Building Countdown: Electronics Revisions

3 Mins
Building Countdown: Electronics Revisions

Over the last 6 months, we've gone through 4 different iterations of the electronics in Countdown hide and seek toy. Each revision has added and removed some features, changed the shape and size of the case we can use, and, most importantly, each revision has progressively been easier to assemble. That last point is critical because each little piece on our boards are currently hand-placed. Each new part to place adds a few minutes to our assembly time and, over the course of dozens of boards, that time adds up (and increases the chances of a mistake).

Below we take a stroll down memory lane and describe the changes over in both functionality and cost of the guts of Countdown.


Revision 1 - Original Prototype

We didn't start giving our boards good nicknames right away. This was simply our first board, so we just pointed at it and grunted if we were talking about it.

Oh, the sweet memories. This board lasted us for about 3 months, allowing for initial development and early feedback from our prospective audience: lots of kids. This board is unique in that it only supported 5 buttons, where as future iterations would have 6. It's also unique in cost. This was the only board we had built and assembled (parts placed on it) for us by an assembly house.

Total price: an exorbitant $3000 for 5 boards.
Time to delivery: 2 weeks

Revision 2 - aka "The Flying Saucer"

Realizing that we would need a few more iterations to get everything right, we set out to reduce costs for each revision. Our next board was the first that supported 6 buttons, USB programming, brighter LEDs and our now-standard circular ring design. The outer ring on this design was meant to use a special type of button called a 'conductive' button, similar to what is used in a TV remote control. No moving parts, lower cost for the button, sounds great. The problem was that it added cost and complexity elsewhere. 3D printing suitable buttons is difficult (if not impossible) and getting custom buttons made would defeat the 'low cost' goal. Additionally, you'll notice the boards have gold plating. Yes, real gold. That's not cheap! What were we thinking?

Per board cost: $1.50
Time to delivery: 1 week
Parts: $9.15 (non-volume pricing)
Total parts: 86
Time to Assemble: 1 hour 30 minutes each

Revision 3 - aka "Going Places"

The Flying Sauce worked, but we understood quickly how bad a decision it was to go with special buttons, so we iterated quickly and released the next board, nicknamed "Going Places". This was a much simpler design with pushbutton switches placed for under each 3D printed button, a lower power design, reduced components and reduced board area. All those things lead to quicker builds and lower cost.

Per board cost: $0.95
Time to delivery: 1 week
Parts: $9.32 (non-volume pricing.. pushbuttons added cost, but other changes reduced cost)
Time to Assemble: 1 hour 5 minutes each

Revision 4 - aka "Power Up"

No, it's not a duplicate of the last one. It's very similar, but refined. It's also our current revision of electronics that we're sending out for review and feedback. This board took everything we knew and added some important features. Countdown has some powerful, bright lights, and we realized that powering it from 3x AAA batteries wasn't going to provide the usage life we wanted. This new boards' main addition was a further reduction in components and an upgrade to support 4x AA batteries. 'Off' time is now estimated at 6+ months with continuous playtime of >48 hours.

While we're still taking notes on design changes for a future update, we're extremely excited with the performance, power consumption and form factor this latest board allows. This is the revision that we're sending out to testers and reviewers and are getting some great feedback on.

Per board cost: $0.95
Time to delivery: 1 week
Parts: $8.79 (non-volume pricing)
Time to Assemble: 40 minutes. Whew!