Good evening from Wytheville, VA.
It’s about 1am here. We’d originally intended to stop a while earlier, but ran into a small snafu with our hotel booking not lining up with the number of rooms in the hotel. For the database geeks in the audience, “eventual consistency” is not the best property in a hotel booking system.
Our first stop today was ShopBot Tools’ factory & headquarters. Factory tours are always amazing, and ShopBot’s was no exception. The company makes a range of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. We did some prototyping with a ShopBot at TechShop in San Francisco and ended up finding it so useful that we bought their ‘Desktop’ model for the corporate garage/workshop–we’ve done some of our enclosure and keycap prototyping with it.
You’ve no doubt heard of 3D printing; it seems like every week somebody or other claims that 3D printing will change the world or completely replace mass-produced products. Indeed, it’s a super-useful way to go from a CAD model to an actual object you can feel and touch. The problem with most 3D printers is when you’re making something where material properties matter. The way that most 3D printers work is by laying down material in layers. The resultant object is often vulnerable to splitting apart at layer boundaries. (It’s sort of like if you tried to make a block of cheese by building up layers of Cheez-Whiz®)
Where this sort of thing really impacts Keyboardio is in the keycaps. 3D printed keycaps have a tendency to snap in half after just a few minutes or hours of typing.
The way CNC works is that you have a spinning bit, sort of like a Dremel tool attached to a robot arm. CNC technology is awesome because, while you can’t make all the crazy shapes as with 3D printing, you can still turn your CAD model into a physical object… and that physical object is made out of real materials. An object CNC-milled out of a block of plastic is more similar to what a production plastic piece would be than a 3D-printed piece of plastic. And of course, while you can 3D print a plastic that’s sort-of “wood”, it’s about as similar to wood as that Cheez Whiz® is to a nice block of Cheddar.
ShopBot is particularly cool because they do the electronics, housing, assembly, and shipping all in North Carolina. They actually use ShopBot machines to make many of the parts for new ShopBot machines.
Full disclosure: We had to pay full retail for our ShopBot Desktop machine, but when we stopped at their HQ they gave us some cool bumper stickers gratis.
AU is a very slick multi-story co-working and innovation space in downtown Durham. We actually held two mini-meetups here: the first for people working in the space, and the second for other Keyboardio fans. At the afternoon meetup we ended up chatting about the mechanics of preparing for and launching a Kickstarter campaign. As a note – we love to talk about keyboards and the Model 01 in general, but the meetups are not a sales pitch. We’re thrilled to answer questions about starting a hardware company, the hardware incubator we were in, open source hardware, running a business with your spouse, or really anything else.
At the evening meetup we saw a handful of people, including our friend Steven (nuclearsandwich on GeekHack). We spent some time talking about the software packages we’re using, including KiCad for electrical design and Fusion360 for much of our mechanical design. Autodesk, who makes Fusion360, did a little video about us:
KiCad is open source and Fusion360 is subscription software but is free for students, hobbyists and startups (including for Keyboardio).
AU also has a Mario castle with a multistory slide.
Saturday afternoon, we're in Louisville at LVL1. We’re expecting a nice, intimate gathering: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/meet-the-keyboardio-model-01-louisville-tickets-17315360710
Miles driven today: 451
What we’re listening to on the drive: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, who’s also from Oakland, CA. It’s pretty good! It’s a witty non-fiction book about the sometimes bizarre history of human space flight.
Roadshow mileage to date: 961
Current Kickstarter total: $289,162