China rocks!

Units ready for the IFST and AFTS (final system tests)

Units ready for the IFST and AFTS (final system tests)

How was China?

When I came back from the factory in China two weeks ago people asked me how it went. With a smile on my face and a ton of enthusiasm I would give the short answer: Very very very good! 

And of course, there is also the detailed answer which I want to share with you. 

Actually, let me walk you through the factory:

Before getting onto the assembly floor we usually meet in out small office that we have inside the factory. We usually first get through a quick planning session on the white board and then everyone gets ready with the "very fashionable” ESD clothing - from shoes (sort of Birkenstocks) to cap (sort of a baker’s cap). You of see some of that on the picture of Jessica and David below. 

When you arrive at the entrance of the production floor you would maybe be a little bit surprised about the high level of security. You can roughly compare it to inernational airport security - apart from the important difference that in our factory’s case you are not allowed to bring in (or out) anything just like that. On this level that type of security is pretty standard especially though given the fact that some of the largest brands in the world manufacture just next to us in the same facility.

Imagine a hall the size of a target supermarket. When you walk in you see hundreds of white pick n’place machines and reflow ovens. For those of you who are not familiar with such machines - it looks a bit similar to the x-ray machines at airports -just much bigger. The noice level in the hall is not particularly high but you will notice a lot of beeping signals from all the machines. These machines are the place where the PCB boards get assembled - or more precisely - where all components get placed and soldered onto the bare PCBs. Anyways - first time visitors might gaze at another type of machine even more: There are about a dozen of self driving vehicles that are driving raw parts and products from one end of the hall to its destination. It’s fun to watch those little vehicles which look like sort of a wheeled robot version of a turtle. Those so called “AGVs" are even sort of friendly, if you stand in their way they will stop, talk to you in Chinese and just wait until you step aside.   

I saw this a couple of times now but still -everyday I think it’s special to arrive in such a different world. You can really dive into it as you are pretty isolated from the outside world as you don’t even have your smart phone with you. 

To get to the coolest spots in the hall, you walk down maybe 200ft to our reflow line and then you follow it all the way to the other end of the hall. In between you get to the assembly line of one famous product that I like very much. I have to admit I can never resist to walk by without quickly looking at what’s going on at their line and sometimes I watch a couple of units being made. The craftsmanship of manufacturing is something beautiful. If you continue to walk for about 300ft you arrive at the NEEO assembly line which is itself about 100ft long. Look, maybe I’m strange. As a kid I loved seeing documentaries of things being manufactured. I was (and still am) especially fascinated by human and machine working together harmoniously. 

The moment when I arrived at our assembly line now seeing all the adapters and fixtures in place and a big team working on them was unbelievable. Seeing dozens of awesome operators running every test with every single unit and also seeing raw parts on one side of the line and final products going into the gift box on the other side is a crazy feeling that is hard to explain. I’m extremely proud of everyone who is involved to make this possible. Thousands and thousands of thoughts and work-hours went into the development of such a well working manufacturing line.   

During my time in China I worked on most of the stations myself to get a better feel and idea of how well things work for the operators. The operators laughed sometimes when they saw me being not even half as fast as them, but hey - I tried! ;) We optimised quite a list of things with them to improve their daily work environment. We made sure everyone gets the best conditions like better table height or we improved things like the visual feedback during tests so the guys could read it easier and from distance. I was impressed how well everyone there understands the specific manufacturing details of our product. They also clearly all aim for the same high quality standard. There is quite some manufacturing knowledge - especially in the field of mobile devices -  that you find exclusively in China today. Let me tell this very clearly: I’m so thankful to have those guys being part of this. I believe we have a much stronger than usual link to the entire manufacturing team over there. Most of us don’t speak Chinese but with the help of translators and body language we got to know everyone better and also during lunches and sometimes dinner we had fun and beautiful moments beside work. We all worked hard but we also laughed a lot and I’m pretty sure everyone agrees this is not “just a job”. I was pretty touched when one of the operators told me (via a translator) that they will miss me very much when I leave. 

