluz sells a gateway shield that can be attached to a Particle that allows up to 8 Bluz to connect to it and communicate to the cloud.
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Also, I have yet to test out the claim that it can last months or years on a single coin cell battery, but will be using it future projects and will be testing this out. There is one difference in the code that supposedly helps the Bluz achieve this feat. The code inside the loop function contains a System.sleep call in the default sketch.

I expect the Bluz to be a worthwhile investment and can’t wait to see what kinds of projects I can build with this low powered Bluetooth LE dev platform. I love that they leveraged the Particle ecosystem and online development IDE as well.

Make It Dead Simple: Documentation

Lately I’ve been writing a lot of documentation, instructions, and guides for work, Hackster.io, and my side-project (Open Smart Hub). Most of the time the instructions needed to be compiled from multiple sources but kept simple and digestible. As a long time consumer of documentation, I’ve come to a couple realizations about instructions and guides. The most important is:

Make it dead simple. It should be fool-proof and easy to follow.

Don’t make assumptions about a reader’s skill level, the more knowledgable readers will skim over the instructions they already know, but newcomers will treasure those details.

How?

  1. Draw up a storyboard of the steps. Just like primary school, where they would tell you to brainstorm on a sheet of paper before writing an essay. This will help you figure out if there are any missing parts before you get into the nitty gritty details, whether or not the ordering makes sense, and if you need more research as well.
  2. Start with a schematic of the parts (if it’s a hardware related or multiple component documentation)
  3. Add pictures (these always help clarify for the unsure)
  4. Be concise. Make sure that each word added to your documentation adds value.
  5. Don’t overwhelm your reader. (Avoid using acronyms unless you have elaborated on them earlier in the documentation)

Making this kind of robust yet straightforward documentation takes time, but it will also reduce the amount of support and questions you might receive about it in the future.

Hackster Hardware Weekend (Hackathon)

I had the chance to participate this past weekend in a Hackster.io Hardware Weekend in Seattle and was blown away by the setup. Like most hackathons, they had big sponsors like Intel, Microsoft, Spark, AT&T, etc. However, unlike most of the software hackathons I have been to, they provided some hardware for people to use including Intel Edison boards with Seeed Studio Starter Kits and more. They also provided some cool and useful swag like a portable charger (which I used to power a Spark Core for my demo) and a small portable Leatherman pocket tool that is perfect for my recent maker lifestyle. The energy they provided was just spectacular and even though it was their first time hosting a hackathon, I think it went smoothly.

The food wasn’t just your normal pizza and salad hackathon meals. It also included a legitimate breakfast with bacon, eggs, bagels, cheese, etc. Lunches and dinners were comprised of delicious sandwiches (kind of like Banh Mi), mexican food, and one meal of pizza. On the side they have a whole bunch of candy, popcorn, and more snacks along with the steady supply of coffee, soda, juice, and water.

Unfortunately, like with most hackathons, the crowd of participants thinned out by day 2 with most of the remaining people being interested in learning more or deeply involved in the hacking process.

I came to the event without a clue as to what I was going to build and not really sure if I wanted to join a team, make one, or run it solo. After hearing about some of the prizes for using certain APIs (Weather Underground and WebRTC) I decided to focus my time on the Weather Underground APIs. Even after deciding what I wanted to use, I didn’t really have a clear understanding of what my final product would be and how it could change the world. I just decided to start hacking something together that I thought would be cool to own and ended up going down the path alone.

Stages of my Creation:

  1. Started with the idea to read the forecast for the day and display it to you through an small LCD screen so that I wouldn’t need to pull up an app to view the forecast. Decided to use the Intel Edison, Cylon.js, and the Weather Underground APIs to do this.
  2. Added functionality that would open your windows using a servo if your indoor temperature was past your comfortable zone and the outdoor temperature was colder. I also added functionality to change these settings through buttons and rotary angle sensors on the board.
  3. Added functionality to push the data to the cloud
  4. Realized that I could also connect to a Spark Core and communicate with it via WiFi and the Cloud from the Intel Edison, so I integrated a lighting scenario with a wireless connection.
  5. Created a prototype case for the now deemed “Hub” in Autodesk Fusion 360.
  6. Created a webpage using AngularJS on Azure that would showcase the data my back-end was receiving so that I could view information on the go.

The prototype Open Source Home Automation Hub was born.

Some things I’ve come to realize for my next hackathon:

  • Work in teams! I worked solo this weekend and although I did a lot of work to combine all the components, I definitely could have gone further with the idea and took it to the next level ending up with a professional product rather than a hacked together demo.
  • Set up a team before hand and know the expertise of everyone in the team and how best to leverage them. (This also might mean vet out the people who might have less to contribute if you are going hardcore)
  • Sometime’s it’s more about the presentation, the story, and the idea than the execution during the hackathon (although that might be due to the hardware nature of this hackathon). After all, you only have so much time both to hack and to present your creation.
  • Network! This is really just a great opportunity to meet other people in a related field and find out their skills and platforms of choice. Who knows? You might find a couple new tools that might be useful for your future endeavors.
  • Roll with it. A vision is great, but be able to adapt if things don’t work out quite like you expected.  Sometimes code breaks and it can be stressful but learn from it and debug better.
  • Have fun!

Impressive Hydrophobic Shirt (Silic)

Silic was the first Kickstarter I ever backed (check out what their kickstarter page was like here) and it took about a year for them to get the product shipped to me, but I am definitely impressed by it’s ability to repel liquids. Check out a video of me testing it out with honey, soy sauce, and water.

I tried hot coffee later too and while it did mostly bead off, it left some residue that I had to use water to get off after (supposedly this is due to it being a hot liquid).

The creator had some troubles with his distribution and production which is what led to it taking about a half year longer than expected, but kept updating the backers with detailed information on the process and this ultimately kept his reputation steady despite the delay.

Notes the product as it stands today:

  • Try not to spill hot liquids on it in huge quantities. (If you do, just through on some water and try and pat out the liquid. The water helps to dilute whatever might be kind of sticking to the shirt.)
  • It will soak up water if you submerge it in liquid, but will bead off again as it dries.
  • The stitching does not seem to be the same sort of material and could possibly retain colored liquids (some of the soy sauce I tested got into the stitching, but after I rinsed off the shirt with a lot of water I could not see any staining)
  • It does seem to be a little thing (the white would definitely show my skin if I didn’t have an undershirt)
  • The collar isn’t a normal stretchy color, so don’t pull on it too much.
  • Unfortunately, you can only pre-order for a Winter 2015 batch currently.

Thoughts on Kickstarter:

  • Whatever money you put into a Kickstarter, you should be okay with the possibility of not recouping anything from it (although this doesn’t happen often if you choose good projects)
  • They provide you with tips for considering a kickstarter like the founder’s reputation, history, how well their business model seems to be set up, etc.
  • It’s a great way to assess the market for the product you are creating.
  • Great way to build publicity for a product that you plan on creating.
  • Why take out loans or sell equity in your company to investors when you can take pre-orders? (which is essentially what most of the rewards are)

If you want to pre-order one of these shirts, go to the Silic Shirts site http://silicshirts.com/order/