1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey before Whatnick?
I am an Electronics Engineer by training. While completing my undergraduate degree I started working in the remote sensing and photogrammetry field. This brought me in contact with various space agencies including NASA, JAXA, DLR etc. and led me to research on space borne imaging radars. Most recently I worked on building 3D models of cities using Structure from Motion techniques at Aerometrex in Australia. You can see some of our work here : https://sample.aero3dpro.com.au/PHL_Cesium/App/index.html .
2. How did Whatnick start, what is your mission and what is/are your primary product(s)?
Whatnick started with my wife (who is a statistician) turning off appliances all around the house to verify a null hypothesis on energy usage. I really wanted to have my media centre and file server left on, so I proposed to build an energy monitoring device for her to capture usage in realtime so that things did not have to be turned off for a whole day to gather the data she wanted on our usage patterns.
Our mission is to create affordable, accurate and open design energy monitoring hardware.
3. Are Whatnick products available for sale? If so, what are your sales channels? How did you obtain them?
Whatnick products are proto-types designed for myself which I make widely available to the maker community. These are typically breadboard breakouts or shields which make utility grade energy monitoring IC’s accessible to the average experimenter. My current sales channel is via Tindie, I also have sold items in person at the local Makerfaire in Adelaide. I was introduced to Tindie while searching for IMU boards which Kris Weiner (onehorse) sells several off on Tindie.
4. When you think about the early stages of the design roadmap (ideation, concept, research, evaluation, design and prototyping) what was the most challenging part of the journey? What tools or information sources did you leverage to overcome the challenge?
Obtaining the tools and skills to make my own PCB’s was the hardest part during the initial part of my journey. I had not used ECAD packages since university and never had PCB’s manufactured. Availability of high quality tutorials on PCB design using Eagle got me going, very low cost PCB manufacturers like dirtypcbs.com encouraged me to take risk and send my half-baked creations off to the fab without major financial investment. I had constant support and encouragement from Adelaide Hackerspace to keep pursuing my autodidactic journey in small scale electronics manufacture.
5. Turning your idea into a viable business is a major challenge. From the later stages of the roadmap (funding, marketing, production, distribution and support) what element was or is the greatest obstacle? What resources if any did you use to get past the obstacle?
It was initially hard to justify to my wife the time the inordinate amount of time I was spending on my hobby, so I started selling extras of my prototypes to recoup some costs and fund the next iteration. Having access to a pre-built sales channel like Tindie let me focus on making rather than sales and marketing. However the sheer amount of labour needed to create low volume runs was getting to me as demand for designs ramped up. I did several talks to ATA and MakerFaire among others, during these talks I was encouraged to try crowdfunding a large batch assembly. This is what I am currently aiming to do via CrowdSupply.
I have sought accelerator investment in the local scene, often investors balk at the concept of a product which is aimed at a very specific audience (makers) , rather than the mass market. Open source nature of my hardware is also a sticking point, I often get asked whether there is any patentable component to my work. These aspects of my energy monitor however make it ideal for crowdfunding via Crowd Supply which has an audience specifically interested in such items.
6. What was the most exciting part of your journey so far?
The most exciting part of my journey so far has been meeting like minded people and the practical skills I have gained along the way. I often receive emails from people replicating my work in all parts of the world , from Korea to Qatar. I no longer look at electronics devices as having a set function, any thing can be hacked up to do something else.
7. What surprises did you not foresee along the way?
I did not anticipate the amount of interest my small experiments would generate from very different quarters. I also did not anticipate the depth of the field I was getting into. I was expecting to look at some time series, work out which appliance was the biggest energy hog and remember to switch it off.
After doing that there seem to be all sorts of other avenues to explore, from Recursive Neural Networks to analyse my energy usage time series and predict bills to building energy monitor hardware using very high frequency (4MSPS) ADC’s and FPGA’s to monitor harmonics and load health. I have worked on a thesis on radar and signal processing already, there seems to be enough material in my AC power lines for another PhD.
8. If there was one pearl of wisdom you could share with future maker professionals, what would it be?
Keep making till you make it.