I look forward seeing them again soon! But - I had some good reasons to travel back: I brought the official serial #1 NEEO back home!   
 

So - What’s next?

Toward the end of this month we plan to start making higher volumes. Here is the updated list.

Points form last month:

  • Manufacturing another badge of ~300 units DONE
  • Mid to late March: Running one last reliability and durability testing round with these latest units DONE
  • Mid to late March: Approving slightly changed docking station top lids (we scrapped the last batch of 10K units that I mention in the last update as they did not fully meet quality standard)  DONE
  • Mid to late March: Full round of quality checks on the 300 units DONE

Next steps:

  • Late April/ Early May: Getting into production of thousands of units 
  • Getting the golden master version of the firmware ready and install it onto the flash stations in China
  • Optimize some production tests (won’t cause a delay) 

Remaining challenges:

  • We currently see no bigger challenges remaining

 

Jessica & David welcoming the official Serial #000001

Jessica & David welcoming the official Serial #000001

Reliability Testing

ONE OF THE FIRST 3ft DROPS OF A BRAIN

ONE OF THE FIRST 3ft DROPS OF A BRAIN

We did quite some reliability tests in the past but we had another round scheduled to test the latest build. Short summary is: This thing is not going to break! 

I think it’s pretty mean trying to “destroy" any NEEO gear - even if it’s for a good purpose. It was hard watching the lab guys torture 10 perfect units. The cool news: All units have passed. To bring it to the real limit we ran additional drop tests with one brain to see how much it takes until it finally dies. It took 21!! drops onto graphite form a 6 feet height until the light guide loosened- but the brain was still functional and the aluminum only showed very few marks. 

One other cool result was the drop test of the remote. We ran all the standard drops for mobile devices several times but it was kind of "boring" as literally nothing broke! The aluminum shell barely got some marks for the impact on the graphite. We also finalised the official tests with zero functional damages. The only thing that happened with some of the drops was the back shell of the remote that jumped out sometimes. Clicking it back in takes 2 seconds and can be done by everyone so this is no issue. The testing team was very impressed. The engineer who was running the reliability lab said NEEO was the most solid mobile device he has ever tested. Not so bad.

Software Status Update

Our software crew usually pushes out a new release to the BETA testers every week. The last released version (v0.30.1 “Flame") includes a ton of good stuff like improved pairing, better encryption, a ton of improved Z-Wave handling, better consistency between app and remote, recovery mode improvements, faster reconnect of Wifi and much, much more. 

This release is pretty nice but some parts are not as stable as its predecessor. This is usual though and the team is typically pretty good getting back to stable fast. I heard form Joel at our stress-test lab that they are are already messing with v.0.33 . and apparently this one is going to be a very promising and robust release. The software team has grown a bit and the amount of work that gets done weekly is super impressive. To give you an example: The last release notes had 58 items on it and each one of them I commented with NIIIICE!

You can look forward to it!

 

Backer event and ISE

We attended the ISE show in Amsterdam and as usual we were very busy. This time we brought mostly engineers to the show because I really want to share that experience with everyone within the team. It’s so different to witness live how people react to NEEO compared to just hearing it form someone else.

The guys did a very solid job and I heard from a couple of visitors that they loved talking to engineers because it’s so much more authentic than talking to some sales guys. We will definitively continue to have engineers on the front. I believe in the real stuff, that’s why I’m writing this blog myself and not leaving it up to some marketing dudes :-)

At ISE we showed a different setup compared to previous shows. We brought more than usual AV sources with us - such as the latest XBOX. For that reason the TV was short of HDMI inputs. We thought that’s the perfect use case to show implementation of an HDMI matrix switcher. Many thanks to the crew at HD Anywhere for the matrix you provided us! 

ISE is a trade show for professionals so one thing we showed in particular was the integration with other home automation systems. Hundreds of visitors were amazed to learn that they can actually use NEEO in traditional systems like Control4, Crestron etc. On day one we will have sample integrations available for the installers of those systems.

Many of those dealers also figured they will actually be fine doing all their automation purely on NEEO. There was not one single use case the guys came up with that could not be covered with NEEO. Also some of the largest Z-Wave dealers who mess with demo systems right now plan to use NEEO as their primary controller in their upcoming projects. Of course I love to hear that!

Thursday Evening we have held the 'BEER with NEEO’ event for backers exclusively. Ohhh man this was a great evening - with one very special moment. Thanks everyone for coming over. We made sure every backer got a pass for free beers and we started the evening off very casually with some food and great discussions. Jeremias did a great job moderating through the evening. After the first couple of beers it was time for the competition. We had prepared some cards with questions to test your NEEO knowledge and we had some exclusive prizes for the top five winners ready. 3rd to 5th place received a hand made NEEO brain trophy. 2nd place was my NEEO skateboard signed by the team. I initially wanted this skateboard to ride in the office from my desk to the printer but thought it’s also a cool prize for a backer so I let it go. The first prize was a brand new 55” Samsung 4K TV. Brand new is actually not completely true: It was the actual TV we used at our trade show booth. Congrats to the winners!

Of course we had a present for every backer. We had some special edition backer t-shirts. Also we brought some NEEO chocolate for everyone from Switzerland (the good stuff). 

The very special moment was planned as a surprise just after the prize ceremony. I held a short speech explaining how important you people  -who believe in us- are, especially during troublesome days. I then mentioned that there is one amazing guy among the kickstarter community whom I wanted to thank especially this evening. Niels de Klerk who is the most active person in the commenting section. Well, we had a little surprise ready for him. In a black box. There was a NEEO logo on that box. And in there was the first NEEO combo ever delivery to a backer! Uuuuhhaaaaa! I waited very long for that moment and man this was special. Niels you deserve it and you are an amazing beta tester too. Thanks so much for being part of this!

Speaking about beta testing: JOIN THE BETA GROUP

Join the BETA group

As we are getting more and more units manufactured later this month we can make over 50 additional BETA tester slots available. BETA testers get weekly firmware releases and get access to the latest developments to provide feedback before a stable firmware then gets pushed out to the entire NEEO community. 

A big thank you to the current tester groups who have done excellent work in the last year! Your effort helps finding the hidden issues, bugs and edge cases we all want to tackle. Thanks for being so active!

Everyone who wants to join the BETA team please be aware of the following:

  • We really care about having active testers, make sure you have some time available to play with the product and to provide feedback. 
  • We care about testing a big variety of setups. We therefore include testers based on the gear they have
  • You will get the weekly BETA releases. Sometimes they are not stable. If you (or your family) prefers to have a stable setup at all time - you better don’t get into BETA firmware or the testing of it 
  • You might test some yet secret functions - make sure you are happy to keep the surprises for you as long as the function is not announced
  • NEEO will provide you hardware for those tests, over time the most active testers will get even more NEEO stuff to mess with 

To apply for the beta program please reach out to support@neeo.com. Send us an e-mail with a short list of the equipment you will test NEEO with. The new testers will be chosen and be informed in about a week from today. 

We look forward having many of you on the BETA team. Many of you will be invited to remain part of the BETA team for many month, even years. Potentially also for future products.

Production Update

Hola

It’s getting serious!     

Additionally to our local China team we currently have part of the engineering team from Switzerland in China. The guys have been working hard tuning everything in. I told them to let me know as soon as the top level (complete units) assembly line is ready to rock and I would then jump into an airplane to go witness the exciting moment and also to judge on everything's final quality. Well, the team just called me. I will jump into that plane coming Tuesday the 7th!

Although that’s typically very hard - I will try to get the allowance to capture some images so I could share some of the moments with you.  

