Campaign Focus: Powerful Prototyping with thingSoC

With a dad who was a WWII radio airman and an older brother who was a HAM operator, it seems safe to say that thingSoC creator Tom Moxon learned electronics in the old school. So by the time he was designing circuits as a fourteen-year-old in the early 70’s, Tom was certainly no stranger to the soldering iron. He learned the craft in the days of vacuum tubes and slide rules, a time when ICs were only just starting to be available. He was fortunate that his high school was one of the few that had an electronics program.

Once he started college at the University of Buffalo, he was able to take that early education and experience and apply it to his studies at the Center for Media Studies, where he worked with, as he says, “an amazing faculty of electronic artists, experimental and documentary filmmakers and videographers” doing audio and video processing for them. Working with luminaries such as Hollis Frampton and Woody and Steina Vasulka inspired Moxon to build tools that would help artists and performers create new works without getting bogged down in technical issues.

ThingSoC seems a world apart from Moxon’s early experience. If it were built with the vacuum tubes and discrete components of his dad’s time it would need a room of its own. But Moxon’s early experience informed his approach to thingSoC, as he saw a need to relieve users of repetitive, preliminary tasks. thingSoC is a tool for developers working on Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Moxon saw that while there were already good platforms available (BeagleBone, Arduino, Raspberry PI), getting sensors, Wi-Fi, and other stuff configured and working correctly could be difficult and frustrating. So he designed thingSoC to support things like autodiscovery and high-performance RF capabilities so developers don’t have to worry about connectivity and configuration, and can instead focus on developing the features and functions specific to their project.

Before starting the campaign, Moxon and his team at Pattern Agents had already built and delivered thingSoC tools to customers of their consulting services, who used it as a platform for rapid product prototyping. ThingSoC allowed these customers to produce working hardware prototypes in hours instead of weeks. This helped him gather feedback that gave him confidence the project was on the right track. The campaign, then, served as a kind of proof-of-concept that there was more demand for his project. As he put it, “The important takeaway here is that a campaign isn’t always just about sales numbers, it can also be a forum for getting important feedback from your potential customer base.”

Moxon had never run a crowdfunding campaign before, so he turned to Crowd Supply as “an experienced partner who provided us valuable input at each stage of our campaign. We also felt that the Crowd Supply audience was the right one for our products, which are all open source hardware (OSHW) designs.” In particular, Moxon called on Crowd Supply for help creating his campaign collateral. As he put it, “From images to videos to wording our copy, Crowd Supply was very helpful in providing feedback and suggestions to improve our campaign. While we are adept at product design, putting together the videos and updates was challenging for us at first, but Crowd Supply helped us through with good, constructive feedback.”

Since then, thingSoC has helped developers get their projects off the ground much faster and more efficiently, and for some it’s paying dividends by punching above its weight. For example, one company is using thingSoC with a Wi-Fi module to monitor very large, very expensive 3D printers. If a printer goes down or jams at night or over a weekend, ThingSoC sends a text message to an admin, so they can get the printer up and not waste time and money.

The thingSoC campaign succeeded in achieving its modest goal, providing the platform to several dozen grateful developers. But more importantly, it gave Moxon and his team the feedback they needed to confidently move forward and expand the project. Now, Moxon says, “we're taking what we learned from the thingSoC platform development, and applying that to the original Eurorack to create the Embedded Rack Specification.” Like the original thingSoC, the ERS will standardize the connection of peripherals and communications using the original “Eurorack” connector system. Along with an updated thingSoC that coordinates with the ERS, Moxon plans to launch an ERS product line campaign on Crowd Supply in the next year or so.