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Myo Armband / Turns Your Arm into a Wireless Controller

The Myo armband uses muscle recognition to give you wireless control of various devices, without the need for touch, voice, or cameras.

Meet a Maker / Co-Founder Matthew Bailey

Matthew Bailey recently told us his maker story, and shared some insights into what goes on behind the scenes at Thalmic Labs. Matthew is one of the three people who developed the very first Myo armband prototypes, and is still heavily involved in its mechanical design and manufacturing.

Matthew makes technology to understand what humans intend, through mechanical engineering, manufacturing, and pattern recognition.

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Co-founders (left to right): Matthew Bailey, Stephen Lake, and Aaron Grant.

How did you get started as a maker?

Thalmic has been the only company that I’ve worked at since graduating from the Mechatronics Engineering program at the University of Waterloo in 2012, but I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty. As a visiting scholar at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), I worked on a project which was an electronic aid for the visually impaired.

My father has also been a big influence on me being a “maker”. He’s an electrician who built and modified his own cars, houses, furniture, and much more. At an early age, I began helping him with all of his projects, from welding a wrought iron railing together to building an extension onto our house or changing the brakes on our cars.

Who would you consider to be your favorite maker?

Elon Musk. He is a brilliant mind with the guts to solve the world’s toughest challenges. Everything he says and does is extremely well thought out and accurate.

Early Prototype Myo & AR Drone

Matthew (far right) with other developers, testing Myo to fly the Parrot AR Drone.

What was the problem you set out to solve in creating Myo?

We wanted to develop a device that would connect the real and the digital worlds more naturally and intuitively as we move towards wearable and ubiquitous computing.

Can you walk us through your design development, from initial prototypes to the current version?

We went through a ton of permutations before landing on the final design. It started as a sweatband (requiring me to develop some sewing skills), then moved to 3D printed plastic pods held together by elastic, then to our Alpha unit which had moving and sliding parts. After a lot of sweat, we landed on the final design we have today.

Is there anything unique about your manufacturing process?

We needed to develop novel manufacturing processes that allowed us to run our electronics through a flexible rubber material that holds the Myo together, while also providing the elastic force needed to stay on your arm. It results in a robust and sleek design, both of which are critical for a wearable product.

Design Development

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First proof of concept: medical grade ECG sensors attached to button heads.

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Left: this version still required USB connection. Right: Originally the “Thalmic Control,” this prototype was the first to integrate bluetooth.

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The next iterations experimented in fabric to create something of an electronic sweatband.

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Left: the first iteration of the “pod” design: each contained a sensor, processing board, or batteries. Right: the first 3D printed version.

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The inside workings of a pre-production unit.

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Alpha: the first production unit sent to developers.

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Final Myo design: for the most recent design, the main goal was to create a device that still meets all of the technical requirements, but with broader aesthetic appeal.

The Making of Myo

The Thalmic Labs team makes the entire Myo on site: prototyping, testing, manufacturing, and shipping all in a facility adjacent to their offices in Kitchener, Ontario. In the lab: this video goes behind the scenes to talk about Myo supply chain and manufacturing.

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The in-house 3D printer at work creating prototype components.

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3D printed materials ready for assembly.

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Testing: the team had to find a way to emulate signals from a human forearm in a repeatable and controlled way. They created a shaped mandrel, with embedded muscle signal emulators.

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Alpha units ready in preparation for shipment.

In addition to multimedia, smart home, and smartphone applications, the possibilities for this kind of technology are seemingly endless. One application will likely be in the workforce, where wearables like this will improve productivity, increase collaboration, and enhance overall effectiveness.

Pre-Order Myo

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The Makers

Here are the people who have contributed to the making of Myo:

[Makers]

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All images courtesy of Thalmic Labs.

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Symbol Audio / Handcrafted Furniture with a Modern Sound

“Symbol Audio’s Modern Record Console makes music look as beautiful as it sounds.” – Gizmodo

The Story of Symbol Audio

Blake Tovin discovered his interest in furniture design working summers in an architectural mill during art school. When he graduated, he found that there was a market for handcrafted furniture and one for large-scale production, but that he didn’t quite fit into either camp. He eventually got a job working with Jack Lenor Larsen’s textile company in New York. Larsen applied hand weaving techniques to production textile manufacturing, and Blake ran the furniture division of the company. He learned a great deal about how to make high-quality furniture at scale in German and Italian factories, and found many parallels to what he wanted to one day create on his own.

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Joel Edmonson, Blake Tovin and Matt Richmond of Symbol Audio.