It was not easy for all of us waiting until we finally see NEEOs coming off the assembly line. Anyways I feel that we are 100% ready today and looking back I can clearly say that today’s version of the product is much, much better than it would have been if released earlier. It’s the right time! I’m very thankful to see how the coming launch pushes everyone within the team. Literally no one goes home normal hours. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling holding shirk wrapped units in our hands.  (shrink wrap is the transparent plastic wrap around the product) 

Remote front shell production

Remote front shell production

Next steps:

  • Coming week: Manufacturing another badge of ~300 units 
  • Mid to late March: Running one last reliability and durability testing round with these latest units
  • Mid to late March: Approving slightly changed docking station top lids (we scrapped the last batch of 10K units that I mention in the last update as they did not fully meet quality standard)  
  • Mid to late March: Full round of quality checks on the 300 units
  • April: Getting into production of thousands of units

Remaining challenges:

We currently see no bigger challenges remaining

 

As soon as a couple of thousand units are on their way we will announce shipment and - we will announce some other cool news. Stay tuned. The first couple of thousand units are of course going to all Kickstarter backers and then we start fulfilling the pre-orders. General availability of the product will take a litte while as the first couple of ten thousand units which we can manufacture now are already sold. 

Happy neeo year everyone!

I hope you had spent some quality time with your friends and families over the holidays.

We have been working in London, California, Las Vegas, China, Germany and Switzerland. The heavy travelling was worth it. Let’s dive right into it: 

Production:

We had spend some intense time in China setting up the entire manufacturing line with all the BLT and FST adapters and all peripheral devices. All the BLT adapters have been integrates into the line and also into our contract manufacturers cloud solution. All done and works perfectly and is approved. In case you don’t remember what BLT is: here is the link 

Congrats and thank you Kevin and team for the great work in China!

The team also progressed well with the integration of the FST adapters. There are a couple of hurdles there but we know how to overcome them. The engineers in China get great support from the guys in Switzerland and there is not too much left.  

Additionally we found one issue with some docking stations that were not passing our tight tolerances and lost some time there fixing this. We do have the solution by now though. There was a small impact - but in general every issue that we find is good so the risk that we will ever be slowed down later on due to such issues is much smaller. We want to build tens of thousands of units shortly and need to make sure “the machine” works perfectly. We accept very little compromise there. We want everyone to be amazed with the built quality.   

 

Timeline:

End of this month: 

At the end of the month the remaining guys in China will come back to Switzerland and finalise some FST integration tasks while in China the entire country is pretty much on hold due to Chinese new year. 

Next steps: 

Just after that - in early February - we will return to China and finalize the last remaining tasks that need to be done on-site.   

Right after that the entire production line should be ready for production. We will make a couple of hundred units, quickly verify that everything is good and then make a couple of thousand units. 

As soon as those units are in the plane to your continent we will announce shipping. It is damn close..

Software: 

We are currently heavily testing a stable release that might be 98% of what V1.0 will be. There are a couple of fixes and features we still want to get in there - but anyways if we would have to freeze it today - it would be OK. It's stable and feels good. We still have a very long backlog of ideas and features we want to build of course but at some point soon we will have to freeze it for V1.0. 

PS: Good news: We got the approval from the Apple App Store for the iOS app. You wont be able to see it though as it’s currently not public.

Very valuable CES 2017 experience

Driving our rental car through Vegas late in the evening - Markus never stopS developing

Driving our rental car through Vegas late in the evening - Markus never stopS developing

The day before the show wasn’t great. I didn’t feel well. Had some temparature and a terrible headache. Advil and coffee helped a bit to make at least some part of my (not NEEO-) brain work. When we were done building the small both we started setting up the gear we use for the demos. We experienced some nasty network issues. it was nothing related to NEEO equipment, the troubles started before we even unboxed our own product. Even just the Sonos app was unable to connect to the Sonos speaker. Same for Philips Hue. The Hue app did in the best case only purely connect to the Hue bridge and lost it’s connection after seconds again. We had tested that exact demo environment at the Cupertino office the day before. Our first thought of course was that it’s just a Wifi Issue due to the overload an Wifi networks in the exhibition hall. We counted over 50 access point that were reachable form out booth. This is the usual trade show challenge though. We went to our secret channel (which we won’t disclose here for obvious reason ;-)  and it was still the same. The Wifi connection was not even the issue though. We measured a couple of things and everything was good (for a trade show environment) We then started to measure things over Ethernet and relaized that our issues actually were pure Ethernet issues. My headache was still there - now paired with some technical headaches. At some point I was doubting that we will even be able to demo anything. We tested and measured a coupe of things. We found one trouble-maker ethernet cable which had a bad connection. Also due to the fact that the router behaved strangely we replaced it with a new one. And… tadaaa! Everything worked smooth. Puhhh. We were smiling again. Then finally we were in a position to setup up the rest including NEEO and all worked smooth! Ready for day one (and me - ready for some sleep and tea)

