Creative engineering to build the right product.

Mindtribe is an engineering consultancy. We play a strategic role to create products that customers love and that drive business success.

Recent Blog Posts

Prototype to Product: The Important Details of Launching Good Hardware
by Andrew Dupree

About a year ago, a couple of friends and I toyed with the idea of doing a hardware startup. We had a decent idea (I think) and a good deal of hardware prototyping experience. The three of us figured we could make a go of it. We put together an Arduino-based prototype, got some user feedback, applied to a few incubators… and that was about it. At the end of the day my friends had interesting PhDs to get back to, and I had just accepted a job offer from a great company called Mindtribe. So we shelved the startup dream.

The question remains – could we have launched a good product? Ultimately, we’ll never know. But after working at Mindtribe for a few months, I can say that there are roughly 873 important facets of making a real product that I had never considered as a fledgling hardware hacker.

 » Read more about: Prototype to Product: The Important Details of Launching Good Hardware  »

Thoughts on Apple’s WatchKit
by Greg Muscolino

Apple announced WatchKit last week, and with it has come a torrent of information about the Apple Watch platform. I’ve been poring over the documentation and playing with the Xcode 6.2 and iOS 8.2 betas ever since, learning as much as I can. It’s especially important for us at Mindtribe to be mindful of how new technologies impact our capabilities and the kinds of products that we and our clients can create for users. It’s with that mindset that I’ve been considering WatchKit, and have come to a few conclusions:

  • Apple Watch is going to be heavily dependent on apps adopting modern iOS8 technologies. If you as an app maker aren’t supporting them yet, you should probably start now.
  • The WatchKit APIs are representative of how resource constrained the Apple Watch will be. It’s important to understand what the WatchKit technologies are,

 » Read more about: Thoughts on Apple’s WatchKit  »

When Engineers Hack
by Brian Cherbak

I hear the word “hack” a lot these days. The concept of “life hacks” has gone so out of control that people are opening beer bottles with bananas—crazy!

IDEO Labs engineer Mark Harrison wrote an article last spring about his four all-time favorite workarounds, and we loved reading it here at Mindtribe. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the article was his use of the word “workarounds”. Why didn’t he call them hacks? Why didn’t he just call them “clever engineering solutions”? It’s got me thinking about the work we do as engineers: is engineering just hacking? Is hacking a subset of engineering?

Recently I needed a digital force gauge – basically a fishing scale with a way to read and record weight on my computer. Sami preliminarily ordered this digital force meter on Amazon because it was pretty cheap compared to the other ones and claimed to have an RS232 interface that “can store and input data to computer for statistical analysis.” Two days later we were digging into the user manual,

 » Read more about: When Engineers Hack  »

The Landscape of Manufacturing Options
by Sam Kang

When working with Mindtribe, clients frequently ask us how to handle manufacturing for their products. Mindtribe does not own or operate any factories, so we partner with manufacturers to physically build the products we design. Manufacturing is its own specialty with a significant body of knowledge surrounding it, so one blog post cannot do justice to all the options available. However, we have done a substantial amount of work on connected devices and consumer electronics, and within that industry the landscape of manufacturers is described in some common ways. The goal of this post is to orient you to that landscape as a first step in determining a manufacturing strategy.

The alphabet soup of players

There are broadly four types of companies that we work with to manufacture a product:

CMs (contract manufacturers): Contract manufacturers are in the business of manufacturing products for other people.

 » Read more about: The Landscape of Manufacturing Options  »

Preparation for an Uncertain Future
by Mark Shughart

As a company, Mindtribe strives to work on a large number of interesting projects. Structurally, many of these projects require similar paths, which is where our methods help to drive success. Technically, our engineers need to have a wide technical base to be able to support the creativity of our clients. This drive for a diversity of technical understanding leads us to spend our time between projects exploring the unfamiliar areas of our fields so that we are able to offer the best solutions to our customers’ problems.

Beyond Michelle’s wonderful post on the varied aspects of 3D printing, other members of the team have also prepared themselves for the future by experimenting with unfamiliar technologies. As sensors become smaller and computation requires less power, devices will become more and more reliant on wireless communication. Many devices today use a Bluetooth connection to allow the computational and communication capabilities of our phones to unlock the power of the sensors.

 » Read more about: Preparation for an Uncertain Future  »

Quick and Small Exponential Scaling on the MSP430
by Timothy Van Ruitenbeek

For a recent project, I wanted to build a variable-brightness LED lamp, using an MSP430 to convert the linear slide potentiometer input into a PWM signal to drive the LED. Unfortunately, directly scaling the 10-bit ADC value to a 16-bit PWM duty cycle does not result in a linear apparent brightness response due to the eye’s (approximately) logarithmic response.

There are several ways to accomplish this conversion in an embedded system, with different trade-offs:

  • Use floating point math and powf() from math.h
  • Use a 1024-element lookup table of pre-computed values
  • Use a smaller lookup table with interpolation
  • Use an approximation that trades accuracy for speed & size

Implementation of approximation algorithm

I decided to try the last option and use the fact that 2^n is equivalent to 1 << n, since bit-shifts are much quicker than multiplication and division.

