Photo courtesy of Fumi
This is from last year's Ada Lovelace Day but I thought I'd pop it back to the front page especially since Limor is doing such an incredible job over at http://www.adafruit.com/blog/ making one post per hour!
When I was growing up there were all sorts of electronics kits available for those of us who were interested in learning more about the subject. My favorite birthday gift was the Radio Shack 150in1 Electronic Projects Kit I got when I was eight.
As I got older I would drool over each copy of the latest Heathkit Catalog – I really, really wanted to build that 25" Color Television!
Unfortunately, many of the companies that made these wonderful products have long fallen victim to the pressures of globalization, the declining interest of hobbyists, and the fact that many of the classic projects have lost relevance to today's enthusiasts.
Enter the Open Source entrepreneur Limor Fried. Limor's company, Adafruit Industries offers a line electronics kits that are fun to build but even more importantly, relevant to today's technology – you'll not find any SCR 3-channel Color Organs here! She has made Adafruit a success by offering learning experiences and fun, not just a box of parts and a mimeographed sheet of instructions.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Limor about her company, click through for that and some pictures of one of Adafruit's kits that I've just completed.
SPWS: Tell us a little about your company, Adafruit Industries?
Limor: Adafruit industries is my company I started back in 2005 or so. I basically come up with nifty little electronic projects that I then turn into kits for sale.
SPWS: How did Adafruit come about? Was it something you knew you were going to do when you finished school or were you planning (or did you do) a stint in industry first?
Limor: I was certainly not planning to start a company but I did like to publish products and there was a lot of positive response to them. So I started experimenting with selling them online while I was still in school.
SPWS: You sell Open Source hardware electronics kits, do you see a big future in Open Source hardware? Do you think we'll ever see, say, a cell phone carrier offering something like the OpenMoko handset? or will it remain largely a hobbyist oriented industry?
Limor: Sure, why not? But remember, OSS has been around for 25 years. I'm not quite sure why people are expecting there to be full products available on the market tomorrow. It will probably be 10, maybe 20 years before OSH becomes used in industry
SPWS: One of the terms I kept stumbling across as I researched your work was "Design Noir," would you give us a thumbnail definition?
Limor: Design Noir products are part of the hidden underbelly of real human needs, acting as elements in a “narrative space entered by using and misusing a simple electronic product” that challenges “the conformity of everyday life by short-circuiting our emotions and states of mind” (Dunne and Raby 2001)
SPWS: Do you see a connection between the underlying subversive nature of "Design Noir" and what you're doing with Adafruit now? i.e. teaching people about technology with kits empowers them to deal with tech (and more importantly the companies that sell it) more effectively?
Limor: Sure, I think the TV-B-Gone kit, which was a collaboration with Mitch Altman, is a great example of a very subversive project that is also fun to build. Its a good introduction to a lot of electronic tools and technologies. There's probably nothing out there that created more engineers than the bluebox & redbox files that were passed around in our youth.
SPWS: MIT is often characterized as an institution in the business of turning out "tools" yet much of your work seems very socially aware and artistic. In addition, the business you've created is one that's supportive of community and community building. Is this something we're likely to see more of? Were your classmates as interested in the impact of technology on society? Do you see yourself as involved in a social movement as well as a business?
Limor: I can't speak for others, there are a lot of unique and interesting communities at&around MIT!
SPWS: What advice do you have for people who may wish to start a business, in particular a business structured around Open Source models and communities?
Limor: the most important thing is to remember that anyone can beat you on price, so you have to be the best when it comes to quality and experience
SPWS: Finally, are there any new exciting products in the pipeline?
Limor: I just finished redoing my wireless power-monitor kit, the Tweet-a-Watt!
Many thanks to Limor for the interview! Below you'll find some build pics of the Minty Boost USB Charger I just completed from an Adafruit Industries kit!