In the world of hardware, how do you take that product you dream of designing from a sketch to a marketable reality? “If you were trying to take, for example, a Raspberry Pi and solder a few sensors onto it, it’s not a fast process,” says Matrix Creator co-founder and CEO Rodolfo Saccoman. “It starts getting really expensive, and let’s say you create a cool little gadget and suddenly you want to go produce a thousand of those; for you to solder all those little sensors onto the Pi, and then create the firmware for it and the app for it, it can become nightmarish.” With that in mind, the Matrix Creator team aimed to make the process of developing hardware products easier and more affordable, and therefore also more broadly available to the global tech community. Says Saccoman: “We’re really trying to remove the barriers to entry that have historically limited hardware development to the big boys and big girls … Our tools democratize it, so that anyone can create hardware.”
As the Matrix Creator team brainstormed about how to achieve that vision, they realized that a number of their members were already Raspberry Pi aficionados, and the way that the Pi had helped to spread accessible computing around the world mirrored their goals for the future of Internet of Things hardware development. With the Matrix Creator, says platform architect Sean Canton, “If you can write a website you can create an IoT application … we’ve taken care of the infrastructure, so you don’t have to worry about writing all of the sensor data or dealing with thousands of devices, and you don’t have to worry about computer vision, how to take those pictures and turn them into data. We’ve taken care of that.” And for connectivity and communications it has ZigBee, Z-Wave, NFC, and Thread capability (among other features), making it particularly attractive for designers focused on home automation, explains Saccoman.
Co-founder and CTO Brian Sanchez speaks to the possibilities Matrix Creator opens up for its users: "We built the board so that people could build any type of application they wanted, whether they’re an experienced hardware engineer or a tinkerer, making something as simple as a sensor-driven application or as complex as a custom drone, or even a swarm of custom drones communicating through the platform. We’ve provided a lot of tech that allows you to be as flexible as you want with the hardware, in particular with the FPGA and the onboard MCU." Indeed, a quick check of their site shows their creation in use already in the development of drones, facial recognition tech, and voice controlled applications, among others. And the company's app store is a repository of software to help get newcomers started, one that will grow as the user base itself does.
Matrix Creator has already shipped its solution in over 70 countries, and is partnering with Farnell element14 for even wider distribution and more market presence, advancing its project of democratizing hardware development. And the team is always working to expand Matrix Creator’s capabilities: soon to arrive is their Matrix Voice, a sister board dedicated to voice recognition that has a seven microphone array, a powerful Xilinx FPGA, 64 Mbit SDRAM, and other features meant to make it a more developer-friendly and affordable option in a voice hardware space where major players like Google and Amazon force developers into their own services. In fact, tech site The Verge recently built a DIY Amazon Echo voice controlled digital assistant using the Matrix Voice:
There was a fair bit of luck involved in making the connection between Matrix Creator and Farnell element14, says Saccoman. “We were at the Maker Faire where we launched Matrix Creator in June 2016, and we had some Farnell folks stop by who were very excited about our project … and when we discovered that they were the main manufacturer and distributor of the Raspberry Pi we realized this could be a perfect partnership.” Adds element14's Hari Kalyanaraman: “The Matrix Creator enables rapid prototyping and development of IoT and AI applications using the Raspberry Pi. We are excited to bring the Creator to our developer and maker community.”
The Matrix Creator team sees parallels between the development and subsequent growth of the iPhone and its app ecosystem and their project. Says Saccoman: “In all of our ecosystem, in terms of either our OS or on the board level, we provide a lot of documentation, it’s all public, and we have a community of developers giving each other ideas and help … Because of [our OS and app store] we think there’s a lot of potential for the Matrix Creator to become more powerful over time.” For the team their creation both serves a community and is served by it; they designed the Matrix Creator and delivered it, but the community will be a huge part of helping it grow and adding to its capabilities.
And Matrix Creator’s future potential doesn’t originate exclusively with the team that developed it; as Canton explained: “I was at a Maker Faire and was approached by a teacher at one of the schools from the area who worked with autistic children, and she was saying that if they had a way to track what their facial expression was showing as an emotion it would really help them integrate … both in reading facial expressions correctly and making appropriate facial expressions in response themselves.” And there’s an open-source vision behind the whole Matrix Creator project, he adds: “We’re trying to build a counter to the closed ecosystems of some of the biggest players in tech, to break new ground and help people.”
To find out how Premier Farnell could support your start-up initiative, get in touch with us at: www.element14.com/startups