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Children's Foundation Holiday Giving Bears

So we won that pitch... and now wanted to scale up and do the project for real. We'd formed AUTONOMY CO-OP a couple weeks after the pitch, so perfect timing.

Partnering SmithGifford, LMO, mGive and Falcon Labs to make it happen, AUTONOMY focused on the technology that would be required to create, orchestrate and manage 363 bears at various locations around the city. The longest pole in that tent was designing the hardware.

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This time we had time, and needed to scale the cost appropriately to 350+ units, so I quickly settled on a NodeMCU module, one of the cheaper varieties of the ESP8266 based boards you everywhere see these days. We also made a very early decision to go with Amazon Web Services and IoT Core, which was an excellent platform choice in the end as it solved lots of messaging and monitoring problems, letting us focus on the creative parts of the technology.

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Of course, I went down a side road at this point, and got Max/MSP and a midi controller involved. Since we had an open MQTT channel and we were working in Node.js anyway, integrating a way to tune the bear's color and animation parameters using knobs rather than experimenting with numbers and rebuilding was a snap. It was like an AWS IoT button, but with 8 buttons and 8 knobs!

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Along the way, we developed a series of prototypes. It's easy to see the evolution of the shell of each in this photo, starting from the lamp, then a 3D printed prototype and finally the first rotocast mini-bear.

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At this point, we went into production and manufacturing mode. The control board I'd developed around the NodeMCU module went into production through a board manufacturer, and at the co-op, we got busy building light modules.

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Finally, the bears were delivered to our secret staging location. Every bear was plugged in, recieved an over the air update to the latest firmware, and was boxed back up and delivered to a location around the city.

They even went to events and met famous people:

But the brillance of this campaign was the quiet way that it supports the kids at the hospital. SmithGifford's spot says it best: