Techstars, as experienced by Employee 1

It’s been about six weeks since we returned to Phoenix after participating in Kansas City Techstars, meaning this post is pretty overdue. I’ve had decent time to reflect on my time in program and wanted to share three Techstars experiences that remain valuable as I continue working at Somatic Labs and in the start-up community.

Onboarding

Having officially joined the team just a few weeks prior to the start of Techstars, I arrived in Kansas City still learning the workflow of Somatic Labs. I was daunted by the prospect of immediately meeting with dozens of mentors per week. I hadn’t practiced the company’s elevator pitch, learned the team’s frequently-used phrases, or familiarized myself with widely referenced investors and VC firms. Yet I didn’t have time to feel as apprehensive as I usually would in a new environment because, true to form, the Techstars program accelerated beginning day two.

The Techstars schedule became my employee training and onboarding process. Attending mentor meetings allowed me to practice and improve my version of the company pitch. Through program workshops, I expanded my start-up vocabulary and learned more about how investors and VC firms operate. Daily debriefs within

our team clarified my technical questions about our platform’s design and allowed me to share my thoughts on product-market fit. My daily Google searches for relevant funding opportunities and potential partner organizations during Techstars outlined what my role encompasses now: writing applications for non-dilutive funding sources, demo-ing our technology to potential customers and partner organizations, and performing market validation. As employee 1 at an early-stage Techstars company, I had, and still do, the privilege and opportunity to outline my responsibilities based on the intersection of what I find interesting and what grows the business.

Cohort Culture

One of my favorite characteristics about the Kansas City Techstars cohort was the diversity in age and previous expertise among the ten participating companies. Though half of the teams were all male, the average age of our cohort was closer to 30. The company founders had previous experience in corporate operations, construction, education, investment banking, kinesiology, software development, law, and sustainable energy. Because I tend to think first of gender or race as indicators of diversity, I appreciated having the opportunity to learn from cohort friends who were at a different stage of life and in their career. Working alongside PhDs, self-made and successful entrepreneurs, and industry experts who didn’t snub or discount me for being a recent college grad made the start-up community feel more supportive and inviting than I had originally thought.

The Team

Figuring out how I could weave my personality, skills, and work style into the co-founders’ existing workflow was hurdle I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve known all three co-founders since 2013 when I started at Arizona State University. We met through the Flinn Scholars Program and became friends at different points in undergrad. Because I was already friends with Jake, Ajay, and Shantanu, adding the professional work dimension to each relationship was a bit of a weird adjustment. This transition wasn’t due to an unwelcoming environment (Jake, Ajay, and Shantanu are kind, friendly, and humorous), but rather because I was used to interacting with them in social settings, not an office space.

Techstars helped me quickly integrate into the team’s workflow and culture because participating in program was an experience the four of us shared. Even though I was the newest addition to Somatic Labs, we were all new to the accelerator lifestyle. All of us had to adjust to the co-working space, mentor meetings (i.e. mentor madness), and program schedule. The fast-paced days and newly adopted organizational habits allowed me to learn and grow with the guys and become a four-person team.

Additionally, the move to Kansas City itself was a bonding experience. Raised in Arizona for most of our lives, we were unaccustomed to Midwest weather and BBQ, and spent many weekends enjoying the outdoors and sampling KC’s many BBQ restaurants. Moreover, having a team to share ordinary life activities was a key component in becoming truly comfortable as identifying myself as part of Somatic Labs. Little things like shopping at the farmer’s market with Ajay, getting an afternoon iced coffee with Shantanu, or going to yoga classes with Jake made me feel more connected to the co-founders and better able to balance being both a friend and colleague.

Final Thoughts

The final observation I’d like to share from my Techstars experience is one that might have already been made but is still important to keep in mind. The start-up ecosystem is designed for growth, whether it be in revenue, market size, or skillset. Though it’s a competitive and high-risk environment, the time and effort are worth it as long as you perceive the knowledge and experience you gain as continually trending up and to the right.

 

Early Preview of Moment SDK

We have an exciting annoucement to make: we’ve just released an early preview of our SDK! If you’re a software developer and have been waiting to start developing for Moment, here’s your first look. We’re excited to see what you’ll make!

The SDK is still under development, and it’s likely to change in the coming months.

Introduction

This repository contains the Software Development Kit (SDK) for Moment, the wearable device that communicates entirely through your sense of touch.

For more information about Moment, visit wearmoment.com.

This SDK contains the code that is executed on the Moment devices inside of a custom JavaScript runtime environment. To simplify the process of creating custom embedded software for Moment, we provide several ready-to-use functions for creating event callbacks, transitioning the LED color, and creating rich haptic effects.

