This past summer, people went a little loco for a little DIY tech project called Velosynth, an open-source bicycle interaction synthesizer that interprets the speed and acceleration of a bike into expressive audio feedback. Created by the folks of Portland-based tech/design group EFFALO, the project raised not only three times its goal but also a lot of energetic conversation. Biker composers a-go-go — coolness or cacophony?
We loved the collaboration that EFFALO embraced. They hoped their kits would end up in the hands of creative, self-starting individuals keen on sharing their ideas and documenting their work, and they sold out of both the complete hand-built Velosynths and the DIY kits that backers could assemble themselves.
We caught up with Michael Felix to hear how things went post project and what’s going on with the team now.
You raised triple your goal — awesome. What did you learn from the project experience?
By the time we launched the project, we’d been working on Velosynth for over a year and realized it was time to test the idea in a public context and see if it was worth pursuing. So, we set the bar of success low and were amazed when we hit our goal in less than 24 hours. The tripling of our goal was icing on the cake, and we realized that we were probably on to something.
You sold out of the DIY kits and the premade Velosynths. Did it take you a while to prepare it all? Did you get any feedback from people who used them?
Wrangling all the parts and dealing with suppliers from all around the world took much longer than we had hoped, but once all the parts arrived, putting the kits together and shipping them out ended up being a lot of fun. More than half of our backers were from Portland, so we got the chance to hand-deliver the packages and meet most everyone involved.
Although, in spite of all of our design and documentation work, we quickly realized just how difficult putting one together was — so we’re collecting feedback for the next release and hope to greatly simplify the synthesis system to make it easier to use “out of the box. Thankfully, our distribution was low so it wasn’t a complete failure!
Did anything unexpected happen?
The reaction to the project was polarized; people seemed to either love it or hate it, with very little middle ground in between. In addition to a lot of praise, we also had a lot of hate, even a few threats — some fellow said if he saw me riding with a Velosynth he would “hop off his bike and throw rocks.” Thankfully, we haven’t run into him yet!
Also, while filming the infomercial, I had a little bit more momentum than I expected as I came crashing through a cardboard wall and jacked up my foot pretty bad. Nevertheless, it was a good take!
Do you have some photos of the assembly process you can share? And/or some new stuff you’re working on?
Totally, we blogged almost every step of the design process, from prototype to production, at http://velosynth.tumblr.com, and our documentation can be seen at http://wiki.velosynth.com. Here are a few highlights:
We recently launched Maker Factory, a free service for connecting localized fabrication technologies with people who need stuff made. We’ve also been building geodesic domes in a variety of sizes from connectors made with 3D printers. A complete list of all of our projects can be seen at Effalo.
Any advice to future hacker/open source project creators?
Managing expectations is a delicate process! Our project was novel in the fact that we knowingly released it in an unfinished state, in an effort to see if the idea had enough merit for us to continue pursuing it. It’s important to make sure that people understand what they’re getting into, so good communication is key.
Anything else you’d like to share?
It doesn’t really matter if you succeed or fail, ‘cause even a failure can fuel a learned opportunity. So you gotta keep moving forward, no matter what. We’re super excited to see so many projects find success via Kickstarter and other DIY funding systems and getting to a point where “venture capital” can come directly from the folks interested in supporting the project, rather than those interested in a return on investment.