I’ve always hated Lego; it was too tedious for my young(er) mind and now is used too frequently at design conferences to connote creativity. But the fact still exists: tactile learning is proven to be very effective, particularly with new technology.
Hope you enjoy August.
Things I Enjoyed Reading
Printrbot closed operations. Their Simple Metal 3D Printer was my first love, and with it I learnt almost everything I know about 3D printing. Their hardware was a hit for two reasons: the build, which did away with the ‘box’ design used by most printers, and the Printrboard, their powerful board design that simplified printer operations. While they may have been undone by cheaper printers, Brook Drumm and his team have influenced a line of beginner-intermediate digital manufacturing tools, like the Sienci Labs kits. For beginner tool users, the ability to assemble a kit, calibrate and go on to use the tool teaches a skill that stays for a long time.
Side note: an interesting 3D printer frame from PVC pipes.
The inverse of putting something together is of course tearing it down. While the former is useful for learning about manufacturing processes and tools, the latter is perfect for learning about product design and strategy. Three recent teardowns highlight this point: Ben Einstein tears down a Sonos and an Amazon Echo and identifies where the future of voice as an user interface lies; Reilly Hayes disassembles the Coolest Cooler and can speak to how its required tooling would affect the lead time; and Motherboard compare an iPhone X to a Shanzhai model they tore down effectively showing how device security imparts product development.
Some products include assembly and disassembly as part of their basic function. One of such is breast pumps, used by mothers to improve milk supply for kids. This is extremely important as parents return to work after child birth and need to leave enough food – in cold storage – for the child. While companies like Medela and Spectra lead the pack in this market, Phillips has taken on the charge in Africa sponsoring extensive research on breastfeeding patterns among nursing mothers in Ghana and Kenya. They recommend, among many things, access to manual pumps like Moooka: a South African suction breast pump made entirely of silicone.
Related: In April, I attended the Make The Breast Pump Not Suck hackathon purely out of curiosity. While the conversation was focused on maternal health and safe pumping spaces in the US, it helped me realise three things: how badly designed breastfeeding products are , how big an opportunity it is ($2.4 billion by 2025), how important it is for women to be in product design. Read their inspiring research here.
QR Codes may not seem like much but Xiaowei R. Wang, writing in Logic, describes how they have made technology ubiquitous in China. While her piece compares technology in Asia and North America, QR codes are spurring unique innovation elsewhere. As a way to collect payments for Pay-as-you-go solar power in Uganda, M-KOPA and MasterCard are partnering to launch Masterpass QR. By using simple QR codes to activate payments on a separate mobile app, they are reducing the unit cost of the hardware device.
Faster Circuit Board Design, Powered by AI
What if you could design the supports for a 3D print the way you want?
Assembling a EV battery pack without welding.
A bloodless malaria test is a huge opportunity, and Matibabu is 20% away from realizing that. The Ugandan company which recently won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is developing technology that uses light and magnetism to detect the red blood cells in a finger and can give results in only two minutes.
Things To Apply For
The Nokia Open Innovation Challenge is looking for new innovative products and solutions within the Industrial IoT domain. With their Bell Labs, winners will get the chance to develop their products and take it to market much faster.
Going to market with a healthcare product can be quite tough particularly on the continent. SZOIL is organizing the Tech in Africa meets Made in China Global Roadshow in Suzhou, China with a focus on healthtech to help introduce makers with manufacturers in China.
Tweet of the Month
The Thai cave incident captured the attention of a lot of people, but the communication device used in the rescue is an interesting piece of technology.
Ahmad Sadiq runs Microscale Embedded in Abuja, an outfit popular for the sale of electronic components as well as energy management products. To be sustainable, as a hardware entrepreneur in these parts, is to offer various hardware services. Visiting him in Abuja, I write in Make: about what it means to run a hardware business with those constraints.
The one statistic that surprised me the most in Hardware Lagos’ State of Nigerian Hardware Survey: 3 of every 4 makers use paid or open source design software. I would never have guessed that.
Also: If you’re building hardware on the continent, I’d like to invite you share your story with us at Tech + Africa. First person narratives are particularly lovely.
If you’ve enjoyed this letter, please share (clicking the view online link in the footer takes you to a page with share options).
See you soon,