Repository

The repository for the SDK can be found at github.com/SomaticLabs/moment-sdk.

Documentation

You can browse the documentation at somaticlabs.github.io/moment-sdk.

Coming Soon…

We’re also working on a Moment IDE. Here’s a sneak peek:

Moment IDE Preview

Haptic Feedback in the Da Vinci Surgical System

The Da Vinci Surgical System is a robot built by Intuitive Surgical. After being approved for use by the FDA in 2000, it has been adopted by surgeons performing a wide range of minimally invasive procedures, including prostatectomies, cardiac valve repair, and gynecologic procedures. As of June 30, 2014, approximately 3,100 Da Vinci robots were installed worldwide, with each unit costing roughly $2 million. The primary innovation of the Da Vinci system is the surgeon’s console: an immersive visualization system that takes an ordinary laparoscopic image and projects it to a binocular display, enhancing the dexterity with which a surgeon can perform several procedures. For the patient, the Da Vinci system typically provides a reduced amount of pain and blood loss, frequently resulting in a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery period. Continue reading “Haptic Feedback in the Da Vinci Surgical System”

Sensory Synesthesia and Human Perception

Sensory synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimuli from one modality of sensory input leads to involuntary and automatic experiences in another sensory modality. There is some debate regarding the classification of synesthetic phenomenon, but several striking observations reveal that at least a small percentage of people experience a heightened interconnectedness between their different senses.

Kiki, Bouba, and Visual Perception

In 1929, the German-American scientist Wolfgang Kohler observed what is now known as the Bouba-Kiki effect [1]. In 2001, Vilyanur S. Ramachandran replicated Kohler’s experiment with college students in the United States and India, and found a large consensus between participants prompted to provide auditory names to visual objects [2]. The findings of Ramachandran and Kohler demonstrate that sensory information appears to carry a predictable and consistent scaffolding of associations and relationships to other modalities of stimuli. The participants’ visual perceptions of the shapes printed on the page were used to make judgments of the appropriate auditory sounds that ought to be associated with those shapes. VS Ramachandran and his colleague Edward Hubbard suggest that the evolution of language may not be entirely arbitrary—instead, the naming of objects in space may reflect a natural association of auditory stimuli with the visual, tactile, olfactory, and overall perception of the object’s nature. Sounds (and by extension, all sensory information) may automatically convey some degree of symbolic meaning in relation to experiences from other senses.

Auditory-Tactile Synesthesia

When viewed with an MRI, the brain activity of a patient with a localized lesion in the right ventrolateral nucleus of the thalamus revealed modifications to the individuals’ perception. “Initially, the patient was more likely to detect events on the contralesional side when a simultaneous ipsilesional event was presented within the same, but not different sensory modality.” Eventually, this transformed into a form of synesthesia “in which auditory stimuli produce tactile percepts.” This study revealed the likelihood that the experience of sensory synesthesia may be acquired after a brain injury [3].

Visual-Tactile Synesthesia

Mirror-touch synesthesia is a condition in which watching another person being touched activates a similar neural circuit to actual touch. When observing individuals who experience mirror-touch synesthesia with brain imaging, their empathic responses to the experiences of other people appears to be heightened [4]. This form of synesthesia also appears to augment an individual’s ability to recognize and interpret the facial expressions of an interaction partner [5]. Although a thorough empirical explanation for the phenomenon has not yet been developed, there are different potential theoretical explanations currently being investigated in more detail. The Threshold Theory explains it “in terms of hyper-activity within a mirror system for touch and/or pain,” and the Self-Other Theory explains it “in terms of disturbances in the ability to distinguish the self from others.” [6] The two theories carry different implications: the Threshold Theory implies a localized phenomenon impacting the mirror system, while the Self-Other theory implies a more general difference that may be reflected in other cognitive processes as well.

Enhanced Sensory Perception

Some scholars argue that artistic experimentation may be rooted in sensory synesthesia, by allowing an artist to describe a sensory experience using a wider range of detail [7]. Although scientists have developed methods of testing and profiling synesthetes [8], much of the theoretical framework used to understand cross-modal sensory perception remains speculative. Although VS Ramachandran mentions a possible relationship between synesthesia and enhanced sensory perception [9], it remains unclear exactly how this enhancement manifests itself in a person’s ability to perform different activities or pursue artistic endeavors. In a preliminary study exploring the perceptual processing abilities of synaesthetes [10], “there was a relationship between the modality of synaesthetic experience and the modality of sensory enhancement.” In other words, a synaesthete who experiences color triggered by other sensory modalities will also have enhanced color perception. A synaesthete who experiences tactile sensations will have enhanced tactile perception. Further research is required to understand exactly how these enhanced perceptual abilities manifest themselves in common tasks.

