02/04/2020 at 00:35 •
Okay, time to address the elephant in the room: the Tindie waitlist! There are 137 people there currently, and we're sure some of you are reading this log.
We watched as it grew, but couldn't do anything cause first we had to send the devices to Indiegogo backers. Now we can! There's around 20 sets that we can pack right now. But it turned out that we can't actually sell them through tindie without lots of effort. That's for two reasons:
1) In the New Year log, we mentioned capitalism as one of the confusing things that we faced recently. Now, we can elaborate: basically, we can't legally get money for uECG sales on Tindie in our country. That's cause Tindie only makes payouts to PayPal and it's not available in Ukraine. We can pay through it by linking a card, but we cannot withdraw (can't use PayPal balance).
Theoretically we could use a middleman webservice, but they take commissions of around 5-9% - that, plus Tindie fees, could get them close to 18-20%. That's a lot, cause uECG price is low on purpose to make it affordable, and we can't get it lower. We contacted Tindie support and unfortunately they can't add another payout option for now. We later discovered that a lot of platforms use PayPal primarily, so they don't work with Ukraine and some other countries out of the box. It's a pretty grim picture out there.
2) The other thing is that even if we had PayPal, we could only get a payout in a month minimum (there's a cooldown time for first-time sellers). So we would have sold all the uECGs at once and have no money for production (we have to borrow from our family for the next round partially anyway, but still need the rest).
Basically, we were very frustrated by this for the last few weeks. But then we realized we promised uECGs will be available, but it's not that important to everyone it will be on Tindie. What people want, first of all, is to just buy and use them.
So we decided to open our own online shop based in Ukraine! A couple of people from our team did web dev and e-commerce in the past, so we've been setting it up for the last couple of weeks and making some more progress just recently.
- We plan to open a shop in the next few days; we are on the step of writing the content like delivery pages, fine-tuning the CMS (it's on Prestashop), and soon hopefully will be connecting the payment system. Why are all the e-commerce CMS still on PHP, though? It's been like 10 years! We looked for what's new and trendy in online shops and couldn't believe there was no large JS-based systems available.
- We plan to start new production cycle around February, 10 (we'll get new batch of uECGs by March - we plan to make 100 of them). We also hope everything will be okay for the Chinese people because of the virus :(
- Last, but not least - we miss actual device development and other projects! Who would've thunk this would take all of our time and more. We really want to return to making stuff in the relatively free time we get while waiting for the next batch production.
02/02/2020 at 19:34 •
We've not written anything for a whole month! But we have been far from idle.
First of all, we just sent all of the uECGs to Indiegogo backers (finally!). That brought closure to a large period in our lives and we're really happy that we did it.
A LOT of crowdfunding campaigns do not deliver to backers at all, and we were determined that we don't only deliver, but do it on time. That didn't go exactly as planned (if you've been following us, you know that the Indiegogo platform didn't release funds for two months after the campaign was finished). Still, we were determined to ship them as fast as possible without compromising the quality and really tried to do our best on every step.
This is some of the packages shipping on Ukrposhta:
In the following weeks, we - among usual news - will write separately about the packaging and PCB production, cause there's a lot of details that won't fit in a usual log!
Second, we were actually going to send the devices to backers at the start of January, but we've, ugh, been writing a grant application for two weeks straight - from around January, 8 to 23rd.
Basically, we ran out of money (AGAIN), and as a team we're in one of those situations when freelance projects are kinda hard to start, because there's not much time anymore, and sales of our own devices aren't profitable yet. So around New Year, we stumbled upon a brand new state-sponsored grant program for small tech companies, and it didn't look so bad. In fact, it looked very inspiring and was led by a team of professionals. The grants were seed money only - $25K-$50K instead of throwing around thousands and millions - and you had to show lots of numbers and write a good application for that, so that's how we knew they meant business. In Ukraine, we have a lot of historical baggage and Soviet legacy infrastructure. Now, after long years of stagnation we have a new government which is much more efficient, but before that, the market here was very limited for professionals. For most people, it was mostly freelance/outsource programming, and not many people started tech businesses. So if you wanted a startup, or if you were a small tech company, you had to pitch at one of the startup challenges or hackathons with investors and the startups were all the same - lots of digital and blockchains and big data. Tangible stuff wasn't pitched or valued, and we considered participating and changing it, but we knew it could cost us a lot of hope in humanity and we probably wouldn't go for it anyway: it was all very cheesy, the mentors and investors weren't usually very professional, sometimes rude, and a lot of strings was attached, so we never did any of that. Long story short, for some years, there was generally an atmosphere of despair on the startup scene here, and it was even worse when you're in hardware development. There's almost no manufacturing in Ukraine. Even the hardware community itself is almost non-existent. We aim to change that and have lots of plans, so we ourselves never despaired - but that's the current state of affairs.
