Small Akron startup TinyCircuits launching TinyScreen for myriad uses

by Ken Burns November 07, 2014

Small Akron startup TinyCircuits launching TinyScreen for myriad uses

From the Akron Beacon Journal

It’s aptly named TinyScreen. The color screen is about the size of a quarter or a postage stamp or a thumbnail. But it is powerful, allowing users to create their own smart watches or tiny video-game consoles.

And a startup hardware maker called TinyCircuits of Akron is launching the product with $128,813 raised through Kickstarter, the online fundraising site.

TinyCircuits, as its name suggests, is a designer and manufacturer of really small modules covered with miniature components.

Founder and owner Ken Burns, 40, of Akron likes to call the modules “electronic Legos.” They’re coin-size circuits that hobbyists, researchers and others snap together to make remote-controlled drones, robots, sensors, clothing that lights up and numerous other gadgets.

“Now with the TinyScreen you can make your own smart watch, play Flappy Birds [on a really small device] get notifications from your phone,” said Burns, who previously worked as an electronics engineer at an area company. “We can see people making their own fitness bands with an accelerometer” to measure motion.

TinyScreen isn’t going to compete with the Apple Watch, he said, noting Apple will sell “millions of those, and we’re going to sell thousands of TinyScreens.”

Burns said the attraction of the programmable TinyScreen, along with its tiny size, is its versatility. And that apparently helped make it a hit on Kickstarter. Burns initially set out to raise $15,000.

There are many possible uses, Burns said. “You could even make your own custom watch to track the movement of Alzheimer’s patients... you could make you own [version of] Google Glass if you’re a super nerd.”

Burns said some pre-programmed applications allow the user to begin using TinyScreen right out of the box. Those apps include “clones” of the Flappy Bird and Asteroids games.

Even a simple smart watch app doesn’t require programming; it can use Bluetooth to communicate with the wearer’s smart phone. Prices will start around $25 for the screen with basic circuitry; A watch kit will run around $90.

Donors to get kit

The Kickstarter campaign drew more than 1,500 backers, each paying to help with the TinyScreen launch. Those who donated at least $55 will get a basic kit, including the screen, a tiny processor and a tiny lithium battery. Burns said the Kickstarter campaign, which wrapped up last month, got a boost from tech news sites and bloggers in the United States and abroad.

Two British publications — the Daily Mail and the Daily Star — ran online articles.

The glass for the screens is made in China. But as with all the other electronic modules that TinyCircuits makes, the screen’s tiny electronic components are installed at TinyCircuits in Akron. TinyCircuits makes more than 20 types of modules, selling the majority of them online. Each has a feature, including GPS and Wi-Fi. Last December, because of sales growth, the company turned its first monthly profit.

The 3-year-old company is housed in one of the red brick buildings that make up Canal Place in downtown Akron. Canal Place is the former B.F. Goodrich manufacturing complex along South Main Street.

Burns founded TinyCircuits initially as a home-based tech project, and moved into Canal Place a couple of years ago. He is no newcomer to Kickstarter, having raised $100,000 to set up shop there and ramp up production of the TinyCircuits, based on open-source — or freely shared — “Arduino” hardware and software developed by students in Italy.

Today, Burns employs about eight people at any one time, most of them students at the University of Akron.

Burns notes that one of the co-op students, Ben Rose, an electrical engineering student at the University of Akron, played an integral role in developing the TinyScreen.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.



Ken Burns
Ken Burns

Author

Founder and President of TinyCircuits


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