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META is a unique, handcrafted, hackable, retro, open source, Arduino-powered Motivational Electronic Text Advisor.

META is a unique, handcrafted, hackable, retro, open source, Arduino-powered Motivational Electronic Text Advisor. Read More
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This project's funding goal was not reached on May 1, 2014.

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Tim Ellis
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Tim Ellis

First created  |  133 backed

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About this project

As seen on The Escapist, where it was described as "really just a novelty item" and "a pretty expensive paperweight!"

Backed by Kickstarter's Kickstarter account! Appropriately meta:

Also: Endorsed by Dogbert!

We've all experienced the frustration of creative drought. You're sitting down, trying to come up with your next great idea; that amazing Kickstarter project that will take the Internet by storm and make the world a better place. But instead of a gushing river of amazing ideas flowing straight from your brain to your computer screen, your mind is a total blank. Then you start to think of those hilarious doge photos you saw on Reddit last night and isn't there probably a bunch of cool stuff on BoingBoing right now that you could be reading and wait was that a squirrel in the horse head feeder out the window say that reminds me, I'm hungry. I think I'll go make a sandwich.

Brain freeze. Writer's block. Coder's collapse. Engineer's enigma. Musician's meltdown. Singer's stoppage. Painter's Paradox. Before today, there has been no effective remedy for these plagues upon our collective creative consciousness.

That was then. This is now. This is META.

META is your own personal Motivational Electronic Text Advisor. Hand-made, open source, Arduino-powered, retro, and completely hackable; META is the quickest, most elegant way to solve your creative block in seconds.

how META works

When you press META's center button, the hand-crafted, custom control code generates a unique idea, just for you. Here are a few examples:

  • GPS-Enabled Programming Calculator for Babies
  • Locally-Sourced Weight-Sensing Gypsum Dice
  • Animatronic BPA-Free Desk for Cats
  • Laser-Cut Hands-Free Aluminum Leggings for Moms
  • Augmented Reality Solar-Powered Teak Sunglasses

This is just a tiny sampling of the over 300 million distinct ideas I've somehow managed to cram into this little box to surprise and delight you for many years—nay, decades—nay, eons to come.

If you're so inclined, you can even try the intangible, abstract, online version of META right now at

new modes: board games & indie video games

META now has two additional modes: board game ideas & indie video game ideas!

Here are a few board game ideas META has generated:

  • Cooking Hidden Movement Game with a Hex Map
  • Retro Pillow Fight Jane Austen Storytelling Game with Cardboard Standees
  • Assassination Bluffing Game with Real Lasers

And here are a few indie video game ideas from META's near-limitless store:

  • Open World Dating Fighting Puzzle Game for Dreamcast
  • Dystopian Dating Tower Defense Action Game
  • Zombie Pinball Tactics Game

Note that these modes are exclusive to the physical version of META here on Kickstarter, and cannot be found online.

how to use META

META is most effective when kept within easy reach of your creative workspace. Whenever you hit a creative block, just turn on META, press the center button, and boom, instant creative spark.

Kickstarter exclusive

META is a limited-edition Kickstarter Exclusive. The funds raised during this campaign will be used to place the one and only bulk order of META components. After April 2014, the only way to get META will be to buy one from someone who wisely invested in this project during the Kickstarter campaign. Act now, supplies are (time) limited!

In light of recent events, I also offer my personal 100% guarantee that META will never be sold to Facebook, for $2 billion or any other price.

META features & specs

Inside META is a custom Arduino-powered controller, driving a standard HD44780-based 16x2 character LCD with a pleasing retro green backlight. On the face of META you will find a power switch, the idea generation button, and the menu button for switching between META's different generation modes (see the limited MEGA META tier for details on how you can add your own unique generation mode to every META shipped to backers).

The custom electronics powering META are encased in a 4-inch cube, perfect for display and a great size to take anywhere you might find yourself in need of some creative inspiration.

open source & hackable

META is completely open source and hackable. Upon completion of the final hardware and software designs, links to the full schematics and source code will be posted as a public update, allowing anyone and everyone to build upon, modify, and otherwise enhance their own personal META. A standard 6-pin USB FTDI TTL cable (such as this one or this one) is all you need to upload your own custom code to META.

What else could you do with an Arduino-compatible board (with all the usual pins at your disposal), a pair of buttons, and a sweet backlit LCD?  Here are just a few ideas (no doubt far inferior to whatever amazing project you've already dreamed up):

  • Choosable-Path adventure story box!
  • Magic 8 Cube!
  • Add a few sensors and make a classy-looking desktop environmental sensor to display temperature, humidity, and more!
  • Tack on an accelerometer board and build a custom "how high can you throw it" game!
  • Throw on some wheels and create a mobile conversation-bot!
  • You can do anything, anything at all! The only limit is yourself!

stretch goals

What's a Kickstarter Project without exciting stretch goals?  Does META have stretch goals?  Of course it does!

