Get set, Go!

OK, the patent is filed, IndieGoGo is a “go”, and I’ve got the press release out to what I can determine are the STEM-focused media.

(By the way – I could use more pointers to media that centers on STEM news and writers who cover the field. I’ve already got StemDaily, thanks!)

The strategy for the fundraising is to offer the first run of ten systems as prizes – but after they get used a bit for their primary purpose. How long that “bit” takes depends upon how many orders we get for systems.

The units are kits, having the surface mount components pre-installed on the circuit boards, but with the remaining “through-hole” components to be installed (screwed in or soldered) by the user. I have estimated the cost of that labor for the first run and it is included in the price.

Assembly will not be a one-day, slap-together proposition. There are 16 connectors on the main circuit board, each with 36 contacts that must be hand-soldered. The next largest number of solder joints is the 48-pin data connector.

We’ll probably have to ship lead-free solder with the board (it requires a higher temperature to melt and flow), and we’ll have to include an instructional DVD as the assembly manual. (We’ll have to use the first few units to make the DVD.)

Then there are the daughter boards – 8 of them per unit. Each is comprised of four printed circuit boards – one of which has surface-mount components on it. This board requires physical braces that are snapped out of another piece of circuit board material, pressed into holes in the board and carefully soldered. If these pieces get out of alignment when they’re soldered it will be very difficult to remove and re-solder them, so we’ll show a procedure that will have to be followed.

There are braces on both sides of that board, and then there are 4 twist-lock mechanical fasteners to be installed. We’ll show the process on the DVD, but it will take some effort and may seem frustrating. It will have to be done 32 times. Assembly will clearly be a process where middle-schoolers will require assistance.

As order volumes increase there will clearly be demand for pre-assembled units, and in order to develop the price quote we will have to let the assembler experiment with one or two units. This first, get-off-the-ground crowdfunding phase will have to be done with kit units, although we could put out an intentionally high price quote for small-lot assembly and be safe.

This was the process in the first year of the personal computer industry – everything was a kit and the user had to have a certain level of commitment. Fortunately, we’re aiming at early adopters as the market for this phase – the people who will work on developing their versions of the courseware and peripheral hardware. Anyone who expects an out-of-the-box, plug-and-play user experience will be disappointed.

Of course, we should not discount the aspect of collecting – buyers who just want to have one of the first made (we’ll number them sequentially). I’m not going to count on this market, but we know it will be there.

Lee Felsenstein

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