Flowza means “to waffle” in Cornish. “To waffle” (quaint English) means to speak
or write in a vague manner which is how Flowza describes the passing of time; (a
waffle is also a type of honeycomb latticed breakfast delicacy and Flowza has its very own waffle
sitting behind its eccentric face).So
Flowza is a play on words on a play on words.
Flowza, the early years
Our family uses the expression “we could make that” when they see something that looks cool but isn't available to buy (it commonly translates to "Dad could make that"). That’s exactly what was
said when we first saw a word clock online; I set about building a
prototype and it’s still hanging on our dining room wall 3 years later.
Everyone who sees it wants it, so I set about creating a version that could be manufactured and assembled in volume.
Early versions of Flowza (that wasn't the name then) used through-hole LED's (the kind you see on cheap electronic gadgets, they have a domed lens on the front). They were painstakingly assembled by hand (are you listening all you early gift receivers?) and placed in frames made from either acrylic or hand cut wood. For no reason other than the limit of the size of paper that our printer could handle (the older version had a face printed on acetone), the early prototypes were smaller at around 190 mm square. People asked "can it be bigger?"
Flowza grows up
Prototyping moved on to surface mount technology (still painstaking but a better quality result) using pure white LED's that give a more "stylish feel" and a more even illumination. This time the circuit boards were fabricated by a specialist PCB manufacturer, so size was no limit (OK the limit became 600mm for the clock but that's huge). It was a fascinating journey of discovery for a bloke who grew up with vero-board, bits of wire and a library book of circuits to be able to download open source design tools (I recommend KiCad and Draftsight ) and create a professional PCB. From final design, sent to the PCB manufacturer (I used a company in China), to ready to populate board is 8 days. I love the internet.
Flowza, ready for the big wide world
The lessons from the surface mount prototype have been incorporated into the final board including better positioning of the components to ease assembly.
Flowza is ready now and just needs your help to emerge, shiny, new and blinking (or animating) in the sunlight.
The product is made from 7 pieces:
A surface mount circuit board (in white to allow the maximum reflection of the light)
A beech frame
The waffles that keep the light constrained to each letter
A diffuser that evens out the light
A face - you choose which
A glass front
A colourful lead terminating in a standard USB plug*
*Note that Flowza does not come with a USB power supply - see later for why we do not provide this
The frame and circuit board will be manufactured by external suppliers - we have 3 alternatives to chose from for each and will decide when we know the volume required.
All suppliers have turn around times between 2 and 4 weeks.
The waffles will be made in our workshop on our laser cutter (we make great waffles) as will the faces (including the Frozen Flowzas). Assembly is relatively straight forward; programme the circuit board, select the correct face and then build the sandwich into the frame.
The finished clocks will be safely wrapped and packaged in double wall cardboard boxes ready for shipping.
The clock is powered by a standard USB charger - we are not providing the charger for 3 reasons.
1. We would only want to supply a high quality device that met EU electrical safety standards - that would add £10 to £15 to the price
2. We think Flowza is for the world and the world has a multitude of ways of connecting to the mains
3. You probably already have a couple of these in a drawer somewhere - if you don't, take a look on ebay
The charger needs to supply 1 amp (1000 ma) which is the standard for most modern USB chargers.
The three different faces of Flowza all show the time to the nearest minute, the way they tell the time differs from face to face as does the animation. The videos below are a speeded up view of the 3 faces across a 5 minute period. The faces are called:
Exactly- using more contemporary language with an animating pendulum
Upon Us - using Shakespearean language with an animating T-I-C-K across the four corners
Bang On - using classic British expressions with an animating TICK TOCK
The brightness of the display is adjusted by using the discreet buttons mounted on the side of the frame. There are 5 brightness levels to chose. Note that Flowza is not that clearly readable in direct sunlight but is very readable in sunny rooms. In dark rooms the display "ghosts" if full brightness is selected and for bedrooms it may be too bright on anything other than minimum brightness.
There is an optional automatic ambient light detector (Flowza Auto) that will set the display to the optimum brightness - pretty much essential for a bedroom or a room that is used in daytime and at night. It is possible to retrofit this detector at a later date.
Changes from the prototype
The product shown in the video at the top of this page is pretty much the finished article, the only changes envisaged are:
The front will be glass (the prototype is acrylic) and there will be no "greenscombe" etching
The two buttons will be slightly bigger (but still flush to the frame and in matching wood) to accommodate larger fingers
The USB lead will exit from the back of the frame rather than down the bottom of the frame - this will make the lead sit better against a wall when the clock is hung
The USB lead will be in a choice of colours: White, Yellow, Purple (and possibly one other) - we will contact you for specific requirements
The Frozen Flowza is a super low-tech version of Flowza. Delivered either naked or mounted in an 200mm x 200mm (8" x 8") frame the Frozen Flowza shows a specific time in your choice of face ("Exactly", "Upon Us", "Bang On") with space for a name and date. It's super accurate twice a day. In case you hadn't figured it, the Naked Frozen Flowza is a laser cut black card designed to your specification.
Well thanks for reading this far and taking an interest in our project. We really hope you can back us and we're looking forward to hearing your comments. We're very excited about the prospect of sending Flowza into the wide world!
Risks and challenges
We've worked on numerous projects of varying sizes and know that things never go the way they are planned so we've built in some contingency to allow for this. This is our first manufacturing adventure and we are having to trust the word of our suppliers to some extent. The fact that the prototype is pretty much the final product means there should be fewer surprises. The biggest risk we envisage is missing the shipping date for Christmas.
At the moment we have no idea what volume of product we will need to make - the minimum viable quantity is 15 and the smaller our order the "less important" we will be to our suppliers. A huge order would be equally challenging but also the sort of problem we would very much like to have!
I Love You Flowza! – We'll keep you up to date on progress, will add your name to our Kickstarter wall of fame and then send you a picture of the wall when the project closes. You’ll be helping us to reach the goal of creating an affordable animating LED word clock!
Frozen Flowza Naked– A 2/3 scale version of your choice of Flowza face frozen in a moment in time. This is the clock that shows the correct time twice per day. Tell us your event, name or description (up to 16 characters) and a memorable date and time and we will custom laser cut this in black card for you to hang in a window or add to a collage of other photos and memorabilia.
Frozen Flowza Framed – A Frozen Flowza as above but mounted in a beech frame with cream backing board for you to hang or stand on your desk - but you'll probably wish that you’d gone ahead and got a proper Flowza instead!
Flowza Auto – a Flowza with automatic ambient light detection. You may not need this option if your Flowza is always in a brightly lit part of the house and you don’t want the effect of a more subtle illumination at night.
Flowza Elite - a one of a kind Flowza made to your exact specifications. The Flowza Elite will be framed in highly figured English hard woods and feature a custom face designed by us from your exact specification. Add subtle animations, include your initials, company logos, change the font, do what you want (within reason..) Note that the clock is fixed to a 16x9 LED display but other than that, the options are unlimited.