Basically, we decided to try and write a good grant application. This took two weeks and we were so exhausted doing it - though we learned a lot in the process and liked the result. Lots of things we just didn't know. We didn't have proper CVs, even, or didn't know how to write about market research and products and how to count financial stuff.
But in the end, we even managed to do a 5-year financial projection that didn't look too crazy. Well, at least to us. Maybe the professionals will have a laugh reading it, but we really tried. After we were done with the application, we had a couple days of rest and returned to packing and preparing the uECGs for shipping.
On January, 28 we finally sent them and now it's time to direct our attention to the future of uECGs that are left, because we promised they'll be in stock. But this was a long one, so we'll write about that in the next log on Monday! :)
12/31/2019 at 21:00 •
Well, it was an interesting year, that's for sure!
Things happening all around the world. Climate change, obviously. Hong Kong! Trump impeachment!
And last, but not least - a big step for us, small step for humanity: first uECG production!
Yes, we know that we promised uECGs will be in stock on Tindie before Christmas. At least one of us did, because she ran out of symbols for the product url update (that'd be me, by the way), and "B4 XMAS" sounded so 2000. That is, if you noticed the new ETA on tindie product page at all. Well, technically, they were in stock, but nobody could buy them yet :3
Why didn't we add the stock? Short version: because capitalism! Hard to set up payments if you belong to a non-PayPal country. And also we suddenly found a small current leak through the ADC chip, which we needed to fix and test. Aaand we found out that Ukrainian air mail doesn't ship devices with batteries to several countries, including the US. Turned out they do send (with a twist), but several other challenges awaited us!
Long version: in a log a couple days after New Year.
Happy holidays, late Merry Christmas and happy New Year to everyone!
Here's some holiday uECGs for you:
New Year, new battery of 250 microamperes!
12/20/2019 at 20:27 •
Just a quick update straight from the Ultimate Robotics workstation: nine base stations done - 41 more to go! Oh, and uECGs are on the way - just replacing resistors for now, but we're working on it:
12/18/2019 at 20:01 •
The wait is over: our first-ever batch of factory-produced uECGs and base stations is here! The package arrived on Monday after spending several days in customs, with assembled devices packed into neat little bubble wraps:
After unwrapping one of the packages, we were in for a shock: never before have we seen one of our assembled devices with perfect soldering, properly-aligned components and no trace of flux. And, as we've soon confirmed after breaking out the pogo pins, they even worked! (by comparison, a manually-assembled uECG requires, on average, 2-3 rounds of resoldering before all the tricky chips work properly)
Here's how they look now:
---------- more ----------
We also never tried pogo pins before, but now that we did, no more soldering wires every time we upload firmware! Only drawback is, you have to hold them down to the board while you're doing it, like this:
We also tested our latest 3D-printed case version, which aids with the holding down by adding holes for the pogo pins:
Of course, not everything went perfect, because the signal was really weird - way off the usual even considering that the electrodes were not attached. There was a brief moment of panic as we contemplated everything that could go wrong, but it turned out to be our mistake - a 510k resistor on the analog side ended up being 510R when we filled out the BOM. Soon as we replaced it, the signal went normal again, so that's problem solved - on this board, at least.
After that, we attached the battery and soldered electrode connectors:
Now, for the other 49 units...
We also tested the base station by soldering the USB connector and plugging it into the laptop, and then seeing if the monitor app worked (it did):
The whole manufacturing process - from the factory quote to new uECGs at our doorstep - took around four weeks, a little more if you count the BOM preparation and changes to the board layout. Now the plan is to solder connectors and batteries to all of the devices, upload firmware, pack them and ship them to Indiegogo backers first before adding the rest to Tindie stock. The packing and shipping part may be harder than it sounds, cause we have yet to laser-cut the cardboard layers to put boards safely for shipping, to order the box sticker prints and then assemble the boxes neatly. That's not counting that we never tried hauling 30 battery-containing boxes with devices to the Ukrainian post office for export.
