Last weekend I had an incredible time launching an idea at Portland Startup Weekend. Somewhere around 50 folks showed up, and exciting products were started by nine different teams.
I had my heart set to work on an embedded Linux project over the weekend, and pitched an idea to create a device that could play internet radio streams over FM. This simple media server would allow you to walk around your home with a cheap FM radio and listen to internet radio. Given that the purpose of the event was to embrace constraints and have something noteworthy to demo by the end of the weekend, I felt this was a viable goal to work toward, even if the feature was somewhat of a novelty.
To achieve this, I took an older model Gumstix Connex embedded ARM board, loaded Angstrom (an OpenEmbedded-based distro) onto it, and paired it with an off-the-shelf FM radio transmitter I picked up Sunday morning from Radio Shack. I organized the following milestones and knocked them down one by one:
Milestone 1: Select a command-line media player that can play remote mp3 streams (I used mpg123) and verify that it can be run on the gumstix board with good performance (cpu utilization was only around 10%). Some scripts also had to be developed to make sure that network streams would get restarted if they failed or cut out suddenly (this can happen frequently with internet radio).
Milestone 2: Create a web-based interface for controlling the device, allowing the user to select one of several streams and start or stop playback of them, using a crude user interface.
Milestone 4: Integrate and test this setup with the FM transmitter and portable receiver. Polish the concept and prepare the demo.
The final result? Check it out:
As you can see, I had a bit of fun with the project. I named the device Streamasourus Rex. The T-Rex was lifted from Dinosaur Comics. Also, the guys from Mugasha (a Portland-based electronic music webapp startup) were at the event, so I thought it would be fun to surprise them by playing one of the DJ sets they offer from their site during my demo.
I have no intention to follow-through and actually create a business or product out of this, as I have my hands full of interesting projects as it is. But the exercise itself was extremely valuable and is something I hope to keep doing. It’s also wonderful and energizing to meet and hang out with people who don’t just think about ideas, but actually execute them and take some risks.
At the end of the event, each team demonstrated their progress before a panel of experienced entrepreneurs. EyeClash, a team working on integrating videoconferencing with online flash gaming, was chosen by the panel as one of the most exciting projects, and they are receiving three free months of office space at NedSpace.
I’d like to thank everyone who came out and put effort into trying something new, and especially to the organizers of the event, who did a great job keeping things rolling. I doubt this will be my last Startup Weekend!