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3 Lessons for Hardware Creators from a Desert Music Festival

More than 200 prototypes of the sophisticated full-body wearable Music: Not Impossible debuted at the 2018 Life is Beautiful festival

When a creator has a big idea, they often need a big partner to help them make it happen. Music: Not Impossible was no exception. Mick Ebeling and the team at Not Impossible Labs had a dream to revolutionize live music for an audience who had traditionally found it inaccessible: the deaf community. For years, they had a handful of functional prototypes, but needed more to realize their mission to “help one, help many.”

That’s where Avnet came in—and went big, too. Rather than the usual initial prototyping run of five or 10, Avnet Engineer Erich van Stralen, Not Impossible Labs’ Daniel Belquer and their teams collaborated to launch 220. These sophisticated “surround body” wearables allowed deaf and hearing concert-goers alike to experience music together, through sophisticated vibration patterns, for the first time at the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas.

Attendees described the experience as “magical,” “amazing” and “fantastic.” And so did the Avnet and Not Impossible Labs teams—but as is the case with any product launch that’s worth undertaking, we encountered our fair share of challenges on the way. We ended up creating one of the most complex wearables our experts have ever encountered in just 5 months.

Here are a few lessons that hardware creators can take away from our launch of a complicated consumer electronic at a major music festival in the desert.

Don’t limit yourself to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi

Most people know the feeling: you want to post a picture or send a text from a concert venue, but the network is jammed with every other concert-goer and their signals as well.

In talking with the Not Impossible team, the first thing Erich wanted to do is ensure that the new prototype could handle multiple users well, in close proximity—and that’s when the idea struck him: LoRa (or long range, low power) transmission.

“The major problem with the proof of concept was that it could not handle multiple simultaneous users very well,” Erich said. “So, we went to the LoRa communications platform so we could broadcast out one way to avoid the clutter of a return signal. That way we can host thousands of people and have no crosstalk.”

The LoRa wireless platform powers the five wearables (a vest, plus wrists and ankles) that make up the entire Music: Not Impossible product. It also connects the actuators in the wearables to the cloud for live communication—allowing songs to be translated to musical vibrations in real-time.

Know how to prioritize requirements to ship product

When the rubber meets the road, it’s often easy to want every feature you’ve dreamed about for your product in v 1.0. However, you also want to have a minimum viable product sooner rather than later for your VC funders, your crowdfunding backers or for your eager user base.

That’s where focusing in on designing for manufacturability and prioritizing requirements comes into play.

“Engineers are focused on meeting requirements, but they are also very creative,” Erich said. “One of our biggest challenges is making real time judgment calls to balance requirements against a tight schedule and delivering our best work while still meeting the next deadline.”

That’s why, even with a lean team, having a business analyst or project manager who will ensure your design and development team understands what’s at stake is crucial.

Accomplishing the “impossible” can take some help

When you decide to take on a new project, often it can feel like an impossible mountain to climb. That’s why partnerships can help smaller companies scale more quickly. It took Not Impossible Labs five years to go from idea to market—yet after they engaged with Avnet, the team moved from a handful of works-like, looks-like prototypes to hundreds in just five months, in time to launch at a premier three-day music festival.

“There are people that climb Mt. Everest—and then there are the Sherpas that guide them to the top of Mt. Everest,” Avnet CMO Kevin Sellers said. “You can’t just show up and say, ‘I’m going to climb this mountain.’ You need to have an expert at your side.”

The team at Not Impossible agrees.

“Avnet’s ongoing support has brought Not Impossible Labs’ work to the next level, whether through event and project sponsorships, or by rolling up its sleeves and facilitating product development, logistics and supply chain management,” said Mick Ebeling, founder & CEO of Not Impossible Labs.

To learn more about Music: Not Impossible and how Avnet brought the technology to life, check out more from the world premiere of the wearable during our private concert at Life is Beautiful.


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