I am currently in Shanghai, China, visiting a new factory every day. I want to be certain that the quality of product that we produce in prototype form can be reproduced with the level of craft and care that we put into all of our products. Each factory offers their own expertise which is really a neat experience.
On my first day, I visited a factory that has over 100 people working on R&D in battery technology alone. It's fun to consider the future possibilities for how Blinks are powered (maybe one day it will simply be the thermal energy of your hands, but not today). To visit any assembly or workspace, I needed to be in the official uniform for cleanliness, it really does make for a focussed workspace, and seeing the production line let's me picture the choreography of assembling the commercial Blinks. If you haven't noticed, every detail is important to us and I am feeling confident that we'll be delivering a truly valuable experience.
That's Awesome! But Where’s My Dev-Kit?
We've got over 50 Dev-Kits shipped, and the remainder going out the door the moment I step foot back in the US. We've been rolling them out in order of backer number and the rolling process has allowed us to continue to refine the developer materials. Thanks for being so patient in the process. If you've already received your Dev-Kit, be sure to share your creations with #madewithblinks, and join us on forum.move38.com, we are sharing games in progress through the forum.
Do You Live In New York City?
Did you order a commercial set of Blinks, but want to play with a set now? If you live in or around NYC, Blinks will be at the New York @makerfaire from September 22 - 23. Maker Faire is an incredible event and in addition to being able to play with Blinks, you’ll have a chance to see all kinds of cool projects made my incredible DIYers from around the world! Grab your tickets today and we’ll see you there!
Lastly, we are gonna have to arrange a massive Blinks party at some point because look at how much fun these Blinks have when they get together.
Plenty to update you all with on our end, as many of you are surely wondering, "Where are my Blinks?" You know how some people like to speed up when they see speed bumps? Well, we hit a big speed bump and kept on going. So now it is time to share that speed bump and how it has launched us to our next phase.
***BEFORE READING ANY FURTHER, PLEASE FILL OUT YOUR BACKER KIT SURVEYSO WE CAN START SHIPPING YOUR DEV KITS***
Wisdom of the one
Let’s start by talking about something really smart we did (pats self on back). We decided to do an Alpha dev-kit run with an initial set of dev-kit backers. We got our hardware out on time, assembled in house and delivered to backers to open up, dig in, and tear apart. Some of the components arrived broken, some expectations were exceeded and others were not met. This has been a great success, for us to get something wrong 1 out of 10 times rather than 10s or hundreds of times. Which expectations weren’t met?! That’s the important question.
The Alpha dev-kit Blinks shipped with one important component not present. The soft diffused tops that make Blinks so friendly to touch. We thought that getting Blinks into the devs hands asap w/o the tops would be worthwhile, and better than getting the tops at all, until it hit us, that so much of the fun of developing for Blinks is the ability to bring your games out and play test them with your friends, your little ones, and your crew at the bar that doesn’t want to worry about spilling their beer on some newfangled tech. Lo and behold, Jonathan, voice of this update, hustled his butt to see how to get some tops on these topless Blinks. It felt like a very tough decision because the design work, engineering and tooling that goes into these parts do not progress the commercial version of the Blinks, so it is entirely for the love of you devs, and a version of Blinks that we think you will truly cherish. Making it more difficult, the silicone has been responsible for poor communications between Blinks. We believe we have minimized the issue by modifying the mold and material properties of the silicone.
While this extended our ship date into August, we feel that this was the right decision to give you, our biggest supporters the best possible experience with your dev kits. What could be more important than that!
As promised, the Developer Kits will be shipping with custom-made carrying cases, all of which are being 3D printed. When I shipped out the Alpha Dev Kits, the Blinks didn’t have tops, and therefore the carry cases were smaller. Had I made a tool to create our carrying cases, I would have had a major problem on my hand because modifying or making new tools is expensive! Luckily, these parts could be modified quickly with me sending a new 3D file and having new proofs printed within a day. In total there was more than 1400 hrs of printer time, something I surely couldn’t do from the Makerbot in my office, and the enlisted help of Voodoo Manufacturing delivered. Check out the setup that made these carry cases.
