Being part of the journey is one of the reasons that angel investors put money into startups and crowdfunding backers support projects. Sometimes that journey is simple and straightforward, but when it comes to developing new technologies it is often a rollercoaster.
Crowdfunding platforms are generally pretty clear about where they stand on this thesis. The early team at Kickstarter even published a page titled “Kickstarter Is Not a Store” where they explain to backers what projects are and are not.
On the spectrum of journeys from “Sean’s trip to the market” at one end and “Frodo’s trip to Mordor” on the other, Mycroft’s journey is definitely closer to Middle Earth than suburban London.
Over the past couple years we’ve tried to communicate this. We’ve had some false starts on the hardware, fundraising challenges and detours into enterprise services to make ends meet, but hopefully we’ve been able to communicate effectively along the way.
After all, backers bought a ticket on our rollercoaster, it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t communicate that empty stomach feeling you get when things don’t go as planned.
New CEO, New Roadmap
In case you missed it, Mycroft hired a more experienced CEO early this year. Our new CEO shares our original vision, but has much more experience with delivering large complex software projects and complex hardware.
Under our original roadmap and release cycle Mycroft went to alpha on May 20, 2016 and beta on March 7, 2018, but it turns out our leadership team was a bit aggressive in defining what alpha and beta mean.
Among other things the Mycroft stack lacked easily installable packages, automated updates for non-Mycroft enclosures and, importantly, a comprehensive testing framework. The result has been a stack that is feature rich, but buggy, hard to install and difficult to maintain.
So we’re taking our change in leadership as an opportunity to rewind our messaging revising our roadmap to production.
Michael has been very clear that he doesn’t see Mycroft as a hardware company. Our smart speakers are reference devices for Mycroft-Core in the same way that the Pixel line of smartphones are a reference device for Android. Our plans are to eventually enable thousands of software developers, automakers, robotics companies, device manufacturers and even drone companies to deploy voice technology in their products.
Many use cases for Mycroft, however, do require a reference speaker. Organizations like hotels and hospitals are eager to explore voice assistants as supplementary technologies for concierge desks and rooms, nursing stations and patient bedsides, but to do so they need a physical device.
So we are working hard to make the Mark II that device. A reference device for backers that can also be used by schools, hospitals and hotels to serve their customers.
So where are we in our quest to ship the Mark II? The good news is that we appear to be past the big drops and loop-de-loops. Today we’ve got more experienced leadership and are moving down the path to delivering on our promises.
Based on our new CEO’s experience, this is where the company is in the development process:
We have progressed from using commercial off-the-shelf parts for the proof-of-concept, to developing a PCB for the manufacturable prototype. This decision was made for a variety of reasons, but both performance and cost were significant factors.
We’re not ready to release a timeline for the first DFM Prototype PCBs, but the design is well underway and under active development using a low-risk process of integrating the off-the-shelf components of the PoC into a single PCB.
The hardware production process should move swiftly once we’ve verified the PCB functionality and integrity. In fact, we anticipate that the long-pole in shipping a stable product is going to be the software, which is where the majority of our development team is focused.
Despite more than five years of effort, 4,400 Github stars on our primary repository, contributions from hundreds of software developers and thousands of other contributors our software remains early.
This is understandable given the complexity of the problem we’re trying to solve. After evaluating our software stack, we’ve decided to rewind our messaging to be more in line with industry standards. As a result Mycroft is back in alpha where it will remain until we solve issues related to performance and content.
We try to balance being transparent and forthcoming with being too spammy. Hopefully we get it right, but if you feel you’re not getting enough information, please take a moment to subscribe to our e-mail list or check in on our blog from time-to-time.
As we stated earlier this year, the expectation for Mark II delivery stands at 2021. When we can give you a firm timeline, we will. If we can make it happen sooner, we will. Progress is dependent on staffing and distractions like patent trolls, which in turn affect, and are affected by, fundraising. But for now we can commit to keep you updated on our actual progress, and setbacks, on the path to fulfilling this Kickstarter.
Building new technology is quite a ride. Thank you for joining us on the journey.
Mycroft’s First Officer, a serial entrepreneur and Air Force Officer, Joshua brings more than 15 years of leadership experience to the Mycroft team. He is a strong supporter of the open ethos, net neutrality and consumer privacy. Joshua lives in Holualoa, Hawaii with his wife and co-founder Kris Adair.