Erin Tomson, Inventor of Modulo
Erin Tomson
Modulo inventor

Meet Our Inventor

Erin Tomson has been working with electronics since she was a kid, starting with basic kits and radio shack tutorials in grade school and middle school, then PC-controlled robots in high school, and electronic art in college. A love of software and computer graphics took her to Pixar after college, where she worked as a Technical Director and Lead Engineer for over 12 years. Recently she left Pixar to focus again on physical computing.

  • So, what's this all about?

    I’ve been interested in electronics ever since I was a kid. The biggest change I’ve seen since that time has been the explosion of cheap easy to use microcontrollers. Creating logic that drives an electronic circuit no longer requires stringing together logic gates and 555 timers. Instead you can buy a very capable 8Mhz microcontroller for about a dollar, a well-integrated Arduino for ten bucks, or a 700Mhz Raspberry Pi for $25.

    Other things have change less since that time. Solderless breadboards have been the electronic prototyping substrate of choice ever since they were invented in the early 70s. They make it easy to create electrical connections between components but they also present many perils. Building circuits in that way requires carefully correlating a tangle of wires with complicated data sheets and schematics. Any mistake will at best create a diagnostic headache and at worst will permanently destroy an expensive or difficult to obtain part.

    When a circuit does work and it becomes time to integrate it into a project, more challenges await. Generally the fragile breadboard circuit will need to be made more permanent. That often involves an error-prone process of recreating the circuit on a solderable proto board, then carefully fusing the connections, one by one, with molten lead.

    Once your circuit is functional, you’ll need to write some software for that shiny modern microprocessor that you have so carefully incorporated. Depending on the components involved, that might be fairly easy or it might be pretty hard. It may involve installing libraries and digging deeper into datasheets, and will likely involve rudimentary debugging through a serial console.

    For beginners this can all be quite daunting. Each of the skills involved has a learning curve, and combined together that curve can be quite steep. For the experienced these headaches often distract from the projects themselves. Time spent studying a datasheet or diagnosing a bad solder joint can easily eat up a Saturday afternoon that might otherwise produce a successful project.

    I believe there are way to improve all of this, and that’s the mission of Modulo Labs.

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