In addition to changing the carry case size, that meant I had to change the foam packaging that holds all of the Dev Kit components. Once again, I was quite close to hiring a die cutting service to make these foam inserts, and instead opted to make them in-house. Our materials arrive tomorrow and we’ll have them all cut and ready by Tuesday of next week (~12 hours of laser cutter time). It’s a good thing I really love board games, cuz making changes here sure causes a domino effect 🙂
While this update is really for the Devs, I figured y’all would want to know the latest with the commercial Blinks progress, so here it goes. We’ve received quotes from wonderful factories in different regions of China, and guess who has never been to China. Me! So my visa application is going in and with any luck, in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be visiting a number of factories, making my list, checking it twice, shaking some hands, and most importantly deciding on the Blinks nursery… Yup, you guessed it, where Blinks are born. I don’t want to say tooo much about the candidates for making Blinks yet, but let's just say that some of them might make toy parts that NASA considers high tolerance.
To get all of these wonderful Dev Kits to your doorstep, we have a lot of assembling and packing to do. Every assembly step has been timed and averaged and let’s just say it all adds up to a lot of time. We want you to celebrate this momentous occasion with us, so you guessed it, we’ll do a Kickstarter Live-Stream to update you on the latest Blinks games and you can see your kits get hand packed and ready to be shipped your way.
Are you in NYC or local and want to join in on the fun? We have limited spaces, so let us know asap if you are available on August 16th or August 17th and we’ll be in touch 🙂
It is never fun on this side to have delays, however, it is less fun for us to spend $$$ on shipping twice, so I hope you are all keeping cool this summer and we look forward to sending your next update in which Dev Kits are in the mail and arriving at your doorsteps.
That’s the Blink download!
Jonathan and Blinks Team
Oooh, I almost forgot to mention a couple of snazzy Kickstarter projects that might tickle your fancy. Whether you are looking for a novelty item or just a concept worth sharing, check these out:
At Move38, making physical objects perform magical feats is kinda our jam, so we really appreciate when others do the same.
LIMBO | The Magical Top That Spins For Hours!
LIMBO is a smart, self balancing electric gyro, disguised as a beautiful CNC machined spinning top that spins for hours.
On June 19th, LIMBO broke the official GUINNESS WORLD RECORD for ”longest-running mechanical spinning top”, all details are in LIMBO’s campaign.
LIMBO was designed to amaze anyone that interacts with it, and can even spin on a tomato (watch the “Will it Spin” video on LIMBO’s campaign HERE)!
Vector by Anki: A giant roll forward for robot kind.
Hi Backers, (I probably should have saved that awesome update title for our next update, but I couldn't resist :)
Things are heating up, and I don’t just mean, summer is here. Of course Move38 just kicked off our Summer Game Design Internships with 5 wonderful game design interns. Another welcome addition to the Move38 family is our new favorite team member (everyone voted and agrees), our 3-pawed furry mascot, Ernie! He’s a rescue from Nepal and is constantly making sure that we are getting enough exercise in this busy period of design, manufacturing, and development.
How’s Commercial Manufacturing Going?
First of all, the first Dev-Kits are going out the door, and we will continue to assemble, pack and get them out the door in the coming weeks. We started with our Alpha Backers and have received helpful feedback, that will help us with the rest of the Dev Kits (there are a lot of them 😁 ).
As I mentioned in a previous update, we wanted to do the Dev Kits with a manufacturer that we are considering to also use for our commercial run. Their communication was great and they delivered some beautiful Dev Blinks. Most importantly, they work, and are ready for your creative hands to get ahold of them.
Here’s a quick run-through of the magic that went into producing the Dev Kit Blinks.