Blake eventually developed his own furniture collection, and found himself on the licensing path: selling to retailers such as Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware. His business grew with the success of these companies, but he eventually tired of designing for someone else’s brand. Wanting to get back into making things, but not yet sure what, he bought a warehouse in Nyack, New York and converted it into a design studio, prototyping shop, and multi-purpose showroom/gallery.

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“The idea for Symbol Audio came out of a lot of soul searching about what kind of product I wanted to make,” says Tovin. “I spent a good year toying with different ideas.” He was interested in music, and found himself frequently engaged in conversations about vintage audio equipment. A rekindled interest in vinyl and the ability to stream high quality music files emerged as two concepts that he imagined could be creatively incorporated into a single product. The idea started to unfold: reinvent a console stereo system that combined modern technology with a vintage amplifier, and house it all in a beautifully handmade piece of furniture. “The whole thing seemed like a really exciting idea, and we were suddenly off and running.”

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It took Blake and his team less than six months to put the entire concept together, including branding and photography, in order to launch at the 2012 ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair). Symbol Audio made quite a splash at the fair, and they were immediately picked up by major design blogs. By Monday, their website–a site that didn’t even exist a week earlier–had received over 50,000 hits! The company’s been on a roll ever since.

Blake attributes the brand’s immediate success to so many years of experience in large scale production. “We approached it like grownups, which I probably wouldn’t have done, had I had done it when I wanted to 20 years earlier,” Blake says.

Designing The Modern Record Console

The Modern Record Console is Symbol’s flagship product, and brand-defining design. The idea is an all-in-one unit: an entire music system built into one well conceived, crafted, and executed package. It’s scaled as a piece of furniture, with the footprint of a sideboard or dresser, and is meant to appeal to the quality-phile (as opposed to the audiophile).

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In creating the console, the team constantly overlaid the design aesthetic on the technological one. The speakers are intentionally exposed, as the cones are part of the visual appeal. They could have hidden all of the amp tubes, but instead revealed and highlighted the inner workings as a design element. They even built custom powder coated cases for the transformers. The team considered every electronic and structural aspect to create one seamlessly beautiful and functional product.

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The Making of…

Each Symbol product is designed as modular units, so that components can be made entirely independently but easily and quickly assembled. A large part of design process was figuring out how to assemble each unit without a sophisticated construction environment, as each one comes together in the Symbol Audio studio. Most components are local, from suppliers in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, with only a few things (the turntable and amplifier) traveling a bit further. Even the internal cables are custom designed and handmade by a local supplier whom Blake stumbled upon on Etsy.

The assembly team in action in Symbol Audio’s studio:

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Shipping is the final but incredibly important piece. Perhaps the team’s best local partnership discovery is the shipping company, based in Long Island, that specializes in fine art and antiques. They hand pack every unit into custom padded plywood crates, which are then sealed and delivered directly to each customer—traveling as far as Lebanon and Mexico City. According to Blake, almost every Symbol Audio console has been sold to people who have never even heard one, but are confident that the quality will meet expectations. “We haven’t had any complaints. So… so far so good!”

The Makers

The core team is small, occasionally bringing in a larger crew for assembly. However, they frequently collaborate with factory production experts and audio consultants to ensure the best quality product possible. Meet the makers behind Symbol Audio:

[Makers]

[color-button href='http://shop.symbolaudio.com/pages/shop']Shop Symbol Audio[/color-button]

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All images courtesy of Symbol Audio.

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Nomiku / Bringing Sous Vide Cooking to Your Kitchen

Nomiku is the first immersion circulator for restaurant-quality cooking at home.

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The Nomiku team just completed their second successful Kickstarter campaign, which is for a smaller, simpler, and more powerful version of their product. It also features wi-fi for increased connectivity, and a mobile app to create and share recipes. In this video, top chefs explain why sous vide is the way of the future, and the team shows what’s new in version two:

We recently sat down with Nomiku co-founder and CEO Lisa Fetterman at their headquarters in San Francisco. Here, Lisa shares the maker story behind this amazing invention.

What makes Nomiku so unique?
Nomiku is the most state of the art thing that you can own in your kitchen.  It’s the smallest immersion circulator ever, with a unique heating element that never burns out. My husband, our CTO, and I made it together. He comes from a physics background, with a doctorate in plasma physics. So if you can imagine Tony Stark making a kitchen appliance, this would be it. My background is that I worked for my heroes, the top chefs in the world: Jean-Georges, Mario Batali, Joshua Skenes of Saison. I also have a background in journalism, as an editor at Hearst.

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Nomiku founders Lisa and Abe. Photo via Wall Street Journal.

