Becky Stern: Director of Wearable Electronics, Adafruit Industries


Osborn: There seems  to  be a  lot  of interest lately—I think it’s  more buzzword—in the whole “Internet of Things.”  I was wondering if you’ve seen some projects  that are interesting or that incorporated some wireless technology or biosensing that is interesting?

Stern: So my favorite biosensing Internet of Things project is the chair that tweets when you fart.

Osborn: Of course.

Stern: That’s by my friend  Randy Sarafan, who works at Instructables  and is also a member  of the FAT. He put the methane sensor in the chair and the Arduino in the XBee and the other part of the XBee that connects to the computer  and used the Twitter API, and all that kind of stuff. Of course, there are other ones, old-school  ones like the Botanicals, the plant that used to call you on the phone, but then ultimately turned out a tweet to let you know that it needed water.

Osborn: I remember something about the chair. I thought it would be really awful. And if you could deploy  a whole stadium full, it would either be so embarrassing that you would have to leave immediately  or it would become this sort of contest.

Stern: Come on. I don’t think that one fart in the stadium—if it were being done with everyone, you’re part of a collective  of farts. You know, everybody farts. And you can’t say that if there’s a stadium full of people that it’s not going to happen. So I think it would quickly  become  a contest.  Are you kidding? There’s beer and hot dogs involved. Thanks for the project idea.

Osborn: I guess that was my bigger fear—that  something like that would happen.

Stern: I think they’re going to do it just for that. If there’s going to be another reason to put a methane  sensor in a chair, make that be the fun side effect.

Osborn: Oh man, I don’t want to take that any further.

Stern: You might have seen Internet of Things printers. We have one for Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Those are really fun, just little a receipt printer that prints out whatever you want—like the weather. It’s really fun when it’s just sitting on your desk and it finds a tweet about you and prints it out. So instead of having to check my tabs with all of my Twitter tools in it or whatever, it just sort of prints them all out. That can be fun.

Osborn: So let’s see. There’s the Internet of Things. There’s 3D printing. You do a lot of work with wearable technologies. Is there any other vertical or cat- egory that you think is interesting  or you’ve seen starting to take notice lately?

Stern: There is Arduino and Raspberry Pi stuff. The Raspberry Pi stuff, we know it sells very well, so we know a lot of people are interested in making projects with it and we offer lots of cool accessories to extend the Raspberry Pi. I think we’re seeing a lot more single-board Linux computers, right? Beagle Bone just came out with a new version. Everybody wants to make this kind of stuff so people can do more, so that the Linux programmers  can finally get into physical computing. It’s no longer just the electronics and electrical engineers. You can really come at it from a programming  standpoint  and not much else. It makes them really powerful and cool—Internet-connected  or just computationally complex projects with cameras, and USB devices, and Bluetooth, and all that stuff. I’m more of the basic electronics  camp because I come from this entire other, sort of crafty side. And I do know a little bit of programming. I’m more into graphics programming, so big matrix displays. I never did a whole  lot of Internet communication coding.

Osborn: I know  you guys are a big proponent  of open hardware. Do you use a standard  license for your hardware, or is it just kind of whatever fits the project?

Stern: There are many parts of a hardware project. It’s comprised of many layers. I’m sure you’ve heard that one before. And we do have some con- sistency across the things we release. For our board files—which are like an image if you know CAD files—are distributed under a creative commons attribution share license. We don’t bar commercial use of producing our boards, but we do enforce our trademark. So if people want to print their own versions of the PCBs we make, they can. And they can sell them, but they can’t have our logo on them.

Osborn:  Is the schematic underneath the same license?

Stern: Whatever  licenses we use, we use pretty consistent  licenses. Like for code, we’ll use one license, and for image things, we’ll use another  license. And usually, we allow people to redistribute our work commercially, provided they aren’t infringing our trademark—because in a hacker  space, they might  want  to etch their own boards. They want to be able to make their own boarduino or whatever with one of our products that we released the schematics and circuit board files for, so that they can learn from the process and have a fun time.

Becky  Stern:  Director  of Wearable  Electronics, Adafruit

Osborn: The only reason I ask about the schematic  is because I’ve heard different things about how the board file can be considered  a work of art, whereas  a schematic  is considered  a technical  drawing.  So maybe the same license doesn’t really work well for both.

Stern: Right. That’s why we release it as creative  commons.  We have a suite of licenses for all our different kinds of intellectual property. You know that fashion designs can’t be copyrighted either, so that turns into an interesting part of my job.

Osborn: I didn’t really think about that.

Stern: We like to release as much as we can and as openly  as possible, and we try to use licenses that are appropriate for the media that we’re distributing.

Osborn: Well, good stuff to keep in mind. It seems like the open hardware space is still pretty young and it will probably take some time to figure these things out. Adafruit is certainly  doing their part to share with and build a community around hardware.


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