Makers don’t have to choose whether to carry around a smartphone or an Arduino board any more. Students of Hanze Institute of Technology combined them into one gadget and called it Phoenard. The team has just rounded up its Kickstarter campaign, and is getting ready to ship the first Phoenards to its backers.
Here’s a problem that a lot of makers know too well: working across multiple devices often results in losing the unit of code run on the Arduino board, typically called a sketch. It changed with Phoenard. This Arduino-compatible prototyping gadget allows you to store thousands of sketches on the same device and share those instantly with other Phoenard owners.
Another typical hurdle is that, for the sake of functionality, makers have to stack Arduino shields on top of each other. No one can be sure that everything will continue to work as expected once they are combined this way, and even if it does—the product becomes bulky.
Phoenard’s co-founder, Pamungkas Prawisuda Sumasta explains: “Once a maker buys everything he needs and puts it together, he realizes how much money and effort it cost him. Phoenard solves this problem by combining necessary parts and integrating external and on-board extensions.” Thus, if you bought and combined together the necessary shields and modules yourself, the result would be five times as big and cost you more than double the price of Phoenard (currently approx. €150).
Phoenard also allows calling, texting, listening to music, playing games and everything else a normal smartphone would allow you to do. It’s a highly functional, customizable gadget which writes off the need to own and carry around several devices. Although Phoenard is not expected to trigger interest from the people outside of the DIY-movement, it will likely prove valuable to anyone willing to understand electronics better and create his/her own projects in this field.
For full product specifications, head here.
In 2013 Pamungkas designed a small device that combined a mobile phone with the development tools, and submitted it to the AVR Hero Maker Faire Contest held by Atmel. Becoming the winner encouraged Pamungkas to develop his device into something that other makers could easily understand and enjoy using too. He comments: “In the beginning I just did it for fun, I didn’t know other people would want one too.”
In 2014 Pamungkas teamed up with his fellow students Irmo van den Berge and Ralf Smit, and together they began working on the improved version of Pamungkas’ original device.
Irmo, who became responsible for the product’s software, says: “We had to make a lot of improvements. We came up with a totally new design and the new software, with a lot of new features.” Pamungkas adds: “It is one thing to make something for personal use, and a totally different story for when you are trying to put an operational product on market. When we saw the interest, we became serious about the product.”
In November 2014 they launched the Kickstarter campaign for what they called Phoneard. In several months it received €35,673 from 220 backers, which exceeded their expectations by roughly €15,000.
“Even before the Kickstarter, we had a Facebook page for Phoenard where a small community of fans formed. We could see who they were and it helped making the product match their needs. They were makers, people who liked tinkering with stuff, some were students, others—engineers,” recounts Pamungkas.
Making Phoenard an operating product was challenging both from the hardware and the software perspective. The components had to be ordered from all over the world and carefully tested at the HIT laboratory.
“Of each chip I probably saw at least seven different versions. Because a lot of defect chips somehow end up on a global market, I had to make sure that the one we selected worked properly,” says Irmo, “We spent majority of time endlessly tweaking it over and over again until it worked perfectly.”
The final manufacturing was outsourced to SeedStudio, a Chinese company known among the makers for its expertise in delivering crowd-funded products.
MAKER’S DREAM CAME TRUE?
“Phoenard was created for all the other makers out there. Our consumer is the electronics hobbyist, the enthusiast who breaks into machines to see how everything is wired on the inside; someone who is interested in all things like Arduino, Raspberry Pi and other development platforms,” says Pamungkas.
If he is correct, then we are talking about a global community of makers and do-it-yourselvers, which is a market niche no one knows the exact size of. It can be anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions. We know that all the Maker Faires held worldwide in 2013 attracted a total of over 280,000 attendees, and the Maker Fair Rome was attended by 90,000 participants in 2014. These numbers might hint at the size of a consumer group Phoenard is aiming at, although it is difficult to say with any certainty.
In any case, it would be a mistake to assume that it is easy to sell something to the makers just because this consumer group is so vast. The rise of the makers’ community has spurred the development of new DIY-devices; some speculate that the American market is saturated with products for makers and the average consumer in this niche has been reached.
But this is not necessarily the case in Europe.
In The Netherlands Phoenard already has its primary fan base. One example of the prospective buyer is educational institutions: the schools and universities that are interested in having Phoenard as a mandatory kit on their campuses for students in electronics and engineering. “There is a big educational market here in The Netherlands, and we are approaching it seriously,” comments Irmo, “Phoenard can make a difference for those who want to teach and study electronics on a better level, and explore both the hardware and the software part.”
The case of Phoenard showed that there is both the supply and the demand for affordable and functional DIY-kits in The Netherlands. What can better prove the fact that the Dutch are no strangers to the makers’ movement?