What problem did you set out to solve?
In 2010, my husband and I were dead broke in the lower east side of New York. I was lamenting about how food never tastes the same when I cook it at home; I just couldn’t get that restaurant quality. There was one thing that made a big difference: the immersion circulator. Back then it was this huge, hulking thing for thousands of dollars. Totally inaccessible. And he said: “you know, we could just make one ourselves.” With hardware finds, we created our first prototype and cooked an egg at 64 degrees Celsius. When you do that, the yolk actually coagulates before the whites. You open it and its cooked inside-out. It tastes like liquid sunshine.

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What were your next steps in turning your idea into a marketable product?
The next step was to make some for our friends and family. We created a bunch of these machines, and I watched in awe as one of our friends who usually burned water, could make a restaurant-quality meal with our machine. We saw this and knew it was a game changer for home cooks. We quit our jobs, made a polished model, and put it on Kickstarter. It became the number one most-funded project in the food category, and since then we’ve raised over $1.3 million through two Kickstarter projects.

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You’re making the new Nomiku in the US. Can you tell us about manufacturing locally?
Our new version is all manufactured in the Bay Area. However, it’s folly to start a sophisticated tech product in the US. You will not get the sourcing; it won’t be lean. We were very lucky to have first learned in China. We spent a year side-by-side with our factory, engineering our own line. If we didn’t have that experience, we wouldn’t have the confidence to start something in America, because when you start in America you start from zero. You have to make your own “Frankenfactory”, with tools from here and parts from there. It’s not a very elegant process in the US, and it’s something that you can control better through experience.

Nomiku Manufacturing

Nomiku’s first Kickstarter campaign funded the team’s numerous visits to China, which allowed them a hands-on approach to the entire manufacturing process. The team sent updates to their supporters throughout the entire process, from China.

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Wipop Bam Suppipat, Co-Founder and industrial designer for the team.

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Bam demonstrates to some of the factory engineers.

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Lisa with the toolmakers.

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Bam working side-by-side with Nomiku builders.

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Preproduction units, to test that all parts fit together and every worker is familiar with the process.

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Bam with the first finished Nomiku.

Getting the Word Out

The Nomiku team drew a lot of inspiration from Pebble, who at the time was the top funded project on Kickstarter. “So many people make amazing products that could change the world, but they never go anywhere because they don’t get the word out,” says Lisa. “Pebble did a great job at this. It all comes down to how you make people feel, and how you communicate with them.”

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The Makers

The team outsources a bit of engineering, and working with external manufacturing partners, but does everything else in-house. Meet the makers:

[Makers]

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Hendo / The World’s First Hoverboard

What is a hoverboard?

Makers have been attempting to create a working hoverboard since Marty McFly introduced us to the concept in Back to the Future II, but with little success until now.

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Hendo is the first real hoverboard: a skateboard-like device that allows the rider to levitate about 1 inch off the ground.

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Hendo is one of Time’s 25 inventions of 2014. Photo via Time.

See the Hendo hoverboard in action:

An Architect’s Vision

“The scientific breakthroughs generated at Arx Pax will make the impossible possible, inspire co-creation on a global scale, and ultimately create meaningful change in the world.” -Greg Henderson, Arx Pax Founder

Greg Henderson, a Bay Area architect, engineer, and former US Army Ranger, was determined to find a better way to protect buildings against earthquakes. He developed technology that, when utilized at a large scale, would employ electromagnetic fields to raise a building out of harm’s way. Greg also realized that at a smaller scale, the same technology could be useful for a variety of applications—from transportation to manufacturing.

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Greg, along with his wife Jill, founded Arx Pax in 2012 with big plans to revolutionize the way we build buildings in the future. They assembled a team of engineers and experts who believe in their vision, and set out to capture people’s attention through their first product: a hoverboard.

The Hendo Hoverboard

Arx Pax spent the past few years designing and developing a prototype of their board, and now have an impressive working model. The Hendo hoverboard only works over certain magnetic surfaces, and thus has limited immediate applications but unlimited potential.

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Hendo sketches and concepts. Photo via Verge.

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Early Hendo prototypes. The circular discs are the board’s engines. Photo via Gizmodo.

Design development sketches:

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Design Development. Image via My Modern Met.

The current version will continue to undergo refinements over the next year. Potential improvements will be a smaller and more stylish appearance, quieter engines, and the ability to board the hoverboard before it begins levitating.

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Hendo Engineer Garrett Foshay testing a current model. Photo by AP/Jeff Chiu.

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Hendo engineer Shauna Moran demonstrating alternate poses. Photo by AP/Jeff Chiu.

