In a market where products roll out faster than most can keep track, designing and developing a product people will get excited about is a challenge. Convincing them to help you finance the product is an even bigger challenge. But that’s what MATRIX Labs has done on three separate occasions with three successfully crowdfunded products, the most recent case being the MATRIX Voice.
The MATRIX Voice is 2/3 smaller than the MATRIX Creator. All images courtesy of MATRIX Labs.
All About Circuits met with Rodolfo Saccoman, co-founder and CEO of MATRIX Labs, to discuss crowdfunding and building a platform that's truly versatile.
All About Circuits: Voice-activated systems are going through something of a Renaissance. Tell us a little bit about how you decided to tackle a voice-activated dev board.
Rodolfo Saccoman: It started with our staple product, the MATRIX Creator, which was launched at Washington's Maker Faire last year. The MATRIX Creator is a dev board that converges IoT and AI. Users can create just about anything with it, which works with a Raspberry Pi. The MATRIX Creator was a huge success for us. At this point, we've shipped it to over 70 countries and the community that has been built around it is amazing.
The MATRIX Creator. You can learn more about its specs and applications here.
Because we were able to hit a nerve in the market, our online community started getting thousands of contributors and we noticed that voice recognition and microphone capabilities were a hot topic that intrigued a variety of users. When we kept seeing that topic, we decided we were going to create a focused voice recognition product with a smaller form factor than the MATRIX Creator, about 2/3 smaller. In terms of hardware, it focuses on voice recognition enhanced by FPGA and RAM. It works with the Pi and it can work by itself.
We liked the idea of creating a product that people didn't even know they wanted yet. I think Steve Jobs used to say that all the time. The MATRIX Creator was a product people didn't realize they wanted until they got it and put it on the Pi and realized they didn't have to solder all the sensors. They can use the MATRIX Platform OS and start creating things right away. All of this contributed to the evolution of the MATRIX Voice.
AAC: So you were seeing a lot of makers and developers creating their own voice-activated projects with the MATRIX Creator and decided to give them a leg up?
RS: Yes. Creating hardware from scratch is a very painstaking process. To create a product or dev board, you need to have really advanced skills and the funding and manufacturing support and certifications. It's a long process. Anyone can do a one unit print board, but try doing 100 of the same one—that's where people run into problems.
Anyone can do a one unit print board, but try doing 100 of the same one—that's where people run into problems.
AAC: Where do you see the MATRIX Voice fitting into the developing landscape of voice recognition platforms?
RS: With the MATRIX Voice's technology, you can put it anywhere and activate our software and algorithms, including voice capture, beamforming, acoustic source localization, acoustic echo consolation, noise suppression, and reverberation. It's a building block platform that takes away the complexities of creating the hardware and sets users up to begin the application building process.
Both our MATRIX Creator and MATRIX Voice are doing for the Internet of Things and AI what the iPhone did for mobile. A user can get our hardware, use our OS developers, create apps, and have several of those apps running on the same device at the same time.
AAC: How did you end up creating a product that engages so many different kinds of people?
RS: It's hard to pinpoint how we got to this point, but I do think there are a few things that helped. We have a very open communication with our community made up of hobbyists, makers, and corporate engineers. I think what happened is they have really connected with who we are. We are a small team of about 37 who started with an idea and worked to make a product we ourselves love. It grew into a huge passion for all of us.
If you look at our team, 85% of us are engineers who have worked at corporations and have tinkered on projects in their spare time. That, coupled with paying close attention to the pulse of the industry, helps with all of our end products.
When we launched the MATRIX Voice Indiegogo campaign, our goal was to raise $5,000. We have surpassed that goal to over $100,000. It's been amazing to see who has backed the project. We've seen co-founders from some of the biggest tech companies in the world backing us. We see enterprise engineers, makers, and hobbyists all interested in the MATRIX Voice. Our top goal for all of our products is to create engineering powerhouses that anyone can use.
AAC: You've made your products, including the MATRIX Voice, compatible with Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi is largely associated with the Maker movement because it's extremely versatile, but can also be used for more professional applications as well. Can you speak to that?
RS: It definitely operates in a variety of settings and here is an example. The first product we ever created was the AdBeacon, which is part of our analytics enterprise line. The AdBeacon has a processor and an 8-megapixel camera. It is the world's first plugin measure computer vision technology. Inside the AdBeacon is a Raspberry Pi. We created a global product with a Pi. The magic really lies in our computer vision because it provides 95% accuracy on everything that is running.
At the time we were creating AdBeacon, we couldn't afford to build any proprietary hardware. This led us to choose the Raspberry Pi as a platform. There are countless projects that have been built around the Pi, and our success with prior projects encourages us to keep using it.
The MATRIX Voice coupled with the Raspberry Pi. Image courtesy of MATRIX Labs.
AAC: How did you build a strong team that shares a common goal?
RS: There's a saying: if you're going to start a tech company, one of the co-founders needs to be a techie and the other needs to be able to sell the product through branding and marketing. My co-founder Brian Sanchez has amazing technical chops. From the beginning, I have had ideas of what technology can become. I share these ideas with Brian and our chief hardware engineer. Both are extremely talented and can see the vision. I hand-picked everyone on our team and I can say that everyone feels the excitement and passion of what we're creating.
We've gotten past the point of living on "hope-ium". When you first start a company, you're living on hope and a good idea. You hope you'll raise enough money. You hope your product will resonate with people. Then there's a point when you realize people are responding to your products and you've hit a nerve in the industry. That's the ultimate goal our team has always shared and what encourages us to continue creating products.
AAC: So much of what you do involves the crowdsource universe. It's really interesting to see companies like yours leverage the crowdsource mindset. What advice do you have for people who want to utilize crowdfunding for an idea of their own?
RS: The MATRIX Voice is our third successfully crowdfunded product. Crowdfunding is a powerful tool because it connects us to a lot of voices at once. Every time we have done a crowdfunding project, it's interesting to see who contributes. Some projects are easily funded—especially when you are creating disruptive new technology and products that people want.
Some of my tips for a crowdfunding account seem simple, but often can be overlooked. Have a good video introducing your product. Have a lot of images and a clear explanation of your product's specs. Another thing: have a product out there that's already working. From a business standpoint, you need to put a properly working product out there. It's amazing how many people don't have a properly working product when they go into a crowdfunding campaign.
From a business stand point, you need to put a properly working product out there. It's amazing how many people don't have a properly working product when they go into a crowdfunding campaign.
AAC: What are your big vision goals?
RS: Our big vision is to make hardware really easy. We have created an ecosystem where IoT apps can be built quickly and even monetized if the creator so chooses. We launched our app store not long ago and there are already numerous apps that developers are creating with MATRIX Creator. They're using our OS. At this rate, we think there will be 100+ apps in our store. If feels as though we're helping to move the IoT app economy forward.
We had one of the largest aerospace companies in the world buy two dozen MATRIX Creators and they're working on an app to monitor astronauts' emotions in space. We also had someone in Germany who created a voice recognition project. These are the types of projects we see that show us what could be possible on a larger scale.
Thank you to Rodolfo for speaking with us!