Production & Shipping Update

PCB's arrived this week and WAVE assembly has begun. The good news is, we'll begin shipping boards in 1 week! We are ahead of schedule which means you'll get your WAVE before you know it! Again, a big THANK YOU goes out to all of our Kickstarter backers for helping bring this project to life - we cant wait to see what y'all build!

Production has begun!

Production has begun!

Here is a comparison of our initial projection next to a completed board.

Here is a comparison of our initial projection next to a completed board.

Building BreadBro

It's been a busy few weeks here in Austin. We've got a ton of updates, but bottom line, we're right on schedule!

Everything we need to build BreadBro has been ordered. PCBs, Batteries, Breadboards and Rubber Feet - Your BreadBro is in our shop!

 

We're a small startup with a lot of orders to fill. During the prototyping phase, assembling a BreadBro by hand took about five hours. In order to meet our Kickstarter demands, we've got to improve our assembly time - and as of today, we've done it!

Meet the Controleo 2 Reflow oven, another Open-Source Hardware project funded on Kickstarter. The Controleo Oven Kit allow you to convert a standard, household toaster oven into a Solder Reflow Oven.

Using the Controleo 2, we're able to produce up to five BreadBros per hour! 

BreadBro Development Boards - without kits - will be shipping in antistatic resealable bags packed in padded plastic mailers.

For the starter kits, we wanted to have a packaging style that's not simply a container to get the kit to you, but rather a solution to store your BreadBro kit and other OSHW accesories long-term. We're going with cubical 4" cardboard mailers - they've got room for BreadBro, the Starter Kit, Components, and more.

 

 

Introducing BreadBeast!

Hello Everyone! We're pleased to formally introduce you to BreadBeast, the first BreadBro Accessory!

BreadBeast is a breakout board designed to turn any solderless breadboard into a robot. By using header pins as structural elements and connecting to the breakout with headers on the PCB, a breadboard can be suspended between two sets of wheels. Right now, BreadBeast is just an early prototype, but we're working fast.

Why BreadBeast?

Robotics is one of the larger application areas for open hardware tools and techniques. Many novices are introduced to the world of Arduino through one of many robot kits. The public fascination with robotics is a big driver in getting new people – especially students and kids – involved in the Open Hardware movement.

There's a downside to many robot kits, though. They can be a little confining. For example, if your robot kit doesn't include a breadboard mounting point, expansion slots, or header pins, it can be hard to expand. Even with some modular kits, you can be limited by the space available.

Solderless Breadboards, on the other hand, are one of the most versatile learning tools available in engineering. Not only can you learn how to build basic circuits, you can build complex projects without committing to a permanent assembly.

We set out to create a robotics kit that can take advantage of the complete expandability of the solderless breadboard – a breadboard on wheels, or tracks, or whatever. This way, the transition from learning basic electronics and programming concepts to learning about robotics can be as painless as possible.

BreadBeast Prototype

The current BreadBeast prototype is a breakout board that spans both sides of a breadboard. The breakout interfaces with the breadboard through twelve “Dead” header pins – they're only structural, not electrically active. The breakout spans the width of the breadboard and then some, overhanging by about an inch. Underneath each overhang, a DC Gearmotor is mounted using zipties and three beads of hot glue. On the underside of the PCB, there's circuitry for a TB6612FNG dual motor driver IC, but it's not implemented yet – right now, the prototype is being used as a structural test article. We're using a TB6612FNG, but right now it's on a Sparkfun Dual Motor Driver breakout.

Using the TB6612FNG requires seven control pins: three for each motor and a standby pin. Since our prototype uses four motors and two drivers, that's fourteen pins – waaay to many. Users need to have pins left over for sensors, controllers, and all sorts of stuff. We decided to use an ATTiny Microcontroller to provide a software serial interface. A development board with software serial support uses two wires to communicate with an ATTiny. The ATTiny uses custom firmware to interpret the serial message and control the TB6612. Using this method, two motors can be independently controlled with only two pins, and a breadboard can become a robot with only four pins from a microcontroller.

Our current prototype uses an ATTiny85 to control a single motor channel. This is due to parts on hand and the desire for our next iteration to be on its own, new PCB. Since an ATTiny85 only has 5 GPIO pins, we're limited to controlling one motor while using software serial (3 for motor control and 2 for serial). In the very near future we'll be switching to an ATTiny84, which has sufficient GPIO pins to control both channels of the TB6612.

The current prototype has shown that it can support a breadboard and move. It's a bit slow, but it has a ton of torque. We've also tested the communications system in a limited way – as much as possible with a Tiny85 instead of a Tiny84.

