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    Tuesday, December 9, 2008

    Discussion with Nick Farr, HacDC

    I was in the D.C. area in late November and couldn’t resist stopping in to meet the HacDC guys and see the space. The evening started with Nick Farr inviting me to a DorkBot presentation at George Washington University. Alden Hart, CTO of Ten Mile Square gave a great presentation about his LED projects. This was one of the most comprehensive technical presentations I’ve seen that encompassed everything from where to buy the parts, where to ship the PCBs for fabrication, to discussing details of the software and hardware designs. I'm thrilled he's going to release his hardware designs as open source.

    From there, we went to Froggy Bottom for sub-par pub food, but like most hacker group outings, the company was what was outstanding. Late—sometime around 11PM—we wrapped up the dinner and a group of us went to Nick Farr’s apartment (he has CASES of Club-Mate!) and then to HacDC. While we were there tapping into his Club-Mate stock (entire fridge full of it, too), out of his closet he pulled out a really old computer with an acoustic coupler. I’d never seen one that old because back in the 80s when we had 30+ phone lines going into our suburban D.C. house, we just had racks of slow modems, but none had couplers. He’d salvaged it for hacDC.

    On the ride over to HacDC, I was able to ask Nick specific questions about the organizational structure, management, and financing the space. Because I was driving, I wasn’t able to take specific notes as I was when I talked to Far of Hacktory, so don’t take this verbatim—especially the costs.

    I first asked Nick about the name. It includes “hac(k)” which, in my experience with some hacker spaces, is a turn-off for some participants. Maine’s hacker space is struggling with this, too. His response: if they don’t like hack, then they don’t really understand what we do here and this might not be the best organization for them to join. He said that “hack” in the name clearly separates the organization from other group work spaces, like co-working. However, he also said that some members solely have numbers assigned to them because of the need to remain anonymous because there are still some businesses that shun associations with anything related to hackers.

    The space was amazing! So far, this is the most complete hacker space I’ve seen. What’s also interesting is their location. A church has rented out space to non-profits and hacDC has a loft space. One side of the space is all shelving for storage and it’s packed. I saw some old payphones, an old PC being used as a ballast for a huge rotating white board, five Geiger counters (which I relished being able to play with), table saws, old modems, and tons of computers. Tables are in the middle of the room to be used for projects and Tim proudly told me, “We even have our own bathroom!” as he gingerly took some drinks out of the fridge.

    We discussed that they only have one fee structure which is about $40/month and have around 40 active members. For a large city and even larger technological suburbanite community, I understand how they can draw so many members. They have also started hacker-theme movie nights and will be offering educational classes. It seems as if they have weekly events which is very cool they can do that. I cannot wait to go back to hacDC during Shmoocon, the next time I’ll be in the D.C. area. That seems like an awesome place to be during the conference evenings. Love it, love it!

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    We Won Venture Capital Pitch Contest!

    The venture capital pitch competition was held last Thursday night at Pace University’s Business School in NYC. What a fun event! I started the pitch about something that most people like, fast cars and computers. I used Knight Rider as a theme for the pitch. I then briefly outlined the technical capabilities about what it can do now and what it will do with some VC money when the prototype is built-out. Slides with more technical info. were shown behind me as I described how the team did it and what we’d like to do with it in the future. During the Q&A, I addressed how much money we’re looking for ($30K just to build-out the prototype).

    The majority of the judges were VCs and one like it. I met with him the following evening along with the President of a car computer company that has related, but not similar, products. They liked the idea and said the market is huge, but didn’t like the reverse engineering and brute forcing the protocols that we’ve done. Although that has been a valid and legal business model in the past (Compaq did it to IBM), the VCs want it done with licenses and defensive patenting. We might be able to do it like that as long as we don’t lose the open source/free software platform. We’re talking.

    Monday, December 1, 2008

    Finalist for Pace University Venture Capital Pitch Contest

    We made it! OpenOtto is a finalist in a competition for venture capital financing of a new product. I'm off to NYC for the Thursday night presentation. I've been busy working on the presentation, but here is the winning pitch that got OpenOtto into the finals:

    "You don’t have to be David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider to have your car talk to you. OpenOtto is a platform for developing vehicle aware products for the consumer and industrial markets. While it will not ask you how you’re doing this evening, most people don’t realize how much information your car’s computer can tell you. OpenOtto consists of a hardware interface to your car's OBD II connector as well as an extensible software platform for communicating with all networked electronic devices in the car. Designed for flexibility and scalability, it is easily expandable to future vehicle capabilities.

    OpenOtto consists of two products targeted to different markets. The first is a car computer that acts as an interface between your car's computer and a 4" x 8" touch screen display that attaches to your dashboard. The interface shows easy to understand graphical output from your car's computer including, but not limited to, standard OBD II output: coolant temperature, engine speed, oxygen sensor readings, and emission related trouble codes. Advanced features include outputting suspension control, anti-lock/traction control, and air bag status.

    Additional safety and security features include a remote start and kill feature for anti-theft or convenience, display warnings to users when the transmission begins to fail, individual wheel speed indicating wheel slippage, and real-time engine performance monitoring.

    The second product is priced lower for the general consumer. It includes the ability to attach any cell phone with GPS to OpenOtto. Once attached, the car's computer will text message someone (e.g., a parent) if the car exceeds a certain speed and GPS coordinates will be texted, and call 911 if airbags deploy (no proprietary subscription necessary).

    Safety and security is important and built into the computer engineering designs. Some features will be access controlled and transmission of all sensitive data transmitted by OpenOtto will be encrypted using industry standard best practices to ensure safety, security, and privacy of the user.

    The software and hardware designs will be released as free and open source designs to encourage adoption and adaptation of the features.

    For consumers, a complete dashboard mounted display with computer will cost between $300-$500.00. The closest product currently on the market costs between $1000.-$5000.000 and does not include open software and hardware platforms, graphical dash board mounted displays, or customizable features. The low cost consumer device will target a retail cost of $100-$200.

    Try getting KITT for that price."