Apply solder paste to each of the panelized Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs)
Add the components to the PCBs (with a device called a CNC pick'n'place machine)
Program the Blinks to make sure they are ready for developers to put games on them :)
Run the simple test application I wrote to validate that RGB LEDs are working and then validate that all 6 sides are communicating. Here a gang of 6 surrounding Blinks are simply used to test the middle one's ability to communicate. "Can you hear me know?"
What EXACTLY is the difference between Dev Kit Blinks and Commercial Blinks?
Dev Kit Blinks are functionally the same as commercial Blinks, however, some have referred to them as topless. Don’t worry, these Blinks aren’t flashing indecent exposure, this just means that the electronics are exposed on the top, there isn’t a diffuser, and the button is simply in the middle of the Blink. There are a couple of reasons for their lack of cover, mostly because the original design with diffuser makes for faulty communications between Blinks. While they look pretty and are closer to the final appearance, we didn’t want to supply developers with materials that make games feel buggy. The second reason is that we wanted to get Dev Blinks out the door as quickly as possible so you can start making games.
As for the commercial Blinks, they are looking super fine and we are triple checking our prototypes to make sure everything will work, fit, assemble the way we intend. Did I mention that I designed a new carry case for the commercial Blinks? I am hoping it is not outrageously expensive to manufacture, it should be simple and straight-forward, and I think you’ll really love it. I call it the Blinks Sushi Roll 😛 See it in action here
Since the Blinks have magnets in them, the case is simply made of steel with a thin sheet of Tyvek holding it all together. The weight in the hand feels amazing and most of my friends are just asking for the case now. I have a feeling ordering extra Blinks Sushi Rolls is going to be a thing, would you buy one of these separately?
How’s Game Design Going?
We’ve announce 4 different games for Blinks, and more are headed our way. Last week we play tested a game called Oath by John Bruneau and Yuxin Gao, that is a button mashing game of influence. The goal is to make Blinks show allegiance to your color, the way of doing so is by touching the Blink when it shows your color (adding influence) and when Blinks of a specific color surround another Blink, they influence the the surrounded Blink. It is a fast paced masher, and every time we see people play testing, they are having a great time winning, or losing 🙂
The summer interns are just digging in and will be refining and balancing existing games, so if you have a Dev Kit, we’ll want your feedback on play testing our games in development too! There are some nice refinements coming to both Mortals and Fracture and we still have a long list of games in progress.
In Connecticut this weekend and can't wait to get your hands in the game? You're in luck. BeRrY creators are at CT-FIG all weekend showing off their games as well as others. Reach out, send a tweet, or holla at us... so we know who to thank for all of the support.
Any Word On What The Six Games Being Featured Will Be?
You of course know you’ll be getting Mortals and Fracture. User created games, BeRrY and Bomb Brigade are hits with us, and in the coming weeks/months, we think there will be an explosion of new games from the dev community. We want to give the earliest supporters the opportunity to make and share games that can potentially ship with Blinks.
I Have A Game Idea, But I Didn’t Get A Dev Kit, What Can I Do?
I have all sorts of news and progress to share! This week’s update is primarily for Dev Kit backers. We have another update regarding manufacturing and the Blinks game design process coming soon. In the meantime Devs grab your popcorn and let’s get to it!
Oh, and of course here is a video update as well :)
Alpha Kits Are On Their Way!
We have received all of the parts for our Alpha Dev Kits. Thanks to everyone who applied and if you received an email from Backer Kit, congratulations you are officially an Alpha! The sooner you fill out your Backer Kit survey, the sooner we can get your kit to you!
If you applied to be an Alpha and were not selected, don’t worry, your Beta kits are close behind. The good news is, both Alpha and Beta Dev Kit recipients will soon be receiving details on how to access Move38’s exclusive Blinks Discourse Forum! We are excited to open this forum up as it will serve as the hub for collaboration and inspiration for everyone designing games for Blinks!