Future Development

We're developing BreadBeast for sale as a kit to turn any breadboard into a robot. To that end, we're making several changes to the current prototype.

First, we're building two designs: One version that has two motors and can use treads or Mecanum wheels, and one version that has one motor and a ball caster. The primary motivation is price – gearmotors are expensive, and we want to get robots onto breadboards everywhere. By making this change, we start to approach a price point of around $40 USD for a set of two BreadBeasts.

Next, we're integrating power supply. In our tests, we've found that both the TB6612 motor driver and the gearmotors are quite happy at 2.8 – 4.2 volts – the typical range of a LiPo battery. Our intention is to integrate the motor power supply onto the breakout with USB charging. For example, You would charge both BreadBeasts in a kit, then install them on your breadboard. That way, a user doesn't have to worry about an external power supply for their robot – just charge, wire and program!

Finally, we're developing a library to abstract software serial usage. Our hope is that you can use code that looks a bit like this to control the robot:

breadBeast Beast(3, 4, 5, 6) // RX Left, TX Left, RX Right, TX Right

void setup() {
Beast.begin();
}

void loop {
//move forward for one second
Beast.forward();
delay(1000);
//stop
Beast.stop();
}

Community Input

We're asking for your input on this project, because we're building it for you. Your input helped us beyond description when we built BreadBro; we'd love your input on BreadBeast!

  1. Any thoughts on the communication system? We could use multiplexing to lower the pin count, but the TB6612FNG needs two PWM and five digital inputs.

  2. Any thoughts on the power system? Our goal is to minimize external components, ideally, just the two breakouts, four data wires, and four power wires. 3.7V isn't much, but it definitely works.

  3. How would you want to control this device with an Arduino? Library or Software Serial or both?

Stay Tuned! Production Updates for BreadBro and Development Updates for BreadBeast are coming soon!

Regards,

Mark & Steven

Inside the BreadBro Kickstarter Campaign

THANK YOU BACKERS!

The BreadBro Kickstarter Campaign has concluded! 149 Backers pledged over $11,000 to help us bring BreadBro to life! THANK YOU BACKERS!

We wanted to share a behind-the-scenes perspective of our Kickstarter Campaign to help other Open Hardware enthusiasts with their own crowdfunding endeavors.

After the initial BreadBro prototypes were completed and we had shipped out our first Beta test units, we had a well-developed Bill of Materials (BOM), and a good idea of what it would cost us to build BreadBro.

Almost every component in BreadBro is subject to a volume discount from our supplier. For example, the ATMEGA328 microcontroller at the heart of a BreadBro (or any other Arduino Uno compatible device) costs $3.57 each - or $2.61 each at quantities over 100. This price break was what we needed to achieve, and why we turned to crowdfunding.

We developed our crowdfunding campaign with a few values in mind:

  1. A focus on the product. For example, we decided to skip the "Talking Heads" shots common in Kickstarter campaign videos and focus on the product's features. Although it may not be causative, our video play-through rate increased by 7% over a previous unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign.
  2. A Focus on financial needs, not on wants. For example, we knew that we needed about $3,000 to build our first run. We only asked for $1,000 because, if necessary, we could bootstrap the remaining funds ourselves. Additionally, by building a lean campaign, we increased our probability of success and got valuable insights into the size and disposition of our market.
  3. Open Communication. We were lucky - our only tech debt issue was resolved a week into our campaign, and our design is ready for production. However, we maintained routine updates for and responses to our backers throughout the campaign. If and when things go wrong, it's important to be open about it with backers.

Before we launched, we tried to build up as much of an audience as we could. We focused on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, ultimately building a following of about 400 before launch. We found that Twitter and Reddit were ultimately our best channels for reaching Open Hardware enthusiasts.

In the early days of the campaign, we spent money on ads on Reddit, Google Ads, Facebook, and Twitter. While these ads did generate backers, and enough pledges to justify their expense, they were not particularly successful. We decided to focus on directly engaging with our community.

Roughly midway through the Kickstarter campaign, we were lucky enough to be selected as a "Project We Love" by Kickstarter! This had a huge benefit for us in terms of exposure - for at least a day, we were the Featured Technology Project on the Kickstarter homepage!

The Funding Progress of the BreadBro Kickstarter Campaign

The Funding Progress of the BreadBro Kickstarter Campaign

As crowdfunding continued, we observed a pattern common in many successful Kickstarter campaigns: and early rise, followed by a reduction in the pace of pledges. This pattern held true for us as well, except during our time as a featured project. The Kickstarter community is great, and we were overwhelmed by the response.

Ultimately, what we learned is that engaging with the community is worth much more than ads, and that the best way to engage the community is to have a great product and be totally open about it.

