Beeping it

by Michael Una.

It’s been a little bit since I posted here, and the reason is that I’ve been working on a big project. I thought I’d share my progress and hopefully inspire a few readers to take on a similar project.

At Bent Festival 2008 in Minneapolis I got a chance to check out Loud Objects and their noise toys.

This noise toy got me thinking. I had been building my own instruments for a while and I had tried selling a few of my bent devices, but every one was different and required a ton of labor. Every time you bend a new instrument there’s a huge learning curve, and then you end up making a lot of creative choices based on what you find.

What I wanted to do was figure out something to build and sell that would be repeatable, not too tough to build, and still fun to play with. A while back I had built a little device for my nephew’s birthday and he frickin’ loved it, so I figured I’d start there. This is what the first couple of Beep-its looked like:

I sold the first 25 pretty quickly and I had fun building them and sending them off into the world. But, there were problems. I ran out of the petri dishes I had used as the cases. The cases tended to crack. The insides were sometimes big messes of hot glue. So I worked on a redesign:

That worked great for a while, but soon enough I had built 250 of these by hand. I started looking for ways to save time- Alex from GetLofi made me some custom circuit boards. I started hiring my sister-in-law to drill the cases and some local benders to build the circuit boards for me. But I was still not satisfied with the quality and there were some design flaws. For instance, there was no separate battery compartment- you had to disassemble the case with an X-acto to replace the battery.

This past summer I attended the Maker Faire in Detroit and got to talk with Mitch Altman of TV-B-Gone and Trip Glasses fame. He gave me some good advice about manufacturing and later referred me to his overseas manufacturer. That started a long process of prototype creation, materials selection, and pricing that resulted in this:

I took a bit of a personal risk to have a bunch of these manufactured, but I’m extremely happy with how they turned out. Here’s a little video demo I shot this past weekend:

More info is at http://thebeepit.com

So now that’s where I’m at. It’s been a good couple of years to this point, and I still feel like I’m just getting started. And I’ve essentially exchanged one set of problems for another- my old problem was that I spent all my time building these things and I never had time to work on anything else. Now, my problem is that I spent all my money on these things and now I have to sell them to get my money back. But, now I have time and I have a product I feel very happy about. So I feel like I made out okay in the deal. Time will tell whether or not it was good decision financially, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

What have you been working on? Anyone thinking of making kits or a finished product?