Shipping And Lead Time Woes
We mentioned in the last update that there are more Dev Kits to make than possible in house, but not too many to justify all of the parts of the Dev Kits going overseas. While the progress with our partners in China is wonderful and I am very pleased with the work being done so far, there is one component that the Dev Kits require that is running a little behind.
The Blinks Dev Kit programmer - essentially an off the shelf product, one that could purchased on Amazon, or Sparkfun (which is perfect should you need to replace it) is one that is in limited supply. And it isn’t everyday that someone needs hundreds of pieces of a slightly esoteric product. I searched high and low to see if I could piece together the inventory needed, but even when I found a place with stock, they had 1…
Instead of trusting the optimistic estimate of the stores that carry this product, I went to the source. Unfortunately, the product is back-ordered because Sparkfun is waiting for a component on their circuit boards, and therefore, can’t produce more until they have that part from their supplier. The current lead time appears to be 4-6 weeks, and with any luck it will be at the lower end of that estimate.
So, what does this mean for you the Dev Kit Backers? Your Dev Kit Blinks will be assembled, packed and shipped in July. Yeah, this is not my favorite thing to share as 95% of the parts will be ready in June, but the programmer is an important one! The good news is I’m gonna make it up to you. And here’s how…
(Oprah Voice) You Get A Case And You Get A Case!
All Dev Kit level backers are getting slick 3D-printed carrying cases for FREE! Yes, this includes you Alpha Selects! These cases are the same kind I have been using to carry around my Blinks for the past 6 months. There is hardly an hour I am without mine!
To make these beautiful carrying cases, we worked with our friends at Voodoo3D, a 3D print farm - and yes, you should be imagining free range 3D printers grazing on biodegradable plastic (PLA). The same 3D printer I use in-house was used to print an initial run of 25 and soon another 250 carrying cases will be added to that herd.
Thanks for everyone’s patience as we got this update put together. Stay tuned for more next week regarding production and manufacturing as well as one of the most important aspects of Blinks - the game design process!
A lot of silence on the Move38 side of things as we have been heads down and getting everything in order to make sure Blinks are on the path to a bright future. We'd like to share a bit of how the cannoli is made, and while you will surely get beautiful photos and video of the manufacturing process, first we need to make sure our recipe is correct.
For a bit of a video update, enjoy the following :)
For a bit more detail:
Design for Manufacturing
From the start, I knew that our current Blinks design, one I am very fond of due to its simplicity and non-traditional nature, would not suffice for a commercial product for a number of reasons. Here are the main considerations for redesigning the enclosure of each Blink.
1. Robust tile-to-tile communications
2. Perfect button interaction and light diffusion
3. Simple reliable battery access
4. Straight forward to Manufacture and Assemble
Making one of something, or even a couple of hundred is one thing, but creating a workflow for others to be able to make hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of something requires careful consideration. To help in this process, the talented Bill Cowles of Fiftyswiss joined the Move38 team to redesign the Blinks enclosure given the above constraints. He proposed clean and clever solutions that we saw the value in immediately. His design, while introducing more parts and materials, was completely modular and considered the injection mold process as well as the assembly process. There were so many aspects to balance and I think we have done a wonderful job of arriving and a design that will impress both eyes and hands.
We didn’t want to lose the soft friendly touch of the original Blinks, so the top material will be a frosted TPU or silicone-like material that allows for the top to retain a friendly touch. The sides will be a hard plastic with perfectly vertical sides, making the satisfying clack reminiscent of domino tiles. The magnetic sides are composed of identical sub-units that will carry 2 magnets and be made of an IR transparent material, but opaque or close to opaque for visible light. We are keeping fingers crossed that this provides robust communication without the need for holes in the sides.
Our next steps will include getting quotes for manufacturing and a bunch of in house testing with the new design. Testing includes various lighting conditions, play testing, perhaps we can invite some local backers to be hands on with the new prototypes.
