Arduino & Raspberry Pi builds that don't require a PhD in electrical engineering

Can a new subscription box open the world of cheap microcontrollers to eager amateurs?


If you're a hardcore DIYer, an electrical or mechanical engineer, or the kind of all-around science ninja who can hack, code, or build whatever she sets her mind to, Thimble probably isn't for you.

But for everyone else--the tech curious masses who may be experts in one or two domains but don't have Ph.D.s in robotics or computer science--this monthly subscription box might be the thing to tear down a longstanding barrier that's kept DIY electronics out of reach.

Thimble, which has raised nearly a quarter million dollars on Kickstarter with about three weeks left in the campaign, is a subscription box that brings a new Arduino-based electronics project to your doorstep each month. It's like the cheese of the month club, except with better documentation.

Subscription boxes have become big business after the huge success of curated product services like BirchBox and ToucanBox. You can now get snacks, makeup, grooming supplies, books, survival gear, cooking schwag, toys, games, and art delivered to your doorstep by the curated boxful. Services like JustFab, which sells fashion accessories, and BeachMint, which runs six separate fashion and lifestyle brands by subscription, have received impressive venture capital backing ($109M for JustFab, $75M for BeachMint).

But the realm of electronics remains largely virgin territory in the subscription box race, in part because consumer electronics tend to be more expensive than razors and off-the-rack fashion. But the unexpected success of Raspberry Pi and Arduino has opened up a new universe of cheap and capable computer-driven devices.

Thimble founders Oscar Pedroso and David Brenner designed the kit to solve a problem: there's a growing number of Arduino- and Raspberry Pi-based build kits designed for advanced amateurs, and there are plenty of robotics kits for school age kids, but there's not much for techie types who maybe never learned to solder or haven't had a chance to give hardware a try.

"People want to be creative but they don't always have the right project ideas or components or the knowledge to build everything together," says Pedroso, adding that most people are "overwhelmed by the number of kits out there and there's nothing offering a guided path to learning."

Thimble's first kit is a little robot. The box comes with a motor, wheels, a small platform, and a WiFi module, among other parts. There's a companion learning app to teach you how to build the robot and how-to videos to guide you through any steps that may be unfamiliar, from soldering connections to programming Android and iOS apps to run the bot from your phone. You sort of choose your own adventure, consulting the materials as needed without having to sit through tutorials on stuff you already know.

DIY electronics to your doorstep is a cool concept and I expect we'll see more services like this. My birthday is coming up, just FYI.