Petduino

As our readers are well aware the Ragworm team attend different events all throughout the year. Along the way we have had the pleasure of meeting many an exciting person and in return have had the honour of working with some of these.

Circuitbeard is a company that we have been honoured to exhibit alongside at a few events this year. After us being neighbours yet again at Derby Mini Maker Faire I think it’s fair to say they are becoming very good friends to Team Ragworm.

Matt and Lucy are a husband and wife team promoting coding and tech through an awesome product called Petduino. Hear what they had to say after a grilling from us here at HQ:

Firstly Matt & Lucy, tell me a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds?

We are a man and wife team having been together for over 12 years now. We both have backgrounds in design, myself in multimedia / web design and Lucy in fashion design, however we both work mainly in web development these days at The Outfield (myself doing the dev and Lucy running the business). We are both keen makers though in our spare time, myself on the electronics side and Lucy loving a bit of glass work, arts and crafts and interior design.

We are also both serial entrepreneur’s too, running multiple businesses together, in fact, Circuitbeard is one branch of a parent company we setup, Luma Concepts Ltd, which is out home for all things crafty / makey. Circuitbeard being more my side for all things electronic.

What are your roles within Circuitbeard?

Given my passion for electronics, I take the lead in terms of product ideas / development, and also handle all the web design / build for the circuitbeard website itself. Where Lucy manages all our social media side of things, helping to spread the word of all things CB, and also handles all the business side of things (she’s very organised). When it comes to production, this is very much a team effort as everything is done by us at home either in the garage or on our dining room table

The name is awesome! How did you both decide on the name? It puts a lot of pressure on keeping the iconic beard!

As Circuitbeard is my baby, I wanted something that pretty much summed me up. Given the majesty that is my beard, and love of things circuitry, I just combined the two to make the all mighty circuitbeard brand.It also has the added benefit that Lucy can’t ask me to shave it off.

Petduino… Summarise in a few words what it is and why you decided to design it?

Petduino is the virtual pet that you build and code yourself and is meant as a starter kit to get people into making and coding (though it’s getting equally well received by veteran makers too as just a nice little project to build and play with). I designed it after thinking back to my own start in the electronics world, which was only a few years ago, and how tricky I found it. Getting started can be very daunting with all those boards out there, and even when you buy one, you still need an idea and lots of components to make them into something, so it all adds up to a steep learning curve which can easily overwhelm and cost quite a lot too..

Petduino is my answer to this, a kit which introduces the core skills you need as a maker, but coming complete with everything you need and with a clear end goal in mind, whilst still leaving scope to expand it further once you’ve learned the basics. It also looks pretty cute too, which helps.

Where did the idea originate from?

I knew I wanted to build a kit using some fairly simple components to show you can build something cool on a modest budget, but I also wanted to try and create something people could emote to so that I could look to build a more emotional bond with it, not just a geeky one. A lot of projects I work on tend to have a retro element; see my Spotify cassette player and arcade machine, Rombus 3000 so again I looked back at tech from my childhood and more specifically the Tamagotchi. It was crazy back then how so many kids fell in love with what was such a simple device, with the Tamagotchi’s care being take so seriously that people were even setting up Tamagotchi hotels to keep pets alive while people went on holiday

It’s with those fond memories in mind that I decided on the pet theme, as if I could harness just a little of the love we gave those things back then, it could make for a really simple idea, but something that would be much more engaging than just the raw components on their own.

What can I do with a Petduino?

The Petduino has been designed to have a wide range of abilities, but that builds up steadily in complexity. To start with, the idea is that you would take one of the starter “pet” scripts we provide, a set of basic routines to display faces and animations on the LED matrix, and explore the other example scripts for how to interact with the other components on the board, such as the light sensor, temperature sensor, buttons and buzzer, and extend the original script to do more, such as going to sleep if it gets dark, or shiver if it gets cold.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can then move onto the next level and start doing things like playing games or make simple musical instruments (again we give several examples to get you started), and then you can start to explore beyond the Petduino itself by using the serial library to talk over the USB cable to your PC or a Raspberry Pi, and then using python to do more complex tasks such as communicating with the internet.

So as you can see, there are lots of possibilities, and these are only what we have thought of. We’ve already heard of people hacking theirs to embed a bluetooth module, so we are really excited to hear what other people come up with.

How important do you think it is to cross over education with games and other things fun?

Oh, it’s sooooo important. Much of education these days seems to be more about ticking boxes than actually engaging people so making projects fun is really important otherwise why would anyone want to learn anything? You only need to look at the success of projects like Code Club that aims to make coding fun for kids, to see that “fun” absolutely needs to be the number 1 goal.

Is Petduino just the start for Circuitbeard?

No, that’s it, we only have the one idea….only kidding. Petduino is absolutely just the beginning. We have plenty of things on the ideas board, and are close to launching another product in the near future. That said, we have tones more ideas for Petduino too, so plenty for us to be getting on with.

If so, could you give the readers of Rockpool a little teaser as to what’s to come?

Lets just say it’s another kit to help teach a core maker skill, again, with fun at it’s heart, and maybe a speaker!… I’ve said too much already.

Working and selling within the maker community, what would you say are the benefits to this?

I guess it’s like the old saying, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. Lucy and I love making so making and selling in the maker community is just one big adventure for us. Making stuff is just fun, so we don’t mind putting in the hard work, and selling to the community is great because we get to share what we love with people that love it too and also get to learn a thing or two along the way.

Unfortunately we haven’t quit the day jobs just yet, so we have to do much of our work in our spare time, but at least when you enjoy it, you don’t mind the extra work.

Using your experiences so far, what advice would you give to somebody looking to start their own business in this community?

Probably the biggest thing, and for me one of the hardest (I’m a natural introvert, unlike Lucy who loves a good social situation) is just getting out there and meeting people, be that at hackspaces, maker faires, or just in online communities (though real life is way more beneficial). It’s only by interacting with people that opportunities will start to come to light. Start by ask questions if you don’t know how to do something, and sharing what you’ve learnt once you’ve learnt how. You’ll soon start to build up a reputation and a circle of friends from which amazing things and opportunities can grow.

What is Circuitbeards’ moto as a company?

I must admit, we didn’t really have one, but thinking on it, I kinda like “Make a difference”. Everything we do has a “maker” element and we tend to gravitate around helping people learn. There is no better feeling than when you receive feedbackfrom a customer telling you how something you’ve designed has inspired them or someone they love so I guess “Make a difference” sums up our ethos pretty well.

Matt and Lucy have been kind enough to supply HQ with their very own Petduino. We cannot wait to review the product and potentially work with these guys in the future. Keep an eye out for more Ragworm and Circuitbeard collaborations and part two of this blog.

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