Author Archives: Megan Arnold

AVC 2018 registration is open!

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

SparkFun AVC 2018 registration is up today! In addition to our classic competitions, we will be introducing a 60-pound weight class for Combat Bots and bringing back Logistics (fingers crossed we have more than one competitor this time)! Scroll down for all the details:

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Student Competitions

In an effort to create the best experience possible for our school teams, K-12 teams are more than welcome to enter any weight class, but only Plastic Ants and Feather Weights will have separate K-12 brackets and K-12 prizes. K-12 teams entering any other weight class will compete as adult teams for adult prizes. This will also hopefully allow us to keep the K-12 competition to one day only, and reduce the need for teachers and students to be present both days.

Pending the number of registrations (greater than five), we will have a separate class for Feather Weight (30-pound) robots. If registration turnout is too low we will bring the K-12 teams into the adult competition and rank them separately based on wins-losses. We’d like to cluster our K-12 teams into these two weight classes so we can hopefully create separate brackets for those students and provide more opportunities to compete.

All Classic AVC competitions will have student divisions, and university-level teams will have their own prizes for all divisions, though will be incorporated into the adult brackets for combat bots.

As a reminder, your team qualifies as a student team if ⅔ of the members are students.

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Logistics Class

This competition will be coming back this year, but the rules will have some slight changes. We intend to have the rules posted by the end of May and will announce via SparkFun social media, our blog and updates to avc.sparkfun.com.

Registration Cost

This year the cost per vehicle or bot will be $45. All proceeds go directly back into funding the event, and we have several special features to this year’s competition we are excited to share with our competitors in the coming months. If you are a student team (K-12 or university) and have trouble with the registration fee, please get in touch with us.

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Team Size Limits

Due to last year’s wild success and our plans for this year’s event, we are trying to do a better job at team and crowd management. Combat Bot teams will be limited to two pit passes per robot, and Classic AVC teams will be limited to three pit passes per vehicle. Exceptions can be made for student teams and decisions on those exceptions will be made starting August 1, once we have an estimate on the number of individuals, vehicles and robots registered.

Register for AVC today!

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, suggestions or words of encouragement, feel free to reach out to the SparkFun AVC 2018 Crew at avc@sparkfun.com!

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The IoT Build vs Buy Dilemma

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

This post is part of a series of guest posts by GroupGets and their appointed experts to talk about project crowdfunding and early-stage product development, from successes to battle wounds.


The connected economy is here.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is undeniably explored among most companies today. Connected products are becoming increasingly prevalent in the modern economy. Brands around the world are planning how they can grow from increased data connectivity to the products they sell and the services they provide.

Whether your motivation to invest in IoT is to increase your own operational efficiency, to build relationships with customers through differentiated product experiences, or simply to collect a ton of useful data, one of the first dilemmas that must be addressed is how much you should build from scratch versus what to buy off the shelf.

Unfortunately, there is no single, all-encompassing answer to the buy vs. build dilemma. From our experience, the line must be drawn internally after careful consideration of some key aspects of IoT product development.

Points to keep in mind

From our experience, here are a few of the aspects we have identified as the most important to understand before embarking on IoT product development.

1. Building fast is more important than optimizing for cost

Cost is an important driver in most IoT projects - the business case and ROI for an IoT product often hinges on it. However, optimizing hardware for cost is a difficult and time-consuming effort. Although designing parts with manufacturing readiness in mind is very important, highly constraining unit costs from the get-go will significantly stifle development.

A better approach is to build “minimum viable” prototypes to get in customer hands as quickly as possible. This will help flesh out the business case fast, before zeroing in on cost reduction. Customer feedback is invaluable.

2. Understand the general requirements surrounding complexity, cost and schedule

The Internet of Things provides a space for products supplied with smart sensors to collect data and transfer data over a network. Thus, an IoT system requires development across three fields: hardware (the physical products developed with embedded firmware and smart sensors), infrastructure (the software that holds and tests the sensors data) and applications (apps for tablets, PCs and smartphones, which bridge the gap between hardware and infrastructure, enabling users to manage smart gadgets).

