A veteran software engineer is looking to harness the power of crowdfunding to get his pet project -- an intuitive, digital circuit design kit aimed primarily at kids -- off the ground.
Joesph Broms, who has been working in software engineering in the medical field for 20 years, has developed a hardware design kit called ProtoBricks that uses bricks with digital circuits that are snap-together compatible with LEGO bricks. The idea is to enable kids to learn about building digital logic circuits by incorporating them into their LEGO models.
ProtoBricks launched on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform Tuesday (Aug. 15). The goal is to raise $100,000 within the next 40 days to bring the product to the shipping stage, expected to begin next June.
In an interview with EE Times, Broms said he originally conceived of the initial concept for ProtoBricks years ago while taking a digital circuit design course in college. Seven years ago, when his own child was old enough to begin discovering the joys of building with LEGO, Broms began working on the project in earnest.
While the market is flooded with electronics kits that demonstrate the concepts of analog circuit design, Broms believes ProtoBricks will resonate more broadly with kids because of the LEGO compatibility and the ability to incorporate digital circuits. "I don't see anyone else who is trying to teach kids digital logic," Broms said.
ProtoBricks is billed as being designed to let even young children build digital logic circuits that snap together with LEGO bricks.
These days, much is written and discussed about kids' lack of interest in science, engineering and mathematics. Like many others, Broms sees anything that can stimulate kids' interest in electronics engineering as part of the potential solution. He believes kids will gravitate toward ProtoBricks.
"Anything that gets kids into understanding programing and how circuits work, that could only help," Broms said.
Much has changed in the seven years since Broms initially started work on ProtoBricks, and even in the five years since he created the first prototype. Of course, the rise of crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and others has given Broms and other would be inventors access to capital for projects. But the rise of the maker movement — and corresponding advances in 3D printing and custom electronics manufacturing — has also lowered the bar for Broms and others.
"The first circuit boards I was buying cost about $2K apiece" because manufacturers would charge the same amount regardless of lot size. But by 2013, the price for the circuit boards dropped dramatically as custom manufacturers like Houston-based Macrofab (which Broms uses) and competitors offered individual boards priced a la carte, dramatically reducing the price of developing further iterations of ProtoBricks and other projects, he said.
"So instead of being $2,000, the board cost dropped to about $20," Broms said.
In addition to ProtoBricks, Broms said he expects the changing nature of the manufacturing supply chain and increased availability to small amounts of funding will lead to an accelerating number of niche products.
"There is a whole pipeline of products that is just now becoming possible for the amatuer engineer that just weren't even possible even five years ago," Broms said.
—Dylan McGrath is the editor-in-chief of EE Times.