Noke U-lock Update
Hello everyone. Sorry for the long delay on updates. The Noke team have launched several products on Kickstarter and for the most part, they’ve gone very smoothly. The Noke U-lock is an exception. It seems that just about every part has required a redesign at some point along the way. Each time we’ve identified an issue and taken the time to fix it, another issue has materialized we couldn’t see before.
Since the last update, we’ve had two of these. I’m going to explain those issues and their fixes below, but before I do that, I’d like to address some business concerns I’ve seen as I review comments.
First, Noke isn’t going anywhere. We’ve just signed some significant deals that ensure Noke is going to be on solid financial ground for years to come. We had to tighten our belts significantly over the past several months and it’s made things difficult for us. This is fairly normal with startups. What isn’t obvious is how to message things like this to backers.
Do you tell backers how tight things are and possibly scare them or do you keep your head down and figure out the best business decisions you can make to keep the lights on? I don’t know the best answer to this. Share too much and you might needlessly alarm somebody. Share too little and people get angry at poor communication.
I think both reactions from backers are fair. There have been numerous campaigns that ran out of money before delivering. Frankly, we’ve spent more developing this product than we raised. The good news is we’ve found other sources of capital to bridge the gap. With these funds, we’ve hired additional staff. I’m heading to China in a couple weeks and we are going to push this project to the finish line.
- Is the time it’s taken us to get here too long? Yes.
- Do I get angry when people get frustrated at us for taking too long? No.
- Was I ever worried about how we were going to have the resources to make it to the finish line? Yes, a few months ago.
- Am I worried now? No.
- Have we ever refused a refund? No. If we’ve reached your limits of patience, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting a refund and we will gladly refund your money. Because too much time has passed since Kickstarter charged your cards, we can’t push the money back to your cards directly. Instead, we can send you a Paypal credit that you can spend anywhere or we can mail you a check. Sorry, I wish we could push it back to your card, but we can’t do it after a few months.
- Do we appreciate your support and encouragement through this? YES.
Thanks so much. I’m going to add one more thought before getting to the details of the most recent delay. I think most Kickstarter campaigns have the very best of intentions. I think most truly have a sense of what it’s going to cost to deliver their products assuming everything goes well. They probably even build in a buffer. What is most difficult to estimate and what decimates the funds raised on a Kickstarter campaign is time. A delay means an extra month or two or perhaps years of salaries while not generating any additional sales. Eventually, if the company can’t raise money from an investor, they run out of money before delivering the product. One could argue it was a bad team, bad planning, or bad luck. In some cases, it’s a combination of a couple factors.
Either way, I don’t think most campaigns set out to cause their backers pain. When they don’t have other products to generate revenue to support their operations, or an investor to help them get to the next level, delays just kill them as they burn through cash supporting their team and sending money to factories to fix the issues that caused the delays in the first place. I can speak from experience, it’s a very tough spot in which to be but I’m glad Noke clawed its way out.
OK, enough of that. I just wanted to explain Noke has been fortunate to have other revenue sources that could keep the lights on as we pushed through these issues, and we’ve recently had some developments that will ensure we won’t have to worry about money any longer. Those developments ensure that we will be around for a very long time. I’m glad we didn’t have to be another footnote in Kickstarter statistics and I’m glad we have more personnel and financial resources to devote to this project.
So, on to the next questions, why the delay and when can I expect my lock? The answer to the first question is the end cap, waterproofing, and a capacitor. The end cap is this piece here.
You put this on the end of the body of the U-lock after you’ve inserted the battery. If you look closely, you’ll see it also has a waterproofing seal. To hold the end cap on, we rely on friction. We didn’t want to rely on a screw to hold it in place and make replacing a battery any more cumbersome than necessary. Getting the friction just right has been far more difficult than it should have been and making tweaks to the part is precarious because modifying the tooling too much can damage the tool. We feel like we’ve got it nailed.
Here’s what I mentioned earlier about one issue fixed exposing another issue. If you look at the circuit board closely, you’ll see three copper dots. Those copper dots correspond with three pogo pins (like springs) on the internal circuit board. When the end cap is pushed in, there are three electrical connections happening. One is to send the ground from the back of the battery to the internal circuit board and the other two are for the internal circuit board to send power out to the speaker for the alarm.
Those connections need to be solid for everything to work properly. However, because the end cap was loose on some of our samples, we attributed odd behavior to the assumption that those connections weren’t perfect and it would be resolved when they we perfected. Well, now that the connections are solid, we still noticed rare but noticeable issues with the performance of the lock’s electrical system. As it turns out, while the battery should have plenty of power to turn the servo, flash the light, and beep at the same time (which is what happens each time you open and close the lock) there are instances where the current drawn from the battery would overwhelm it and cause the main circuit board to have too little power causing it to shut down and restart.
As you can imagine, this causes unexpected behavior. Is there a solution? Yes. Adding a simple capacitor to the main board will fix this problem. Our padlocks have all had one to prevent this but we shouldn’t have needed it with the large battery in the U-lock, but alas, we do. This part has been added to the board and we are in the process of making several more samples to hopefully confirm there is finally not another unforeseen issue.
For those of you unfamiliar with capacitors, they are like small batteries that store energy and are able to give that energy back out very quickly. They also help smooth out power delivery in electrical systems. They are used all over the pace. I recently had to replace one on my home air conditioner. A camera flash is another example of how a capacitor might be used. The large battery in the camera has significant capacity but may not be able to give out a quick burst fast enough to make the flash work. So, a capacitor is added to the circuit board. The battery charges the capacitor in a second or two and it’s just waiting for you to press the shutter. Once the shutter is pressed, the capacitor gives out the burst of energy in a fraction of a second and then it starts recharging itself from the battery (this is what can cause you to need to wait a second or two between camera flashes).
Anyway, adding a capacitor to our board eliminated the odd behavior and we haven’t had any issues since. I want to say we are all set, but I’m unwilling to do that until we have twenty perfect samples that we put on our bikes, ride around in the rain, and rattle them around one last time. I’m headed to the factory in just under two weeks to oversee this step and hope to report back good news. Assuming good news, production will start shortly after that.
If you’re still reading this, I want to reiterate our gratitude to you for hanging in there with us. I hope my discussion of business and financial issues weren’t off-putting. Most would tell me it was too much information. But, when long periods of time go by between updates, I think you have a right to know why we were reluctant to say more than we did. When things are uncertain, it’s hard to know the best way to message things so sometimes it’s easier not to send the message at all. I’m certainly not saying that’s a good policy. I’m simply explaining why updates have been few and far between. This will change.
Now that our business is on solid footing, the product is not far behind. In case it’s not obvious, we are excited about where things are right now. Thanks again for your support.
The Noke Team