Feetz founders Lucy and Nigel Beard and their 3D-printed shoes were the focus of my June 5, 2014 Pulse Technology column. There was so much good material from the interview that I’ve gathered some of it in blog posts, edited for clarity and sometimes rearranged to group related topics together.
This is Part 2
What is the gigabit Internet good for in your business? Why do you need that?
Nigel Beard: We’re largely software based. We need to take several photos, if not a video, of your foot so that we can generate this 3D model. That, in itself, generates a file—it could be a couple of gigabytes depending on the megapixels of your camera.
For us to be able to move backwards and forwards and iterate in that, we need to send files to the cloud. We need to manipulate them in the cloud and then be able to force that back out to some sort of mobile device. Gigabit Ethernet removes any kind of waiting, having to split your files, worry about upload times download times. It removes any thought in your mind “Do I have to worry about file size?” Having removed that, that means you can purely focus on algorithms. Algorithms that are now focused on the quality of the stitching, how the output of the mesh [the digital shoe] comes out that we can send to the printer.
So it’s really like taking away something where… You know we’ve been around many different parts of the country where it’s been difficult doing just downloads of photos and upload of photos, depending on the bandwidth. Here now it’s just second nature to us to not even have to worry about that or plan for that in any of the experiments we do. It’s just removed. So that means you iterate and move faster though the processes that you need to get done so you can get a viable product much more quickly.
Lucy Beard: It comes down to allowing a business to move faster.
Question: If you have a customer somewhere who doesn’t have gig speed Internet, how does that end of the equation factor into what you just said?
Nigel: What we can now do is optimize without worrying about bandwidth. And that means we can focus on the algorithms to make them more effective and more efficient. So we make our algorithms efficient without having to worry about any lag times. Then when we start fine tuning it and sending it across, we know that our algorithms are efficient. We’ve removed any negative computations we might have in the code. It allows us to separate bandwidth issues or camera issues and then solve for those in the beta testing. So if we get an error coming back from a certain individual, we know it’s not our code due to bandwidth.
Lucy: Also, you mentioned if the user doesn’t have the gigabit network. We’re doing all the heavy lifting — the algorithms, the processing, the video hosting — within the gigabit network. Then what’s passed back to the user is a visual representation that is a lot lower resolution. It’s a lot smaller. So you allowed for the fact that not everyone has a gigabit network.
Question: So you’re assuming all your processing will have some kind of gig speed connection?
Lucy: Oh yeah.
Question: Is that based on an assumption of future gig rollout?
Nigel: I don’t even want to call it a pilot [in Chattanooga], because it’s so far beyond a pilot right now. It is a functioning gigabit connected city where companies, individuals don’t have to worry about bandwidth. We’re setting up our first manufacturing pod in [Chattanooga]. So that we have the ability to showcase the technology. It’s purely all about the technology. As these gigabit cities pop up all over the country, that helps us in terms of where we want to place our next pod. It fully functions in that environment.
Question: Does that imply your first operation will be in Chattanooga of necessity?
Lucy: Yes, that’s why we’re here at gig tank. We’re not just doing all this conceptually. We’re saying find a space. We’re actively working with our mentors and hopefully the Chamber of Commerce and others. We’re being introduced to folks. It’s all subject to funding. Everything costs money. But that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here. You wooed us from the west coast.
Question: San Diego?
Lucy: San Diego and San Francisco, both cities. So we’re very used to the software industry, fast moving high tech companies. No clue whatsoever about manufacturing and goods. And that’s where we found the maker community and now we’re moving it into the manufacturing community.
We started by going to a maker space. It’s called Fab Lab in San Diego. Just walked inside and said, “I have this crazy idea.” And they said, “Welcome to the place of crazy ideas.” They sat us down and said here you go. We got access to CNC mills, 3D printers, laser cutters and just people that knew what hose terms were, because we came from a software background and had no idea what those things were. From there, I joined a pre-business accelerator program called the Founders Institute. Fantastic, because it taught us what’s a business plan, what’s a brand, what are just various things you can do to go and talk to customers.
Question: That was in San Diego?
Lucy: That was in San Diego. It’s an international brand. Their goal is to globalize Silicon Valley. So similar to what Gig Tank is doing for earlier stage companies—just help you get resources to really formulate what you’re doing, and do it weekly with intense effort and focus but also a support network to help you know you’re not alone.
We did that before here. We just had some great opportunities by pushing ourselves out there. We were at New York fashion week. We’ve been featured in a lot of different press, suddenly it’s been getting bigger and bigger. We’ve been to the Maker Faire booth in San Diego and now in the Bay Area last week. And now we’re here. We’re saying, “Okay, we’ve got all this validation of the market and customers and some early prototypes. Now its time to actually commercialize and start launching this.”
Question: It seems like when people talk about the maker community, it’s usually not as “pre-manufacturing.” It’s fascinating to me that’s the connection between your idea and manufacturing. I usually think of killer robots.
Lucy: Someone was making solar-powered ovens from some foil or something, and she sat there and cooked a chicken. I was, “That’s crazy!”
Nigel: We had a kung fu robot that we walked into that ended up on the news. A guy making a self-watering plant pot that monitored the water level.
Lucy: One guy put his drone on Kickstarter for $30,000 and he got over a million dollars. We got to see all of this and be around it. Every weekend it was open to the public. During the week he keeps it low key, just the true makers are in there tinkering away. Anything and everything came through on the weekends: teachers, home school students, classes.
Nigel: There were classes in electronics, 3D printing, Arduino. [Arduino is an ‘open-source electronics prototyping platform,” essentially a small microcontroller that makes it not just possible but easy for amateurs to build electronic devices that interact with their environment. Like a thermostat. Or a robot.] It’s surprising the amount of people you see who want to learn. We go to these Maker Faires [and it’s] not really about showcasing the company. It’s about showcasing the technology that you’ve been able to embrace and how you’ve embrace it, to inspire the next generation of makers. It’s really quite awesome to see these kids come through and know they will not know a life without a 3D printer, without an Arduino board. When I think back to my childhood and just Legos, I’m like “Wow!” I cannot imagine 10 years from now what some of these kids are going to be building. I just hope they’re working for Feetz.