One day when Alexander was debugging a circuit problem on a mobile robot, he ran into an issue that he couldn't fix with his oscilloscope. The issue would go away when he put the robot on his lab bench, but would return when the robot was driving around. He realized that in order to get the data he needed, he would need an oscilloscope that could stay inside the robot and transmit the data wirelessly to a separate screen. After being inspired by his robot issue, Alexander began designing a prototype for the Aeroscope.
His old friend Jonathan Ward, who had a distaste for the mess of wires on his workbench created by his oscilloscope saw the potential uses for a wireless oscilloscope and joined him. They went on to co-found Aeroscope Labs in Boulder Colorado and plan to ship the first order of Aeroscopes this fall. We got to interview Alexander about his experience creating a startup and developing the Aeroscope!
AAC: Have you found any uses for the Aeroscope that you had never thought of after you developed it?
AL: I have been surprised by just how freeing it is to eliminate the probe wires even when working at my bench. Additionally, the ability to setup a measurement and easily monitor the data in another room while I’m working on something else is very useful.
AAC: How long was the process of designing the Aeroscope from inception to shipping?
AL: Since we haven’t shipped yet, this is still an ongoing effort. We have been working on Aeroscope for about two years at this point. We plan on shipping this Fall, so around two and a half years from concept to shipping. This timeframe would definitely be shorter if we had been working on Aeroscope full time from the beginning.
AAC: Where did you and Jonathan meet, and how long have you known each other?
AL: Jonathan and I met at Agilent Technologies (now Keysight) at our first jobs out of college. We were both working on Spectrum Analyzers; Jonathan was working in R&D and I was working in production engineering. Working at Agilent gave us both an appreciation and deeper understanding of the design of precision test and measurement equipment. In addition to working together, we both got into rock climbing at the same time. We have been climbing partners for around seven years. We have known each other for about 10 years.
Alexander Lee (Left) and Jonathan Ward (Right)
AAC: What were the biggest design challenges that you faced when developing the Aeroscope? After all, if it were easy to make a wireless oscilloscope, somebody would have done it already.
AL: The greatest challenge was designing a physically small, low power, low cost, and easily manufacturable analog front end. We went through several design iterations to find the best architecture that would meet these goals.
The recent rise of the internet of things has sparked greater availability and lower cost BlueTooth (BT) SOCs. This has definitely played into our favor developing Aeroscope. Even five years ago the cost and development time associated with bringing a new BT product to market was much greater than today.
AAC: We searched the internet for a crowdfunding project tied to the Aeroscope and couldn't find one. How did you fund the development?
AL: We will be launching a crowdfunding presale campaign in the next month. We spent the first year and a half boot strapping the development and we recently raised a seed round. We didn’t start working on Aeroscope full time until about eight months ago.
One of the advantages of a wireless oscilloscope
AAC: How does the data transfer rate on the Aeroscope compare to traditional wired oscilloscopes?
AL: All of the “guts” of the oscilloscope reside in the handheld probe. The probe samples and stores captured data at 500 MSPS. The wireless Bluetooth link is only transmitting the data that is displayed on the screen, not all of the data that has been captured. The step by step process is this: the capture memory is filled at 500 MSPS, the on-screen data (which is almost always less than the full capture memory) is then read from memory, and sent over the BT link to be displayed on the user's device.
Consequently, the only limitation introduced by the BT link is in maximum video frame rate, this is between 8 - 30 frames per second depending on capture settings.
AAC: Your website says Aeroscope has an iOS app but the Android app is still being developed. Usually, it's easier to get an app approved for Android than iOs, is there a reason for this?
AL: We chose to go after iOS first for a few reasons. First, Aeroscope looks best on a tablet and the iPad dominates the tablet market. The second reason is the ease of developing for iOS compared to Android. Apple provides a single ecosystem for all of its products running iOS. One code base will run on all iOS devices. Developing an Android app requires customization for each device that is supported. Lastly, there are a lot of known bugs in the Android BT stack. Although it may be easier to get an app approved for Android, the level of development effort required is higher.
Now they're just showing off...
AAC: Aeroscope Labs is located in Boulder, are there any advantages to making your headquarters in Colorado?
AL: We think so! The cost of living here is cheap compared to the Bay Area. The easy access to the mountains allows us to get outside and go skiing, climbing, or mountain biking at a moment’s notice. Despite what many people think, the weather here in Colorado is quite nice with an average of over 300 days of sunshine per year. The central location eases flight times and cost to either coast.
AAC: Your website says that you and Jonathan both worked in product development before this. Did you work on anything that people may have heard of...that you're allowed to divulge at least?
AL: The most widely known products that I’ve worked on prior to Aeroscope would be Agilent Technologies’ MXA spectrum analyzer, and Sphero the robotic ball. In addition to working on Spectrum Analyzers at Agilent, Jonathan worked for Square in San Francisco designing point of sale systems.