Eh, better start working on it.
12/06/2019 at 19:23 •
Okay, this is happening - the factory has finished production, and after some more days spent communicating and fixing a led polarity issue (classic), the assembled uECGs and bases are ready. Now we have to wait for them for a few days, then tackle the customs (we never did this).
We produced 50 uECGs and 50 receiver bases. Most of them go to Indiegogo backers, the rest will be in stock for Tindie shop for makers from the waitlist! And yes, we are aiming to start second batch production soon after we ship this one.
Todo stuff for the set assembly and shipping:
- Snap connectors - already here
- Batteries (501240, 250 mAh - more hours than the previous version) - already here
- ST-Link v2 programmers - already here
- USBs for the bases (for manual through-hole soldering here) - shipping from China
- Gel electrodes, screws for the cases, custom pogo pin adapters - shipping from China
- 3D printing the cases - need to check the model, then we're ready to print lots of them at a very responsible and accurate guy whom we were happy to find in our hood in Kyiv :)
- Cardboard boxes, cardboard layers, wood stuffing for the shipping packages (no plastic, but have to achieve anti-static properties and damp well) - already tested, need to buy enough for the 50 sets now
- Box stickers design and printing - beta ready, need to design some more and they're ready to print.
All in all, seems like a plan. Still can't imagine us assembling 50 of those.
I guess we'll find out how this feels real soon!
11/16/2019 at 20:53 •
After three days of...
- taking precise measurements of every micro USB, slider switch or tact button in the house;
- filling out proper manufacturer part numbers for every single component down to the last 0.8 pF capacitor;
- browsing lcsc.com to find out that those exact part numbers are either out of stock or 'not recommended for new designs' and then replacing them;
- making several important changes to the schematics and the PCBs on the fly (yay fiducials!);
- finding out the exact reason why those 32MHz crystals are positioned upside down in the library and then flipping them;
- hunting for the common anode on the RGB LED (and then providing screenshots with red arrows pointing out where exactly the common anode is on the PCB);
- briefly contemplating replacing all black chip packages with white ones (don't ask);
- calculating the actual prices of all components on the board;
- and then almost despairing to find out that the .pos file is in the wrong format (minutes before submitting the order);
...we finally sent uECG (and the bases) into production. This has been a few days ago (actually, Wednesday night) and they're still under review so far. Granted, it's only the first fifty devices (each), but that'll be enough to send to our Indiegogo backers and have the rest in stock on Tindie.
There are many articles on the web about the wonders and horrors of PCB production, and almost all of them have one thing in common - that there is no single 'right way' to do it. Just as an example, every manufacturer has a different concept of how their dream BOM should look like. And, most importantly, the .pos file - the one that says where your components should be positioned on the board and how to place them...
In a sense, preparing production files is fun. It is also hard, exhausting, and time-consuming work (especially the 'find the correct MFN' part). It is also insanely motivating - we're producing our devices, finally! No more manual assembly! And then, at some point, it's over and you check, double-check, and triple-check everything. You upload the files. Hit 'submit'. And then you wait. That's exactly what we're doing right now (waiting), and it's probably going to take a while.
But we're finally did it! And now that we did, it's time to focus on stuff we put on hold - like writing project logs, picking up other projects (ours and otherwise), and thinking about long-term life goals. Plus, things will be happening soon, so we'll try to keep you updated more often!
11/06/2019 at 11:43 •
After some hard fights with KiCAD libraries, finding pogo pin adapters and last but not least - half of our team moving to another apartment, uECGs and bases for them are almost ready for sending to production. Just need to check the rotation of the components and add some comments to the final BOM.
Time to change that ETA on tindie.
10/24/2019 at 00:01 •
We're finally back and it's been a crazy few days - both on MakerFaire and beyond, as we have never been to Italy and never traveled for such a long time as a team. Saw amazing stuff, met nice people, drank a lot of cappuccinos!
So, in short:
- We're dead tired, but we're starting to get back to life;
- On the way back, they lost one car from a night train we were supposed to take from Rome to Venice (we decided to go the long way), and the station had to arrange a motel for us and the other passengers. The guy on the motel reception didn't even blink when we told him the story - said that's completely normal. We wrote a facebook post about the adventure (and posted some photos of huge Venetian seagulls!);
- By the way, we ate our best pizza in Venice - in Pizza 2000. Good shit.