Shout out to all the Developers
In parallel, we’ve been moving right along with the Dev-Kits, and took the opportunity to light up our potential commercial run Blinks manufacturers as well. So let’s talk Dev-Kits.
With over 150 new developers joining the Blinks community, we have a lot of Blinks Dev-Kits to produce. We planned and backup planned the best ways to get these out as soon as possible. Here is a quick breakdown of the thought process:
One option was to orders all components as we have been doing and assemble the Blinks in-house, however, the cost of 3D printing the bases accounted for 60% of the cost of goods. Instead of ordering $10,000 worth of 3D printed parts, the cost of simply owning an SLS 3D printer, an option I heavily considered, this became an opportunity to learn about the injection molding process. My first Kickstarter included injection molded parts, however, the molds were for production units and cost around $5000 before even making parts. One great service, ProtoLabs, provides quick turn injection molding, for prototypes or short run products. Keeping in mind that the Dev-Kits design is not the same as the final design, spending a lot of money and time on tooling doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless we are learning something important for our final run. We have been talking with a number of manufacturers and started an exciting relationship with Genimex, a wonderful company based in China and in Brooklyn, NY. Before signing into a longer term relationship for Blinks production, I want to see what they can do, feel out how we work together, and understand the value of working with a team that has been doing this for 40 years.
To recap the options:
1. 3D prints and hand assemble at Move38
2. Purchase nice 3D printer for the above in house
3. Injection mold w/ ProtoLabs and hand assemble at Move38
4. Purchase small injection mold machine for the above in house
5. Work with Contract Manufacturer(CM) to do the Dev-Kits and determine if we work well as a team to do the production Blinks too
While working with a factory in China to make our Dev-Kits feels the most... for lack of better words, foreign, it is also the one with the opportunity to learn the most, a valuable opportunity we did not want to miss.
What does this mean for timeline… so far Genimex is pushing to get Dev Blinks to Move38 mid-June, we’ll then do our own inspections, finish assembly of your dev kits with programmers, cables, instructions and box those goodies to be shipped to you! We'll be receiving updates on the tooling, which we just approved, and will post updates here.
Wait, wait, there’s more!
Want to get your hands on the first Dev-Kits available? If you are still reading this, you are probably the perfect person to sign up for this. We will be ready to ship early Beta Dev-Kits in the beginning of June. This is the same hardware we have been testing with for ~ 9 months, with overly expensive but nice 3D printed bases will go to 10 lucky Dev-Kit backers. Sign up fast since we’ll pick from the list of sign ups by May 25th, we’ll be in contact with you to get your dev-kits first and are looking for active feedback from you as part of this select group.
When are you sending Surveys?
A couple of you have asked, and we'd love to be in touch, so there will be some surveys coming out for basic information, however, our main surveys will happen shortly before we are ready to ship, the survey will arrive via BackerKit, (shout out to BackerKit) our tool for managing pledges and allowing pre-orders while we make Blinks a reality.
Bay Area Maker Faire
If you are in the area, come say hello! Move38 will be at the Bay Area Maker Faire selling Troxes. If you'd like to help out at the booth, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll be sure to get you a free pass and some Move38 swag for helping out.
Last but not least
Our friends, CW&T, just launched their latest Kickstarter for Time Since Launch, we think you'll love it just as much as we do. Also, with only days/hours left, go support ELIA, another beautiful design project with a powerful mission to provide tactile literacy to the 99% that need it, with only days left, I've witnessed Andrew's hard work in bringing this project to life, keep their momentum going!
Our project was featured on First Backer Newsletter and we’d like to invite you to join its growing community of Kickstarter backers - You'll receive fresh Kickstarter amazing early bird offers and awesome freebies delivered right to your inbox. Click here to subscribe.
Looking forward to sending our next update, keeping you in the loop, and will try some new methods to let you peak into the process even more.