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Archive for March, 2015

Turning on a dime

Friday, March 6th, 2015

I don’t know why it happened but I use a lot of expressions in my speech. I think I learned them from my father and I think he picked them up from my grandfather or even my great-grandfather. This has caused some confusion over the years because people my own age don’t know what I’m talking about when I use these expressions which I do every day. So I have to educate them. The other difficulty is that they are American expressions. Anyone who didn’t grow up here stands an even smaller chance of understanding. Two of my personal favorites are “don’t take any wooden nickels” and “I have more problems than Carter has little white liver pills.” If you have any interest in knowing what those mean it should be easy to find on the web. I will spare you the explanation here.

Spending time in east Africa in the mid-eighties and living in a bush camp without electricity working for a British boss, much of my time after dark was spent reading with a flashlight. I read his books which were mostly written by British authors. So I started picking up British expressions and I can tell you that those are not well understood in California either. I’ve even met some British people who didn’t understand them.

But the title of this blog had to be “Turning on a Dime” because it perfectly describes what we just did in our engineering department in December and I can tell you it was a beautiful thing.

For the first half of 2014 we were working on developing a very,very lightweight GPS with remote download. We actually produced it at 0.4 grams. Pretty incredible. We offered it at fairly low price point because it had limited usefulness and limited features compared to our other GPS products. We brought it to market and learned something very interesting. After hearing this from potential customers for years “We need a lighter GPS unit” the truth was that they didn’t really need a lighter GPS unit. There was almost zero interest. In other words, no one bought it.

But the project spawned an idea. Why waste all of that engineering effort? Let’s turn on a dime and create something really cool from this project. I get very excited about new projects because I can see the potential usefulness for customers and I thought I was really on to something big. I even managed to get the engineer excited about it. I decided to use the basic features that we had already developed but to add to that some really desirable attributes to make something with mass appeal. I gave permission to bring the weight up to 3 grams. We added a 500,000 position memory, a better GPS antenna as well as a powerful accelerometer that will allow the device to turn on and off depending upon the behavior of the study animal. And we created the circuit on a flex/rigid hybrid circuit board. That allows us to curve the circuit or even bend it 90° in two places so that it will be more compact in the final application. In other words, we can curve it around a portion of a small collar rather than have it just a long, flat, rigid thing that creates a less than compact final product. But we’re not loading any components on the flexible part of the circuit board so reliability will not be affected. And of course we retained the automatic (no human required) wireless data download feature.

This project is coming to a close now and the product is about to be released for sale. But it spawned another new project of which we are in the planning stage now. We are a small company and making decisions is fast. Changing course is extremely fast too when that’s what we decide to do. Our hope is that ultimately this capability to act and react quickly benefits you, the wildlife biologist customer.