- Back to the MakerFaire: it was HUGE. Hundreds of makers. Thousands of people.
The first day, Friday 18th, was Education Day in Italy. Up to 25 000 students boarded the trains from? early in the morning and crowded Fiera di Roma. In a couple hours they ate almost one kilogram of sweets that we brought from Kyiv, and that's only cause the plate wasn't big, and we filled it at some intervals. Well, if that's what it takes for the kids to like technology!
- Saturday was more niche - people were more focused, listened with interest and tested uECG and uGlass. This was also the day when at least two doctors came to our booth, saw uECG, brightened up visibly cause they liked it and said the signal was good - one even gave us suggestions to add a cardioprobe to see the ECG signal from various angles. Very useful, will definitely want to work on that.
We also learned to explain what our devices did with gestures and simple keywords, as it turned out most Italians don't know English - "Bluetooth ECG, PC, Android, medical signal, electrocardiogram, like in hospital, here - is - from - here (pointing at the device under T-shirt and laptop screen)" and so on. Sometimes just gestures, and it was even faster :)
This was also a very social day - we met Naomi Wu (aka SexyCyborg)! In real life, she's VERY lively, and very friendly. She brought a drone that could charge from a pad with pogo pins and a LED ring - we took some pics of that and a selfie :) She's also stylish and just great, liked her a lot!
In the evening, we went to our first Hackaday meetup! Met a lot of people: Mike Szczys, Larry Bank, Kitty Yeung, Helen Leigh, Drew Fustini (from Beagleboard), Robert Fitzsimmons (he of the large LED), Mastro Gippo (he's the one making PRISM), Laura Gales from UDOO, and other guys! A loud bunch showing each other devices with LEDs in an Italian restaurant. Loved it!
- Sunday was rather quiet. Our table looked the most professional and we answered more clearly after Saturday. Our broken Italian English was perfect. We were getting really tired though, cause we tried to see Rome in between (mostly in the evenings) and slept very little. Also, tending to the booth and answering a lot of people at once is very draining - but it's also something you can't feel anywhere else.
We also took some time to go and see the other booths. There were 10 halls, and we tried to visit at least some of them, take pictures, talk to makers - want to write a separate log about that. There was just so much of everything!
Looks like this is almost it for this log! After we came back and slept for a day, we noticed something's been happening to uGlass page, cause it's been snowballing followers and it's now in top of the projects page. Was that Mike Szczys' comment? :)
Now we'll have to go and write a log there too!
10/17/2019 at 14:27 •
Makerfaire's a big event here: the ads are on the walls, trams, buses and metro turnstiles. Looks really cool, and everybody knows about it, our apartment landlord included.
So with this exposure, we thought, Rome must have lots of makers, and tools and Arduinos sold at every corner. Imagine our surprise when google searches haven't found almost anything about saldatores (italian for soldering iron) when we really needed one (can't take it on a plane) and we only managed to find it after two days of search at some general tools store on the street. Maybe italians are so cool they just stack arduinos when they need to make a device?
Thing is, in our last few days before the travel, we were really busy finishing the commercial projects to send to clients and trying to fit our own projects in any minute left. Managed to assemble three v4 uECGs and USB bases for them, but successfully forgot two uECGs at home and only realized that in Naples. Were really sad about it, but the third uECG v4 still flew with us, so there's that. We also packed:
- a couple older working uECGs
- a new uEMG board and electrodes for it (unsoldered)
- a pair of new DWM1001-based localization modules, and a pair of the older ones
- a working uGlass AR module (attached to glasses)
- a nice round BLE base board with plenty of LEDs, which we've written about in the previous post
- some soldering supplies, wires
- tindie cards, business cards and a poster with the devices and catchy inspirational text about open hardware
- and one kilogram of sweets from Kyiv to give away!
So I guess we still have chances at assembling a nice table. Now we are going to Fiera di Roma by a suburban train – cause the Makerfaire is just outside the city area - to get our Makerfaire badges and prepare the booth for tomorrow, but not before we add some evening Colosseum pictures to this update!
We only got to see it in the evening, and it's so huge. Weird thing is how Italians just go around their business, and it just stands there. Love it here!