  • $10,000 - New limited deluxe case option: the Gloss Black META.
  • $15,000 - [LOCKED UNTIL $10K]
  • $25,000 - [LOCKED UNTIL $15K]
  • $50,000 - [LOCKED UNTIL $25K]
  • $75,000 - [LOCKED UNTIL $50K]
  • $150,000 - [LOCKED UNTIL $75K]
  • Note: If unlocked, new deluxe case options will be added as their own distinct backer tiers. Pricing will not be the same across different deluxe case options.

about the team

Hardware Design: Tim Ellis
Programming: Tim Ellis
Copy: Tim Ellis
Logistics: Tim Ellis
Creative Assets: Tim Ellis
Program Management: Tim Ellis
Poison Dart Frog Herpetologist: Tim Ellis

With over a decade of experience in product design and electrical engineering, I have worked on electronic systems for an electronic flight information system (which went into space on SpaceShipOne! SPAAAAAACE!), a $500,000 supercar, the first-ever self-leveling electric scissor lift, custom-built limousines, and more.

To learn more about my background and technical experience, feel free to stalk me on LinkedIn. To read my random musings on video games, Seattle happenings, startups, and a stream of inane updates about this project, follow me on Twitter.

current status

As you can see in the video above, META currently exists as a single, fully-functioning prototype. For production I have already designed the custom PCB, sourced all of the electronics, quoted electronic assembly at a few local shops, and identified and priced multiple options for the case.

The main things still left to sort out are aesthetic details like finalizing the design details of the standard (non-laser-cut) and deluxe enclosures, cleaning up the edges of the deluxe box (seen in the video above) and finalizing the selection of nicer-looking buttons.

The $5,000 goal for this project was determined so that I would be able to place a minimum order of 100 of the custom PCBs, electronic components, buttons, and cases. Ordering at least 100 of everything allows me to get volume discounts, which is necessary for a small project like this to be an economical venture.

production schedule

  • May 1 - The Kickstarter campaign ends
  • June 1 - Hardware and software finalized, PCBs, electronic components, and cases ordered.
  • July 15 - PCBs arrive, sent to assembly
  • August 15 - Assembled PCBs arrive, final assembly begins.
  • August 15 - November 1 - Ongoing assembly, programming, and testing.
  • November 15 - Hand delivery of the first META to the "ULTRA META" backer.
  • December 1 - December 20 - Delivery of remaining META units in time for Christmas.
  • Note that the dates above are just approximations, but there is enough buffer built into the schedule that delivery by December is very realistic.

Risks and challenges

With any project that involves both software and hardware there are many things that could potentially go wrong.

"As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know."

On the hardware side of things, it is possible that the PCB will take longer than expected to be fabricated and/or assembled. It is also possible that one of the case options will be more time-consuming to build than expected.

On the software side, it's possible that there could be bugs in the code or limitations of the Arduino architecture that may be difficult to overcome.

Throughout my career I have often been faced with these types of challenges. Schedules slip, requirements change, and bugs creep in. I have set an intentionally pessimistic schedule for META with the hope and plan that I will be able to under promise and over deliver.

My strong background and experience in electronic and product design mean I am well-equipped to solve any challenges and deliver what I've promised to you, my valued backers.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter


Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00 USD

    EVERY DOLLAR COUNTS - You are a unique snowflake, and your unique contribution to this project is uniquely appreciated.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    11 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10 USD

    YOU'RE SO META - Add your very own unique word to the website generator. Add $10 to any other tier to get this reward as well.

    Estimated delivery
    4 backers
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $20 or more About $20 USD

    DIY META - Get a barebones version of META. This tier includes just the printed circuit board and electronic components, unassembled and without the screen, buttons and power switch. Choose your own trim and build it yourself. Ships for free.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    5 backers
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50 USD

    BASIC META EARLY ADOPTER - Get the basic META in the standard, non-laser-cut enclosure. You get a lower price because you happened to find this project before your friends. Ships for free.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 17 backers
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $60 or more About $60 USD

    BASIC META - Get the basic META in the standard, non-laser-cut enclosure. Too bad the early bird tier already filled up. Maybe stay on top of all the latest Kickstarter trends next time. Sheesh. Ships for free.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    0 backers
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100 USD

    DELUXE META - Get the META in a custom-designed, laser-cut wood box, like the one seen in the video, only less prototype-y. High tech! Lasers! Ships for free.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    2 backers
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $150 or more About $150 USD

    RECLAIMED META - Get the META in a case made out of whatever random junk I happen to find lying around my house, the side of the road, the thrift shop, etc. Each META in this highly-limited tier will be totally unique AND totally hipster. Ships for free.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 0 backers
  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500 USD

    MEGA META - Get any version of META that you want (including your choice of any new deluxe cases unlocked by stretch goals), plus I will work with you to create your own entirely unique generator mode that will be included in every META that is shipped. Ships for free.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 0 backers
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $5,000 or more About $5,000 USD

    ULTRA META - You just single-handedly funded this entire project. You get whatever version of META you want (including your choice of any new deluxe cases unlocked by stretch goals), your own unique generator mode, plus I will personally hand-deliver your META anywhere in the continental US before anyone else gets anything.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Limited 0 backers

Funding period

- (30 days)