R & D The Recap Episode


How did this all come to be? Robot In A Can has been registered as a company since March 2018, but the idea started before then. I am a little late in starting this blog so why not have a recap time-line of the research and development process... 


  • The year is 2014, June... The idea: to make an electronics kit that could be used to teach maker skills and build many Do It Yourself projects using a single circuit board. It started as a prototype made using electronic parts scavenged from a dumpster on campus! No pictures of the first prototype remain it has been lost forever... (but will live on in our hearts?)
News from the initial launch of the idea (Circa May 2014):


  • The original board evolved into the partially scavenged orange board, for all intents and purposes this is the real first prototype and it still exists (orange board pictured above)
  • Then came two milled aluminum boards. They are the very first milled circuit board prototypes which I helped design. This was a sweet breakout system for the Raspberry Pi computer I developed with the help of a few electrical engineers for the University Of Guelph (both aluminum boards are pictured above).


    • 2015 - Our first client! 55 units are made for the University of Guelph. They were green Printed Circuit Boards. Then I made 100 in black, with white silkscreen (Pictured above). My very first experience printing circuit boards!! I manufactured them entirely in Canada and it was very pricey ($130/unit at cost) generally markup should be %50 at least meaning it should have retailed for $260... not really well suited for hobbyists because of the price. However, it was made using only very high-quality components. Over time I realized that it was a hassle to use the Raspberry Pi during my short presentations (requiring a screen, keyboards, mice, power cables, HDMI cables ...etc) and in addition to the price of the board it became costly. This version didn't quite fit the bill just yet. The kit is still sweet though and I still have a few! (Available at a serious discount ;) ) This design ended up not being viable as a product, spent money and time and gained some experience! 



    Back To The Drawing Board - The Next Generation

    Reinventing using what I had learned so far involved starting again. Talking to teachers, selling, designing, and manufacturing. Now it was time to learn how to make my own circuit boards, to turn this into the product I needed. Then test them with customers and get feedback along the way...



    • There where then a few in-between prototypes (one of the experimental versions pictured above) including a Bluetooth version that ran using a NodeJS platform called JohnnyFive (*Johnny Five was the name of the robot from the movie short circuit, a true classic if you haven't seen it*). It was here in the research and development that things went wireless and eventually towards WiFi. I wanted to harness the power of the internet of things for our users, and allow them to use their own tablet/desktop/laptop/smartphone to program the kits. So the next generation of circuits was made. This time I made the boards by hand in small batches to test each version and really focus on what factors could make a product like this viable...



    • The EveLab 1.1 This version had a detachable WiFi microcontroller called the Brain. The Brain could connect to various lab modules. The LabKit had lots of onboard features. Including a joystick, RGB LED, Buzzer, Light sensor, Temperature sensor, potentiometer, and a 12 input capacitive touch sensor (To make a full octave banana piano and other projects). This was the true beginning of my prototyping and designing circuit boards from scratch. It also integrated a full breadboard and Arduino. However, in the end, using a design like this would mean that the customer would have to buy several kits and this could make it inaccessible to certain audiences. So I kept going.



    • Above is a very cool version of the board! I made about 50 or so in total. It is almost identical to the previous version except it has the micro-controller built directly into the board to make it truly an all-in-one system. Having an Arduino nano that communicated with the ESP through Tx and Rx bottled-necked the speed of the communications. I was only able to get about 11 messages per second. This meant that using the kit as a game controller would be slow and problematic. Also having two microcontrollers on the board made this version slightly more costly.



          • Summer 2016, The Evelab 1.3  - this board is the most similar to the current Robot In A Can. Got rid of the Arduino and kept only the WiFi micro-controller. Changed the firmware with the help of Mr.Ben Pirt. Got it to pass 250 messages back and forth per second. Made it all fit into a can. We did over 150 hours of user testing with around 200 people using this board in just 3 short months. Picking up the momentum! The cost of the board was also now around sitting between $5 - $25 to manufacture (a great improvement). This was starting to look like the product I had been imagining... 
          • After 7 years away, finishing university and starting a company, I move back to Montreal and take a break.
          • March 2017 - While taking a break, I order a 450lb laser cutter! Pick it up from the train yard. Then carry it up four flights of stairs into my apartment (with help from very awesome friends).

          • January 2018 - New year, new kit, new lab. The EveLab 1.4 - Come back from holiday to find the laser cutter water cooler had frozen and broke the glass laser tube... very sad, but doesn't stop us! This kit was made by hand for the first batch, then it became the first kit design to be manufactured and assembled in China! Finally getting ready to make it commercially viable and available for sale. Made it smaller. Kept all the functionality of the previous 1.3 Kit. Now time for fine-tuning...


          evebrain 1.5


          • The Evebrain 1.5. - Open a new company! First Alpha kit of its lineage to be sold online. Arrived last week, shipping now! Over 100 were reserved before the order even arrived. (Thank you all! Feels great) Only a small batch of 100 - 350 will be shipped as we gather data to make more awesome kits, and work hard to put together the instruction manual and short videos!

          There were lots of other milestones that happened in the past 4 years to bring the product to this point. Failures, successes, reevaluations, sales, efficient moments, inefficient moments, pushes, breaks, jobs, conferences, meetings with great people, even meetings with not-so-great people, moving cities, breaking equipment, and more! I can't recount all of it here but maybe I'll tell some stories...

          "The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing" -Issac Azimov


           Stay tuned. Maur to come in the next episode!