Shipped

As of last week, all of our Kickstarter rewards (minus the few who never gave us their addresses :/) have been shipped! And we have production units in stock and ready to ship to new customers now.

Thanks to all the friends who helped with this - and to our backers and early customers for sticking with us through the process!

Now, we're focusing all our efforts on planning for Fall 2015 fund drives. If you work at a station and are looking for a premium that's *way* more memorable than a tote bag, get in touch :)

Plan

As we near our assembled radio ship date (May!), we've spent a bunch of time planning our procedures in order to be as efficient as possible. Today we made some great progress setting up our tuning setup & barcode scanner. We also hand assembled 15 radios by and timed each step in order to find the week points in our process.

At the end of the day, we had 15 radios ready to ship out to a pre-Kickstarter customer. It felt great getting these out, and we're almost ready to start processing the Kickstarter rewards!

Dev boards

Over the past month, we've been hustling *hard* to re-engineer The Public Radio's circuit design. We knew we needed to do this in order to transition to a digitally tuned FM IC, and budgeted enough time to go through two or three final prototyping rounds. The first round was the hardest - we wanted to be making as few changes as possible on the second, so balancing speed and accuracy this past few weeks has been a real challenge.

But it's coming together well, and we received our first development PCBs the other day. Our production partner did all of the SMT components, and Zach added the thru-hole parts on Thursday.

We already found a few minor errors - two of our part footprints were a bit off - but they're all easily fixable and not an issue for working on the development boards. 

Over the next week we'll be putting these through the ringer, and making any small changes we need to make the circuit fully optimized. Then we'll shrink the board back down to production size and will get one more prototype run built before placing our final orders.

More updates soon!

DFMing

A lot has happened since our Kickstarter campaign closed. We shipped our smaller rewards (design files & PCBs) on time, and are on track to ship all of The Public Radios on time as well. A lot has been happening on the engineering side, and we wanted to give a quick update.

Because of the number of units we're making, we knew we needed to make some design changes in order to reduce assembly time. On the electrical side, we've totally rebuilt our circuit and added a few big features, including a digitally tuned FM IC (the Si4702) and an ATtiny25 microprocessor. Going this route will make it significantly easier to tune your radios, which (surprise, surprise) go to a *lot* of different frequencies. As always, the full source code is open & available on our GitHub repository, here.

On the hardware side, we've put a lot of time into the nitty-gritty of how these will be assembled. We've re-thought a few details of our the design, which is now a bit cleaner looking *and* should be much easier to put together. Which is *really* important for when we need to train people to help us.

Zach also spent some time digging through all of your station IDs and frequencies, and is working on an algorithm that'll help us error-check to make sure nobody gets a radio tuned to the wrong frequency. The result is pretty interesting - check out his initial analysis here.

We've also been going through a *ton* of procurement and planning for our smaller parts. In the next few weeks we'll have finalized purchase orders out for our custom knobs and speakers, with more parts coming soon.

So: It's going well. If you know anyone who wants to pre-order a Public Radio but missed the Kickstarter, tell them to head to our store!

More news soon!

So many things

*So* much is going on right now. Two quick updates:

Transparency.

In the interest of being transparent & (hopefully) contributing back to the community, I wrote a long post on Medium about the economics of electronics & Kickstarter. CNET says that "It should be required reading for anyone who aspires to launching a new crowdfunding project." Check it out!

Wholesale program.

We're working on a wholesale program, and are actively talking to radio stations and retailers about how it'll work. We're still in the early phases, but please get in touch if you're interested in giving The Public Radio out for your next fund drive. It's *so* much better than a tote bag :)

Recent hardware changes

The Public Radio has moved a little slowly over the past few months. Zach has been busy, and I've got too much on my plate, and scheduling has been tricky. But we *have* made progress, and I'm here to tell you about it.

After the last hardware round, we spent an hour and developed a feature wishlist. It included:

  • No vias under battery clips
  • Larger thru hole pads & holes
  • Reverse polarity protection on the battery line
  • Schematic file is legible
  • Values on all parts are accurate
  • Redraw FM IC package to reflect accurate dimensions
  • Smaller lid ground wire hole
  • Speaker wires don't cross
  • Orient all SMT parts in the same direction
  • Reorient ESD
  • Add serial number & tuning frequency markings
  • BOM shows manufacturer part number only

All of these (plus a few more technical ones - see our GitHub repository for the current designs) have been completed. A few stragglers have yet to be implemented:

  • Boards have white solder mask & black legend
  • Schematic is 100% consistent with BOM

I like the way the new design looks. Eagle is *not* my favorite piece of design software, but board layout is fun - and I'm really proud of our current design.

On Sunday evening, we ordered a batch of 10 of these from Advanced Circuits. Advanced is expensive, but they turn the parts around quickly; ours should ship today. Meanwhile, our custom antennas departed (two or three weeks late, but whatever) Hong Kong yesterday. With any luck, the antennas will show up within a day or two of the boards - giving us time to assemble a few PCBs and then quickly put the radios into service. 

In the meantime, Zach hacked an awesome way to tune the radios using an Arduino. It should save us a lot of time, and will be *key* when we're shipping these things across the country.

So. Movement. Happening. 

Finding that station, the old fashion way..kinda.

Okay, I'll let you in on a secret... The Public Radio is a mechanically tuned device. Sssshhhhhhhh.

For a number of reasons, cost and ease of build/debugging being most important, the Public Radio went from a fully digital device with a small amount of firmware, to a digital IC that requires mechanical (read using a screw driver) tuning. It's not a huge pain, but there's an important catch in producing this device, which the main selling point remember, is that it's pre-tuned: you have to be able to always measure it's tuning frequency. Typically this is easy, you just tune it and verify by listening that you're on the right station. However, it get's a little trickier when the station doesn't exist locally, because you have no reference as to which station your listening, or not listening, to. 

Our improvised tuning rig.

There are FM transmitters, like the kind we used to use in the early iPod days that broadcast on an open frequency band over the car's radio and these are helpful to have though they can be problematic in a major city like NYC where there are a lot of FM stations and not a lot of space on the air. So, what to do when you need to tune your Public Radio and there's no UI on the device, or simply a reference station to listen to.   

Unfortunately, the FM IC we're using doesn't offer up any tuning information in the form of a station id that it can send to a microcontroller, to confirm the station it thinks it's tuned to. So this afternoon, in anticipation for our REV 3 boards showing up later this week, I put together a quick tuning calibration sketch with an Arduino - mapping the radio's varying voltages on its tune pins, to FM stations. It seems pretty accurate, and precise to within 20Khz, which is a good start.

You can find all the source code (which is open!) on GitHub, here.

-Zach