The show was very busy. There were four of us and we rarely found a couple of minutes to take a break. We love that. We had hundreds of people who came to see us bot also many who "found" us just by coincidence and the average reaction was something like: “I’m really glad I found this”. Of course we also had the meetings with dozens of backers. We much enjoyed this. It’s so super valuable to us to see your reaction. Markus and David were attending their fist show for NEEO and were absolutely amazed to see how people react to their work. It’s such a big motivation. After the first day Markus said something like: “Until today NEEO was a highly interesting job for me because of the team and because of all its challenges and the cool technology it's based on. But somehow the relationship with the product was defined by the backlog in Jira (our Scrum Tool) that I daily look into. This only shows what still needs to be fixed and developed. I had a very technical relationship with the product so far. Now seeing all these people being amazed with the product gives it such a different perspective. I now better understand for whom we are truly making this. Meeting all these people makes such a huge difference”

It was great for the visitors to meet our amazing magicians and it was at least equally as great for the engineers to meet you. I would recommend to other startups to do the same and bring their engineering team into similar situations.. 

BTW: To everyone who came over: Fellow backers enjoy reading about your experience with us, If you post some words about your visit at the booth, people will highly appreciate that. Thanks   

What I was impressed with the most at this show in terms of technology was the RF performance of the remote and the brain. Even-tough there were >50 access points around - the remote worked smooth at all time. Even range was pretty good and latencies low. This is not normal. Even my iPhone 7 had extrem latencies. 

RF on trade shows remains a challenge for all exhibitors though. There is no guarantee we will “beat" the iPhone next trade show, but it felt cool anyways and it’s very promising as no user will have such a bad RF environment at home. It’s sort of: If you make it work there you can make it work anywhere.

It’s amazing how people react to NEEO. The excitement was huge. Almost all reactions were in the range of “it’s exactly what’s missing in the market”, “man, you are solving the biggest issue with the connected home”, “I love this, it’s so beautiful”.

I probably still had a little fever but the excitement and the adrenaline of the show made it disappear 😉 

We also had two important meetings for upcoming partnerships. Both are incredible companies that I’m honoured to work with. It’s all under NDA for now but it’s just amazing that things take off like this.

Connected home and the real world

I think people who speak with us and look at the company closely understand that we really care about creating a solution that works in the real world. When we started we wanted to see one beatiful solution that creates a magically simple experience. We didn’t want to see people having to switch between apps and remotes. We didn’t want to see you taking out your smart phone, unlocking it and finding your desired app just to switch some light off. We created NEEO because we were (and are) unhappy with the experience offered in the market.

Just because it has been a while - I summarise a couple of things here for you: We needed a fundamentally different approach to most challenges to reach our goal. We had to build our own driver database from scratch (rather than licensing one of the not-so-great-working ones out there) We needed to build our own OS (the mobile operating systems out there were to power hungry and didn’t perform smooth enough) We had to create a massive software project. From our own home automation middle-ware to a complete cloud infrastructure, all needed to be built. We had to create our own hardware from scratch. We knew we cannot take the easy path. Many control companies, universal remotes and smart remotes and hubs have tried. Non of them got all the important elements right. There are reasons why the connected home market has taken off relatively slow. The customer is confused and the solutions out there require you to be well informed and sort of a do-it-yourself guy. It’s just all too complicated today. We want to see everyone enjoying one interface that gives smooth control over all the products you love. -A product that is super easy to setup. -A product that you will love to use every single day. 

Now it’s alive and it works. Knowing that we solve a problem found in millions of households is stunning. You were part of it since the beginning and the reward you deserve so much for this will comes to you shortly. You can look forward to it. 

Thanks so much for being part of this!