Understanding the scope of the cost, timeline and expertise required across these fields is important before making a decision. To learn more, check out some of these great articles:

3. Don’t do it from scratch

There are extensive resource, manufacturing and fulfillment infrastructures that already exist. Don’t choose the first solution you find, no matter how easy they may make it seem. Before you begin, talk with as many hardware startup founders, consultancies and manufacturers as possible. Do it all over again after you start. Research them to get a sense of the many things you don’t yet know and still need to learn.

4. Always think about bringing your capabilities in-house, but know your strengths

Although it is not cheaper to hire people, things often move a lot smoother and quicker in-house, especially when it comes to prototyping and debugging. A successful company is always prototyping and debugging — once the first iteration is released, revising and prototyping on the next production run and iteration begins. While the next phase of development and manufacturing rolls on, don’t forget to continually take stock of where the market’s headed, as timing is key to a successful product adoption, and it’s easy to be left behind.

5. Firsthand testing: a custom IoT solution

We wanted to validate the points identified above, so we decided to form a small internal team (all engineers) to build an IoT solution for a problem that we see quite often: indoor asset tracking. Going through the process of drawing our own build vs. buy line, here are some of the considerations undertaken:

  • What exactly is the minimally viable product?
  • Is there a way to get it in front of customers faster?
  • How complex is the solution architecture?
  • What are the timeline and budget?
  • What aspects will need to be made from scratch, and what can we build upon?
  • What resources do we have in-house, and where should we look to augment the team?

For us, the goal was to first to identify the best specific use case, then implement as quickly as possible. Time-to-customer being our most critical factor, the line we drew between building and buying includes many great existing solutions, and a bit of integration and design. Here is the breakdown:

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The solution is currently being implemented and customized for early adopters. Check it out on GroupGets!


About the author: Daniel deLaveaga comes from a product design and subtractive manufacturing background. Prior to co-founding Breadware, Daniel worked in the medical device industry and lectured at University of California, Santa Barbara on Design for Manufacturing. Having co-founded a product design consultancy, Stel LLC, Daniel has significant experience in IoT product development and has overseen the design, manufacturing and new product introduction of 11 products in the market. Daniel holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from UCSB.

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Introducing GetSparked

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

This post is part of a series of guest posts by GroupGets and their appointed experts to talk about project crowdfunding and early-stage product development, from successes to battle wounds.


It started with a chance encounter at the DEFCON 25 hacking conference in Las Vegas back in August 2017. Nathan was presenting a spectacular, automated safe-cracking robot to attendees. I was there with a team to monitor the airwaves for a rare but emerging type of wireless attack to assist the Event Goons, as they are affectionately called.

A team member sat in on Nathan’s demo and told me I had missed one of the best talks of the conference. I didn’t even know that SparkFun was presenting, so I was sorry to have missed it. About five minutes later, I saw Nathan setting up the demo in a lounge space. 0xF8? We had a quick chat and then decided to combine his safe-cracking bot with our wireless toolkit for an Ocean’s 11 style op throughout Vegas (ha).

safe-cracking robot

One of our boards had been selling on SparkFun for a couple years before this encounter, but we never met or took things past that. Shortly after Vegas I was at their Boulder HQ to meet SparkFun CEO Glenn. A few meetings and brainstorming sessions later, with more team members on both sides, we arrived at GetSparked – a direct pipeline for pro-makers, hobbyists, engineers and entrepreneurs to sell their passion projects on SparkFun after they get successful market validation GroupGets.

This is a purposeful partnership to ensure developers put the best product and user experiences forward before going to high volume production. Even today, there are massive funding raises on other crowdfunding sites with nothing ever shipping. The ability to create a catchy marketing video to raise significant funding has far surpassed the ability to ship - and that hurts everyone.