Artists with Senaesthesia

Wikipedia has a large list of notable individuals with synaesthesia. The list includes several famous artists:

  • Lorde
  • Billy Joel
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Kanye West
  • Hans Zimmer

Although anyone without synaesthesia can make art, the process of linking different sensory modalities appears to help some artists produce their most notable works.

References

[1] Köhler, W (1929). Gestalt Psychology. New York: Liveright.
[2] Ramachandran, V.S, & Hubbard, E.M. (2001). Synaesthesia — A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8(12), 3–34
[3] Ro, T., Farnè, A., Johnson, R. M., Wedeen, V., Chu, Z., Wang, Z. J., … & Beauchamp, M. S. (2007). Feeling sounds after a thalamic lesion. Annals of neurology, 62(5), 433-441.
[4] Banissy, M. J., & Ward, J. (2007). Mirror-touch synesthesia is linked with empathy. Nature neuroscience, 10(7), 815-816.
[5] Banissy, M. J., Garrido, L., Kusnir, F., Duchaine, B., Walsh, V., & Ward, J. (2011). Superior facial expression, but not identity recognition, in mirror-touch synesthesia. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(5), 1820-1824.
[6] Ward, J., & Banissy, M. J. (2015). Explaining mirror-touch synesthesia. Cognitive neuroscience, 6(2-3), 118-133.
[7] Van Campen, C. (1997). Synesthesia and artistic experimentation. Psyche, 3(6).
[8] Van Campen, C., & Froger, C. (2003). Personal profiles of color synesthesia: developing a testing method for artists and scientists. Leonardo, 36(4), 291-294.
[9] Ramachandran, V. S. (2003). The emerging mind: the Reith Lectures 2003 (p. 867). London: Profile.
[10] Banissy, M. J., Walsh, V., & Ward, J. (2009). Enhanced sensory perception in synaesthesia. Experimental brain research, 196(4), 565-571.

Getting Started with Haptic Feedback (Arduino Guide)

The DRV2605 breakout board from Adafruit.
The DRV2605 breakout board from Adafruit.

Adafruit provides a breakout board for the DRV2605 haptic driver from Texas Instruments. Although the example tutorial included with the product describes a quick way to set up the driver with an eccentric rotating mass (ERM) motor, we prefer using a linear resonant actuator (LRA) for increased precision and enhanced haptic feedback. You can use the breakout board with an Arduino Uno to quickly make a prototype of a system that delivers precise vibrotactile cues.

Materials & Supplies

Hardware

Software

Additional Resources

Creating Haptic Feedback

Step 1: Soldering

The DRV2605 breakout board attached to a LRA.
The DRV2605 breakout board attached to a LRA.

Solder the header strip onto the breakout board, and solder the LRA onto the breakout board. After this step, your DRV2605 breakout board should look like this:

Step 2: Wiring and Hookup

  • Connect VIN on the DRV2605 to the 5V supply of the Arduino
  • Connect GND on the DRV2605 to GND on the Arduino
  • Connect the SCL pin to the I2C clock SCL pin on your Arduino, which is labelled A5
  • Connect the SDA pin to the I2C data SDA pin on your Arduino, which is labelled A4
  • Connect the IN pin to an I/O pin, such as A3

Step 3: Testing and Creating Effects

Adafruit provides a very useful Arduino library for the DRV2605 that you can use to get started. In particular, we recommend looking through the example code to get an idea of the effects you can produce. In page 57 and 58 of the DRV2605 datasheet, you can find a table of all the effects you can produce “out of the box.”

Step 4: Creating Your Own Waveforms

Since you can also set the intensity of the LRA in realtime, you can design your own waveforms and effects by changing the value over time. Adafruit also provides an example for setting the value in realtime on Github. You can combine this example code with a waveform design tool like Macaron to customize the feedback provided by your new Arduino-powered haptic device!

Moment is Made in the USA

Printed circuit board being assembled.
We’re proud to be based in Phoenix, Arizona. Our main office is located at the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation, but we can’t contribute our part to the American economy by shipping jobs overseas. That’s why Moment is made in the USA.

We work with local companies whenever we can. For manufacturing and assembly, we work with Quiktek Assembly in Tempe, Arizona. For component sourcing, we work with Avnet, a leading electronics distributor headquartered in Phoenix. Many of our primary partners are within a quick 15-minute drive from our office, and we also are working to source all of our plastics and miscellaneous parts from local distributors.