Through a combination of crowd funding and open sourcing, the Hendo team has invited anyone who’s interested to take part in their project. They launched a Kickstarter campaign in October 2014, with a goal is to ship a very small batch of hoverboards in 2015, as well as many more developer kits. The Whitebox developer kits allow any maker to build upon their technology, as developers can take the engine out and experiment with creating their own hovering devices.

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The Whitebox developer kit in action. Photo via Verge.

The hoverboard has certainly been successful at capturing people’s attention and imagination, especially with high-profile riders such as Tony Hawk. Check out this video of Tony on the Hendo:

Buzz Aldrin also payed Hendo a recent visit, and became the first man to both walk on the moon and hover over the earth on a hoverboard. “We had the incredible honor of meeting a true American hero and individual [Aldrin] who personifies Hendo’s intrepid spirit of “daring to wonder,” says Hendo.

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Buzz Aldrin on the Hendo. Photo via Autodesk.

For the first time in history, you can levitate and ride above the ground in a way that was previously only possible in the movies. We can’t wait to see what else the world’s makers will create with this exciting technology.

Reserve a developer kit.

Meet the Makers

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The Maker Story of KitchenAid

Everyone’s favorite mixer is also an icon of American design.

Tens of millions of KitchenAid mixers have been made in the same Greenville, Ohio factory since 1919. See how they’re made:

The Story of KitchenAid

The KitchenAid story begins when Herbert Johnson, an engineer at the Hobart Corporation, observed a baker hard at work. Johnson watched the baker mixing his bread by hand, and decided that there must be a better way. He set out to develop an automatic mixer and in 1914, Hobart released the 60-quart industrial H5. The H5 eventually made its way into every ship kitchen in the US Navy.

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The H5 mixer by Hobart (left), and the first consumer KitchenAid (right).

The Origin of a Name. In 1920, the company released the first consumer version: a 10-quart model which was also the first ‘KitchenAid.” As the story goes, a wife of one of the company’s executives took the unnamed mixer home to test it, and came back saying “I don’t care what you call it; all I know is it’s the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had.”

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Various versions of the KitchenAid in the 1920s and 1930s.

A Hard Sell. The mixer was initially marketed toward farm housewives, and sold primarily in hardware stores. KitchenAid eventually built a female door-to-door sales force, to a bit more success, but the $200 price point (around $2,7o0 today) made the mixer a hard sell. In the 1930s, KitchenAid took a back seat to the much cheaper Sunbeam MixMaster.

Over the next decade, the company introduced a few updated versions: progressively smaller and lighter, but not cheaper. Enter Egmont Arens.

Designing an Iconic Product

“The first mixer was introduced in 1919, but it was Arens’ 1937 Model K design that really captivated consumers.” –KitchenAid

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Egmont Arens in his studio, and alongside his futuristic city model. Photos via Modern Mechanix.

Ahead of His Time. World-renowned publisher, artist, designer, and “industrial humaneer,” Egmont Arens was commissioned to design a low-cost mixer for every kitchen. Arens was the Art Editor of Vanity Fair, and well known for his consumer-centric product design and packaging.

Arens’s specialty was designing products that sold well, from a juke box to a cigarette lighter to a baby carriage. His client list included G.E., Fairchild Aircraft, and the General American Transportation Company. He was also a master of turning practical devices into works of art; a great example of this is the meat slicer he had previously designed for Hobart.

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Arens meat slicer for the Hobart Corporation. Photo via Cooper Hewitt.

Success at Last. Arens effectively transformed the KitchenAid into a mixer so beautiful that it was irresistible, and the Model K was released in 1937 to huge success. His sleek, modernistic mixer was far ahead of its time, and he set the design standard still employed by KitchenAids 80 years later. To this day, all KitchenAid components are compatible with the front attachment hub of every mixer made since 1937.

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The 1937 Model K mixer, designed by Egmont Arens.

The classic design has changed little in 80 years, except for the game-changing introduction of color in 1955. The already irresistible mixer quickly became a cult classic, as the pop of color drove home KitchenAid’s aesthetic advantage over competitors. KitchenAid continues to introduce new colors and versions, such as the specialty Artisan Series, to keep the classic design fresh.

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Much loved by celebrity chefs such as Julia Child and Martha Stewart, their endorsements safely secured the KitchenAid as a must-have in every modern kitchen. In 1997, the SFMOMA chose the KitchenAid mixer as an icon of American design.

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Julia Child’s inscribed version (left), and Martha Stewart with hers (right, via Flourish).

The Making of KitchenAid

Below is a glimpse behind the scenes of how millions of KitchenAid mixers are made.

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Mixer bases edges are ground down. All factory photos via the Dayton Business Journal.

