If you don’t know Adafruit yet, let’s fix that immediately. They’re awesome. They offer people like wearable tech designers the supplies and instructions needed to hone their skills and build beautiful things—and they have a highly popular YouTube channel. (Not to mention: their founder was the first female engineer on the cover of WIRED magazine. Boom!) We talked with Becky Stern, Adafruit’s Director of Wearable Electronics, to learn more about the company.
Adafruit is a DIY kit company. We make useful electronic parts for building almost anything you can imagine, from LED prom dresses to smart home devices, and everywhere in between. Adafruit is an open source hardware company, which means we give away the recipes for building projects (including circuit diagrams, code libraries, and step-by-step photo/video tutorials). We make guides to inspire folks to create, while providing a framework to build upon and “level up” their maker skills. We manufacture electronics in downtown New York City, and ship to customers and distributors worldwide.
What was the inspiration behind starting Adafruit?
Limor “Ladyada” Fried founded Adafruit in 2005 to create the best place online to learn electronics, including the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels. She started making kits for things she wanted herself, like a portable phone charger that fit in a mint tin, then published the instructions for building it on her site. Since then Adafruit has grown to 100 employees and over 2800 products.
Tell us about your YouTube channel.
When I joined Adafruit in 2012, we started ramping up our frequency and variety of videos. Ladyada was already broadcasting the live “Ask an Engineer” show on UStream at the time, so we started simulcasting to YouTube. Then we added a wearable electronics project series and eventually a live show on the topic too, as well as project videos and a live show about 3D printing. We’ve grown to 20 million views and 140K subscribers, and continue to publish project how-tos, cool techniques for makers, live streams and more every week! We believe good information is good advertising, and so in that way our videos are also marketing tools. Our YouTube channel supports our awesome community of curious makers and dovetails nicely with our learning site and our customer support forums.
What are some of your favorite open source products you’ve released so far?
My favorite items in the Adafruit catalog are FLORA and GEMMA sewable microcontroller boards. They make it easy to get started in wearables and we even wrote a book, Getting Started with Adafruit FLORA, to help make it even easier. There’s a whole family of add-ons like GPS, bluetooth, sewable LEDs, sensors, and more. As the director of wearable electronics, I’m partial to the sewable boards, but I’m also really excited about our recent release of the Feather. The Feather is a tiny lightweight board built around the same Atmega32u4 microcontroller as the FLORA, but with on board lipoly battery recharging and options for bluetooth or wifi as well. The world of internet-connected products is expanding, so to give makers a playground to build their own, we created adafruit.io. It’s a cloud data service for pushing and pulling info to and from your DIY electronics projects so you can make app-controlled home lighting, auto-uploading motion activated surveillance cameras, gowns that display the weather, or keep track of which houses give out the best candy on Halloween.
What can we expect next from Adafruit?
Recently we’ve been seeing customers build more cosplay and wearables projects, as well as an influx of computer programmers to hardware with Raspberry Pi. It’s never been easier to start learning to build sophisticated electronics projects, using your imagination and some parts and tutorials from Adafruit. I’m looking forward to what this means for intrepid creators, as well as the consumer electronics market. The era of hyper-personalized technology is here, and while we still may be sorting through what all our data (from our fitness trackers, phone sensors, home and car tech, mass surveillance, etc.) can really be used for, increasing literacy in computer science and engineering is enabling a generation with the most technological and personal agency of all time. Adafruit will continue to supply bleeding-edge parts and quality tools for creating personal-area-network wearables, DIY cell phones, web connected cat feeders, and much, much more.
Learn more about Adafruit by checking out their website here and watching the video below. And hey–why not try building something yourself?
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