GroupGets + SparkFun = GetSparked

Similar to the way Nathan started SparkFun after being frustrated by a minimum order quantity for an overseas MCU, I started GroupGets in 2013 as a means to group-buy a wafer of ASIC’s from China that had a six-figure cost. I suspected others wanted to securely group-buy bleeding-edge components with impossibly high minimum order quantities as well.

People at that time were getting comfortable with funding ideas from un-vetted teams on other crowdfunding platforms (I blew $600 on a TubeCore that never shipped), but a basic platform to initiate group buys for real existing parts didn’t exist. Ever willing to be the boring platform that enables the ambitious on a budget, we built it.

Getting back to GetSparked – over time we expanded beyond group buys for parts and became friendly to vetted betas, mainly from people we know in the community who professionally built electronics. As we started to see betas from startups, pro-makers, and even billion dollar enterprises go from GroupGets to larger distribution, we wanted to enable more of it, simply because it’s fun for us to see early-stage ideas and teams go on that journey.

GetSparked is our way of formalizing and cranking that process up to 11, with a legendary platform like SparkFun at the end of the tunnel (who will also be introducing SparkX products to the GroupGets community from time to time through the program!).

Even though we’d worked on products that have ended up at Best Buy, Fry’s and Digi-Key, we were most excited when one of our thermal camera boards got on SparkFun for the first time. Must be something about those red boxes.

Learn more about GetSparked


About the author: Ron is an EE and US inventor whose technical career has ranged from working (literally) over a mile underground on shock physics experiments to consumer devices and wireless security. One day he had enough with impossibly-high minimum order quantities for bleeding edge parts, and convinced a friend to help build GroupGets on nights and weekends. When not hacking or designing systems, you can find him on some type of board trying to hack gravity to squeeze a few more lines out of his aging skater bones.

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Ten years of AVC – and of worrying someone will get hurt – and so far so good (knock on wood)

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

I can’t believe April is almost over, especially since that means that it’s time to hustle on planning this year’s AVC, but what I really can’t believe is that this year marks the 10th anniversary of SparkFun’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition!

Combat bots 2017

Things that have happened in the ten years since AVC began:

  • I have spent approximately 150 hours of my life watching Game of Thrones
  • “Gangnam Style” (cringe)
  • The Kardashian Era (hard to ignore)
  • BB-8
  • Taylor Swift and I became best friends (in a distant sort of way)
  • Cronuts
  • Oh yeah - and SparkFun celebrated its 15th anniversary in January! That’s a lot of circuit boards.

Given this milestone, it seems only fitting that to celebrate ten years of friendly, self-driving, car-themed camaraderie, we bring the event back to the home county where it all began.

In ten years we’ve grown to add more competitions – lookin’ at you, you adorable little fighting robot; and YOU, you terrifying, 30-pound, man-eating monster – and now we have too many competitors to host at SparkFun HQ. In order to accommodate both the size and awesomeness of SparkFun AVC 2018, I have the honor of announcing that this year’s event will be held at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, CO, a mere ten minutes from the SparkFun lair.

In case you’re worried that you’ll have to share space with goats, I assure you that if all goes according to plan…yes, there will be goats. And horses (hopefully the wind blows in a favorable direction). We are already casually discussing goat yoga.

Classic AVC vehicle 2017

To answer everyone’s most pressing questions:

  1. Combat Bots will be indoors.
  2. AVC will be outdoors on a packed dirt parking lot. And yeah, we’re worried about weather. This is Colorado; WE’RE ALWAYS WORRIED ABOUT WEATHER. That’s why we moved it to September again. I’ll stop yelling.

In all seriousness, we are so excited to create a spectacular experience for this year’s competitors and build on last year’s record-breaking success of over 180 participating teams from all over the country. We have a lot of plans in the works for this year’s event, so stay tuned!

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