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 End covers are selected and hung for painting.

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Wire whisks are assembled from pieces of stainless steel.

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Post-powder inspection of parts, before the baking portion of the powder-coating process.

Although individual parts are now produced around the world, each mixer itself is made in KitchenAid’s Greenville, Ohio factory. The factory employs over 1400 makers who paint, assemble, test, and package each and every KitchenAid mixer.

Buy a KitchenAid Mixer

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Header photo via KitchenAid.

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AeroPress / Inventing the World’s Best Coffee Maker

This $25 device makes what many consider to be the world’s best cup of coffee.

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See how it works in this video by Sandwich Video:

Consistently fast, easy, and delicious, the AeroPress has attracted an impressive cult following since its release in 2005. According to Aerobie, the toy manufacturer behind the press, it brews the richest, smoothest, and purest coffee in the shortest amount of time possible.

The Story of Alan Adler

Alan Adler—electrical engineer, Stanford lecturer, toy maker, inventor, and founder of Aerobie—spent his first 25-year career developing nuclear reactor controls and aircraft instrumentation systems. In the mid 1970s, he shifted focus to consumer goods, and began tinkering with mechanical and aerodynamic toys. He sold the rights to his first product, a flying disc called the Skyro, to Parker Brothers in 1978.

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Adler with an early Aerobie Pro ing. Photo via priceonomics.com.

Adler further developed the disc concept, as well as other toys, and eventually founded Aerobie in 1984. The Aerobie Pro ring was easy to use, flew straight as an arrow, and even broke the world record for distance traveled. Adler developed an obsession for creating easy-to-use products, and focused on toy development for the following 20 years.

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In 2004, Adler was commiserating with friends over the lack of good options for brewing a single cup of coffee. A true inventor, and tired of complaining, he set out to find a better solution. He evaluated traditional methods: stovetop, percolator, drip, and cone. After careful consideration, he decided that he favored pour-over versions but was troubled by the 4+ minute brew time. Convinced that longer brew time resulted in a bitter taste, he looked to air pressure to help speed up the process.

The Invention of the AeroPress

Adler developed the first prototype in his Los Altos garage—a room overtaken by large industrial tools, boxes of prototypes, and remnants of half-completed creations. Early versions of the AeroPress were actually very close to the final press on the market today. After a series of positive taste tests, Adler began developing a production-ready prototype immediately.

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Adler with various early prototypes, as well as the final AeroPress. Photo via Aerobie.

The AreoPress was unveiled, to a bit of initial skepticism, at the 2005 Coffee Fest in Seattle. People were unsure of the low brewing temperature (a recommended 175 degrees), and perhaps unimpressed with the aesthetics. However, every blind taste test created a new fan.

Despite it’s superior brew, entry into the coffee world was not quite easy for Aerobie. “House-ware distributors and retailers were reasonably reluctant to sell an odd looking, completely new kind of coffee maker made by a toy manufacturer,” says Alex Tennant, Aerobie’s business manager.

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Adler presenting the AeroPress at Coffee Con SF. Photo via topratedcoffeemakers.com.

Refusing to accept defeat, Adler turned to the internet and its notoriously fanatical coffee community. He began posting responses to an AeroPress thread on CoffeeGeek, a website with 80,000+ members. The thread is now the largest on the forum, with over 7.3 million views. Sales of the AeroPress took off almost immediately, and quickly became Aerobie’s best-selling product.

Make it Your Own

In addition to its delicious coffee and huge success, the most fascinating thing about the AeroPress is it’s hackability. Innovators have built upon the device, creating supplementary products such as the S Filter reusable filter and the Able Brewing Travel Cap (below).

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There are countless recipes and brew methods, the best of which go head-to head yearly at the annual World AeroPress Championships.

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Adler with the 2014 championship winners and their trophies. Photo via Aerobie.

Hundreds of others have created inventive videos to show off their AeroPress skills. Here are a few of our favorites:

A simple animation.

How MacGyver does AeroPress.

The Sightglass brewing guide.

Adler finds this ongoing thread of innovation exciting, and encourages it wherever possible. However, he still stands by his personal AeroPress method and the current design. When asked if he plans to develop a larger model, his response is that the current press meets the needs of about 90% of brewing occasions. He’s happy to tinker, but less motivated to solve a problem that he doesn’t believe exists.

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Alan Adler. Photo via Sprudge.

Best advice from Adler on success with the AeroPress: “Get a thermometer!” He says that the 175 degree water really does make all the difference.

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Are you a maker? Request an invite.

Photos and interview content via AerobieFast Company and Priceonomics. Header photo via Blue Bottle Coffee.