 » Read more about: Quick and Small Exponential Scaling on the MSP430  »

Why Ink Is the Best Stylus Out There
by Michelle Warner

Ok, so, not going to lie, I’m a little biased on this topic. I’m one of the engineers at Mindtribe who has poured a little bit of my heart and soul into Adobe’s new Ink and Slide. But biases aside, working on this project has given me a lot of experience working with the hardware and the chance to evaluate it for myself. Although I would not consider myself an artist, I do enjoy the occasional doodle, and while working on quality assurance and testing standards for Ink, I evaluated stylus performance by actually doing some drawing. From this experience I’ve gathered my top 5 reasons why Ink is the best stylus out there.

Pressure Sensitivity Really Makes a Difference

One of the most common criticisms I’ve heard about tablet styluses in general is that the experience simply doesn’t compare to working with a pencil and paper.

 » Read more about: Why Ink Is the Best Stylus Out There  »

Energy Harvesting: A Snapshot in Time
by Elisa Duggan

It is important for Mindtribe to keep up-to-date on the maturity of technologies. For electronics, one field that is seeing a lot of innovation is energy harvesting. While some options require high NRE’s, there are several products that are readily available for prototyping.

Solar is the most common but requires custom or at least customized panels and large volumes. So we see things like Citizen watches with solar recharging. We’re likely to see more of this as photovoltaic innovations make it possible to harvest energy from even overcast days and indoor lighting. Developing a relationship with a specific supplier will allow you to obtain a very targeted product.

Most other harvesting options are a bit further afield in terms of implementation. Thermoelectric Peltier devices are used to cool wine fridges and CPU’s, but we are starting to see them appear in other products as energy harvesters.

 » Read more about: Energy Harvesting: A Snapshot in Time  »

YouTube’s Guide to 3D Printing
by Michelle Warner

Here at Mindtribe we love our 3D printer! But to keep it functioning we have to be a bit conservative with it. We print in plastic and mostly for client prototypes, with the occasional personal project thrown in. As 3D printer technologies evolve and grow, the application space is also growing, so I wanted to spend a little time trying to find the craziest (crazy useful or just plain crazy) applications I could. Naturally, I turned to what I consider to be the best source for all things crazy: YouTube.

3D Printing Gets Sweet

You’ve probably seen early 3D chocolate printers (if not, watch the first 5 seconds of this video and you’re pretty much caught up). I’ve always found these FDM-style chocolate printers to be a little disappointing. So I was skeptical when I first saw the Chef Jet,

 » Read more about: YouTube’s Guide to 3D Printing  »

You Have To Get Into It
by Brian Cherbak

What is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good –
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

I recently finished my first read of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Coincidently, I recently started my second read, because there’s certainly a level of comprehension that I missed the first time.

I’ve heard that not everyone who starts the book finishes it. One might say that it’s intellectually involved and requires a lot of careful reading. Many might say it’s boring. And everyone wants to know where the bits about motorcycle maintenance are after page 48.

Actually, I’ve heard Pirsig’s Chautauquas (anecdotal, philosophical life lessons) regarding the maintenance of a motorcycle for years. My dad, who’s never read the book, and who’s been working on machines since he was six,

 » Read more about: You Have To Get Into It  »

How to Make a Tapered Triangular Twisted Tube
by Chet Lim

When we were approached by Adobe to consider the feasibility of making the Ink stylus, one of the biggest risks was manufacturability of the metal housing. It is a unique tapered-triangular-twisted-tube (try saying that five times fast).

After a brainstorming session with the larger project team, several technologies were identified and investigated:

  • Reverse impact extrusion then twist

Issues: Not able to control the uniformity of twist

  • Extrusion then twist

Issues: Not able to have taper, not able to control the uniformity of twist

  • Twist extrusion (like rotini pasta)

Issues: Not able to have taper, vendor for aluminum twist extrusion not readily available

  • Hot gas forming / hydroforming

Most promising solution, able to support the complex shape

In short,

 » Read more about: How to Make a Tapered Triangular Twisted Tube  »

Ink and Slide: Design-led Engineering at its Best
by Steve Myers

If you’re familiar with product development, you know that products are typically designed by designers, then built by engineers. We call this specification-driven engineering: specify what you want, then build it.

Unfortunately this approach is extremely risky. If your vision isn’t exactly what users want, you’ve just wasted a bunch of time and money (perhaps all of it if you’re a start-up).

We worked closely with Adobe Experience Design (XD) using a different approach for Ink, Slide, and Line: design-led engineering. Here’s how we did it.

1. Starting with Adobe XD’s vision for users, we created a list of prioritized user needs before focusing on features.

We often think of products in terms of features and it’s easy to get fixated with them. Users care about pain points they have, not features. Features follow needs.

Once we had a list of needs the product would address,

 » Read more about: Ink and Slide: Design-led Engineering at its Best  »

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