Getting to "yes" in a world of "no"…

Big bucks not required!

I spent yesterday lunchtime fettling a ping pong ball – and I strongly recommend that other hardware startups do much the same!

OK, here’s what happened. I was doing some tests on a well-known Aptina image sensor (basically, I’d noticed that its analogue gain circuitry wasn’t quite as linear as its datasheet claimed, and hence wanted to build up a calibration table to correct for that non-linearity): and the way to do that was to create an diffuse, evenly-lit captured image. Hence I decided to take half a ping-pong ball (as per the ones psychologists use in Ganzfeld experiments) but placed over the lens rather than over the subject’s eye.

Having previously cut the ball in half with my Swiss Army knife for a similar hardware hack, all I had to do was to fettle down the half-ball’s rim so as to avoid any light leakage around the edge (because I was testing with a fisheye lens). All of which added to my puerile linguistic amusement: really, it’s not every day you get paid to fettle the rim off your balls. And yes, it worked really well: I even have a nice scatter graph in Excel to prove it.

And then to stress test the same sensor in low light conditions, I took a video camera neutral density lens filter that my co-worker Piers H had kindly brought in a few days before, and duct-taped it onto a clear lid to create a pretty good night-time simulator for the same fisheye lens. Two ultra-cheap hardware hacks in one day!

The more substantial point is that if you are in a hardware startup, and – as is often the case – find yourself needing to quickly hack together some kind of super-temporary test rig for some feature or other, what you typically need is a bit of cheap plastic in a certain shape, size and transparency. And where better to go to find odd-shaped bits of plastic than a Pound Shop? A quick wander round Poundland (or even shops like Wilkinsons if you find yourself really stuck) and you should find something for a pound or two that will do the job. Subtractive high-street hacking rocks!

Ultimately, why buy a 3d printer when you can buy in cheap imported plastic rubbish and fettle it down until it fits? For hardware startups, the strategic answer is clear – don’t move to a tech cluster, move to a neighbourhood full of pound shops. By that measure, it would seem that Redhill ought to be full of hardware startups, though I’ve yet to see any others… perhaps I’m just ahead of the curve, yet again. 🙂


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