Beyond keeping Americans employed, we can guarantee a few things almost every big brand (including the ones named after fruit) cannot:

  • we pay fair wages
  • we never employ underage workers
  • our facilities are powered by cleaner sources of energy
  • we recycle whenever possible
  • we meet all EPA regulations

Map of where we product our products.We produce and assemble our products in the United States, and we’re always looking for opportunities to bring jobs back here to the USA. It’s the only way we can ensure we deliver an honest, high-quality product that isn’t subsidized by environmental catastrophe and unfair practices. Continue reading “Moment is Made in the USA”

How We Filmed our Crowdfunding Video for Under $2,000

We’re a small startup, and we don’t have a large marketing budget. When we started working on our crowdfunding campaign, we took a look at a few of the most successful crowdfunded products:

We asked ourselves: what do they all have in common? They all had a video with excellent production value – a video that could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 or more depending on whether or not the actors were paid.

As a startup that’s bootstrapped and hasn’t raised a large round of investment, we needed to get creative. We used $2,000 of our savings to film a video that could have easily cost 10x as much. We recruited a bunch of our talented friends who are musicians, dancers, researchers, and body builders. Then, we filmed footage and edited until we reached our final iteration:

Continue reading “How We Filmed our Crowdfunding Video for Under $2,000”

Pre-Orders Start Today

The wait is over. We’ve finished the design, iterated on the hardware, and written thousands of lines of code. Now, we’re ready to start collecting pre-orders for Moment, the first device that communicates entirely through your sense of touch.
For the first 24 hours, backers will receive a special early bird price of $99 — you won’t be able to get this price anywhere else, ever again.

Spread the word.

Help us bring Moment to as many people as possible. Share Moment with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or elsewhere!

Tag us in your post, and we’ll send you free Somatic Labs swag.

3D Printing: Ready for mass market?

Shrek 3D Print

While revising the 3D design for Moment, I started off using a Makerbot Replicator at TechShop. These machines were the first to usher in an era of accessible consumer 3D printing. The bundled software is easy to use, and the printers generally work well. That said, with a $2,000 price tag, they aren’t truly accessible to the average consumer, and a TechShop membership can also be expensive if you don’t use it regularly. With affordable rapid-prototyping in mind, I began asking “Can you get started 3D printing for less?”.

Now, with the Monoprice MP Select Mini, you can. At an MSRP of $200, I decided to get one and try it out for myself. It doesn’t disappoint. It works with a wide range of filaments (ABS, PLA, XT Copolyester, PET, TPU, TPC, FPE, PVA, HIPS, Jelly, Foam, Felty), including a PLA-based wooden filament from Hatchbox. After 3D printing a few models of Shrek and some geometric Pokemon, I was impressed.

Pokemon 3D Print

The Good

  • absurdly cheap ($200)
  • heated print bed
  • compatible with many different filaments
  • solid exterior built of steel and aluminum (very few plastic parts)
  • full color LCD display on the printer
  • MicroSD card slot
  • works with Cura software from Ultimaker
  • possibly capable of connecting to wifi networks in a future firmware update
  • print bed leveled out of the box
  • active user community
  • 1-year limited warranty
  • extremely accurate Z-axis motor (possibly more than 100 micron resolution)

The Bad

  • limited print space (120x120x120 millimeters)
  • very minimal instructions – debugging can be hard
  • cheap built plate material (scratches easily)
  • imprecise temperature regulation
  • no enclosure or hood around prints
  • non-standard parts that require warranty replacement or buying a new printer

Conclusion

If you’re looking to get started with 3D printing, or want to try out different filament types inexpensively, buy this printer. Its price sets it apart from the competition. Any comparable printer is easily 3x the price, but the additional cost may also come with improved reliability—only time will tell whether the MP Select Mini is a durable product.

Our 10 Favorite Phoenix Coffee Shops for Productivity

Giant

Giant is our favorite place to work, as long as it isn’t too crowded – its clean interior has a variety of places to sit and work – bar stools, regular tables, benches, and cushioned seats. During the day, it’s often very quiet, but sometimes it can be crowded at peak hours.

Giant Coffee

Lux

Although it can be loud at times, Lux is a very large coffee shop with a lot of space. A single cup of drip coffee also buys you unlimited refills, so you can sit and work for several hours as long as you don’t mind a little bit of a crowd. For those looking to work into the hours of the evening (something startup founders may be a bit too familiar with), Lux also offers many local beers on tap, providing a lively evening work environment.

Lux at Central

Continue reading “Our 10 Favorite Phoenix Coffee Shops for Productivity”