Over the next few weeks we'll be updating you as we go from Crowdfunding to Production! Stay Tuned!

Mark & Steven

 

Crowdfunding Successful!

Thanks to all our backers and the many people who have expressed their support, BreadBro's Kickstarter Campaign has successfully funded! After our first week, we've reached 340% of our goal. We couldn't have done it without you!

As we move forward, we'll be taking you along as we begin the process of building BreadBro. One big change will be converting our workshop from one optimized for prototyping to one optimized for volume production. We're going to be using a highly modified, human-operated pick and place apparatus for manual assembly right here in Texas.

We'll also be incrementally launching the rest of the BreadBro Family of Products over the next six months to a year. Some you've already heard of, like BreadBro Mini and BreadBro Mega, and some we've only teased at, like BreadBeast. Our hope is to have one of the most unique lines of Open Hardware products available by the holiday season.

Stay tuned! Big things are coming soon. Remember to share BreadBro's Kickstarter Campaign with your friends and colleagues. Early Bird Rewards are going quick - don't miss out!

Until next time,

Mark & Steven

Crowdfunding Eve

It's time! The BreadBro crowdfunding campaign officially launches - tonight!

BreadBro is ready. Our final design revisions are complete and we're waiting on production proofs. Once we have those, we need your help to build BreadBro.

We're manufacturing BreadBro ourselves, right here in Austin. That means that we control our production - not a factory overseas. Our final expense is to buy the components we need to start production. In order to achieve our price goals, we have to order a certain minimum quantity of many components.

That's why we've launched our crowdfunding campaign. With your help, we can raise enough funds to build our first production run of BreadBro!



 

BreadBro Development Update

It's been a busy few weeks here at BreadBro. Not only have we been continuing our R&D efforts, but we've also been preparing for our crowdfunding campaign!

Some updates:

Our original battery step-up system was kind of cranky. The regulator got very hot and didn't deliver 5 Volts. Our new battery regulator design has been tested and it works! Looks like BreadBro will have a standard battery life of about an hour. Of course, with the JST connector, you can just substitute a large LiPo for extended operation.

 

We've also re-tooled our product line to reflect the fact that not everyone wants or needs a battery: "BreadBro" will now be referred to as "BreadBro Pro" and will use the battery system. "BreadBro Standard" will have all features except the battery.

BreadBro and BreadBro Pro designs have both been finalized and production prototypes have been ordered. Once the design passes testing, we're ready for production!

In other news, we've decided to launch crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. In order to build the first production run of BreadBro, we need to order a minimum number of components. This is because, at quantity, these components are priced well enough for us to make our price point. To that end, we're using crowdfunding to help us raise money, get the word out, and make some pre-orders! Here's some top-secret preview links, just for our supporters:

In the next few days we'll be launching our crowdfunding campaign. Stay tuned!

Mark

Beta Testing Program, Part I

We're happy to announce that the first production run has been completed and for the very first time, BreadBro is in the wild!

One of the goals we set for the Beta program was to identify any problem areas in our production line before we officially begin making BreadBros for sale. In particular, we learned a lot about where the bottlenecks in our process might be hiding. We found plenty of issues - our Beta run ended up taking almost ten days longer than expected!

Some of the big takeaways from the Beta run include:

  1. The battery system, while working, is not as efficient as we'd like. We've decided to upgrade our step-up voltage regulator. Tests begin soon.
  2. Some stickers, labels, guide cards and other physical media are worthwhile to prepare locally. For others, it makes more sense to order custom-fabricated materials.
  3. Small volumes of BreadBros can be produced with no automation whatsoever.
  4. Humans can replace robots for a minimal increase in cost.
  5. Production will begin sooner than we thought.

Moving forward, we'll be doing some beta testing of our own, as well as reviewing the results of our testers. In the coming blog posts, you'll be getting a live play-by-play look at the creation of an Open Hardware product!

Mark

 

Feature Focus: Breadboard Guide Cards

The BreadBro Learning System is designed to teach the fundamentals of electronic design and computer programming. In order to do that without overwhelming students and novices, we've developed a learning aid for breadboards: Breadboard Guide Cards.

In each of the 20 STEM projects included in a BreadBro kit, you'll find a small Breadboard Guide Card. Once placed on top of the breadboard, this card aids in placing components in both simple and complex circuits.

Each card has a graphic placement guide on the front and a hardware troubleshooting guide on the back. 

ALL of the Breadboard Guide Cards will be available free for download and printing, as well as purchase on high-quality cardstock. Here's just a few of the projects we're working on:

  • First Circuit : Resistor and an LED
  • LEDs in Series
  • LEDs in Parallel
  • Blinking an LED with a 555 timer
  • Blinking an LED with Arduino
  • Logic Gates
  • Binary Math

BreadBro Breadboard Guide Cards make it easy to create your first circuits on a breadboard confidently.
 

Mark

Feature Focus: USB Port(s!)

BreadBro includes both a Mini-USB and a Micro-USB connector. Why? There's a few reasons.

In an educational environment, USB cables might go missing or grow legs and walk away. In the event that you lose a USB cable, or only have one type available, you can still use BreadBro.

Another reason that we include two USB ports is to allow users to choose the orientation of their BreadBro on their work surface. With a traditional Arduino/Breadboard holder, the relative orientation of the USB cable and the breadboard can't be changed. 

Orientations.jpg

With two USB ports, you can choose the orientation you prefer.

In our next post, we'll take a closer look at the most important element in the BreadBro Learning System - the Breadboard Guide Cards!

Mark

 

Feature Focus: LEDs

A normal Arduino includes four onboard LEDs: one for power, one each for USB transmit and receive, and one tied to pin 13.

At BreadBro, we believe that every human being on Earth loves it when stuff lights up! That's why we've equipped BreadBro with many LEDs. Some are functional - some are there just to look cool!



BreadBro's power LED takes the form of four white underbody LEDs, which illuminate the work area with a pleasing glow.

Instead of just one user-controlled LED, BreadBro provides four. Pins 13, 12, 11, and 10 each have an LED and resistor tied to them.

Why four LEDs? In addition to being awesome and pretty, four LEDs are actually a lot more useful than one. For example, you can use each of these four LEDs to indicate a milestone in your program, helping you find bugs. Perhaps you can use the four LEDs as a bar graph, indicating the value of a variable or the output of a sensor. You can even use these four LEDs to easily teach advanced concepts like binary arithmetic!

BreadBro is also equipped with TX, RX, and Charging LEDs.

If you don't need all the LEDs for a particular project, simply disable the LEDs of your choice by clearing a solder jumper. If you'd like to enable them again in the future, close the jumper.

In the next post, we'll talk about a very unique feature of BreadBro - its two USB ports!

Mark

Feature Focus: Form Factor

Our goal when designing BreadBro was to combine two critical elements of the Open Hardware community: an Arduino and a solderless breadboard. To create almost any electronics project as a beginner, a breadboard is necessary, but it's rarely included with development boards. Starter kits usually include a separate breadboard, but then it becomes necessary to link the breadboard and Arduino using jumper wires. It can be flimsy and disorganized.

Our first attempt at this design involved providing wire rails to help organize projects. Ultimately, we found that it was more beneficial to integrate the Arduino and breadboard into a single unit.

The critical realization was the fact that, while a full-width breadboard wouldn't fit between an Arduino's header pins, a breadboard with one power bus removed would fit almost perfectly.

These failed attempts and simple realizations led to the current BreadBro design: A breadboard on top and a development board underneath. 

BreadBro's electronics are protected from the work area by four rubber feet. This high-friction footing gives BreadBro some purchase on almost any surface, preventing it from sliding around as you build projects.

Many development boards, such as an Aruino Nano or Particle Photon, have footprints much smaller than BreadBro. These development boards are designed to be permanently employed in a project, or to be used with a breadboard. BreadBro gives you all the capability of an Arduino in the form factor of a breadboard!

Tomorrow we'll be looking more closely at one of BreadBro's prettiest feautures - its LEDs!

Mark

Feature Focus: Power Supply

BreadBro provides a standard, Arduino-compatible ATMEGA328P Development board. Unlike an Arduino, though, BreadBro comes with some very handy power supply modifications.

First and foremost, one of the most important "Best Practices" in electronic design is to only make hardware changes with the power off. In a traditional Breadboard-and-Arduino setup, you must disconnect the USB connector in order to disable the power. 

BreadBro provides a power switch, allowing you to shut off the entire power bus of the device easily, without having to disconnect anything. This power switch is rated at 500 mA, the same rating as the resetable fuse - any project that can be powered through the 5V or 3.3V pins can be safely controlled with this switch.

 

BreadBro's innovative power supply isn't just a switch, though. We also included a mobile power supply - a Lithium Polymer battery, a charge control circuit, a step-up voltage regulator circuit, and a battery enable/disable switch. Using this mobile power supply, your projects can break free from USB cables out of the box.

If you need more power, no problem - any 3.7V LiPo with a JST connector will work, allowing for extended cordless operation.

Don't need a battery? Switch the battery enable switch off and all battery-related circuitry is isolated.

In the next post we'll cover another feature of BreadBro - its unique form factor!

Mark