crowdsourcing
Handheld Technology

Crowdsourcing Innovation: Scott Ma, Vice President, ICE Computer

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

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  Name:
  Scott Ma

  Job title:  Vice President

  Organisation: ICE Computer

  Location:  Cupertino, CA

 

Product: ICE xPC

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What it does & how it works:

The ICE xPC™ modular computer is as small as your phone but with the processing power of a portable or desktop computer. Users no longer need to leave their computer at home or drag around a heavy, bulky laptop. The xPC weighs less than 100g (4 oz.) and quickly transforms into a pad, notebook, desktop, or gaming device depending on the user’s current need or want.

Our fresh perspective on the computing ecosystem makes it as easy to build your environment—and as personal—as playing with Lego. And, this modular concept is cost-effective, allowing you to change or upgrade your computing components at any time.

We’ve separated the traditional, integrated architecture of the PC into key components: the processor, data storage, display, keyboard, and peripherals. This design concept facilitates dynamic plug-and-play of ICE processors and all peripherals through matched connectors.

ICE xPC delivers an entirely new experience by connecting you everywhere, at any time. On the road, turn your xPC into a tablet computer. In the office, your xPC transforms into a mini desktop workstation. At home, power your online gaming, HDTV, online entertainment … the list goes on.

When it’s time to upgrade your PC you would, traditionally, have to buy an entirely new device. Because there is no component sharing or reuse, an upgrade is expensive and creates e-waste. The ICE xPC is designed with the future, flexibility, and sustainability in mind. Its one-for-all, all-for-one design makes interchanging components easy, thereby facilitating upgrades while minimizing waste.

To upgrade, you simply purchase a new ICE xPC and plug it into your existing ICE peripherals. This novel, modular computer system can save you time, considerably reduce your expense, and help minimize the long-term environmental impact.

What makes it special:

Unlike traditional computing devices, the xPC is cost-effective, easily upgraded, and eco-friendly. Currently, we are offering the world’s smallest mini-PC with the processing power of a portable or desktop computer. The ‘modular’ PCs available today are typically difficult to upgrade, a flaw some attribute to marketing schemes which require users to re-purchase new models every few years in order to stay current with technology.

Unlike traditional “in-chassis” approaches, we have successfully identified and separated key functional components into modules, each with its own small chassis. Just imagine we shrunk a desktop computer into smartphone-sized xPC chassis, and its peripheral connectors were transformed into a small peripheral chassis, etc. This approach will allow consumers to be more closely aligned with new technologies, and makes purchasing new, advanced components more cost-effective.

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What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?

I have a Mechanical Engineering degree from Purdue University, but for the past 15 years I have been in the computer industry with Dell, Gateway, Teleplan and Elitegroup Computer Systems. My last role was the Americas CEO for Elitegroup Computer Systems an ODM company. With my background and wide range of experience, I feel I have particular insight into the consumer computing market, particularly where the future is taking us.

Motivated by the media tablet market that originated with the Apple iPad, and understanding that the market could explode into a totally new post-PC era, the ICE team stepped up to the challenge. We created the dynamic, eco-friendly, and cost-effective modular computer platform, giving consumers the computing innovation they clearly want and need. And this is just the beginning. ICE Computer is focused on continuing to revolutionize the personal computing experience. This is where we see the future of personal computing. This platform solves a variety of consumer concerns and meets the need for personal computing in the 21st century, as well as addressing the move away from traditional PCs towards a more individualized experience. As personal computer users transition toward a more flexible, mobile, and individualized experience, our modular system anticipates their needs, while at the same time maintaining affordability and environmental responsibility.

Why Indiegogo?

We are planning to release a series of products one after the other. Indiegogo is more conducive to this type of product offering, and will help us achieve our current funding goals. Currently we are offering the world’s smallest Mini-PC.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

Crowdfunding provides a platform for startups or early stage companies to pitch innovative products to the masses and receive feedback about their products immediately. Before, startups could only pitch to individual angel investors or VCs with limited or no feedback.

Crowdfunding not only provides businesses with needed cash, but also creates a base of customers who feel as though they have a stake in the business’ success as well as supporting novel products.

Reactions on IGG so far?

Frequent comments from IGG:

  • “Astucieux”, “ Nice! It's really amazing!”, and “Hope this hits the shelves soon”
  • “Is it possible to install Linux (Ubuntu) into xPC?”
  • “If this were the phone then YES! But not the phone. Sad.”

 

Comments from potential customers who experienced our product demos at the Jan 6–10 Consumer Electronic Show:

  • “Cool”, “Brilliant”, and “Awesome”
  • “I want to be the exclusive distributor in my nation/region”
  • “The portability, flexibility, and cost effectiveness of your products will be an easy sale for us”

 

What have you learned from your campaign?

We should start our PR initiatives from day one. We initiated the PR from day 8, which was a little bit late, but we are gaining supporters.

Supporters do not like “flex funding” on IndieGoGo. They are concerned that if it fails to meet funding goal, their money will be gone.  However, we are planning to refund the remaining contributions (after deducting the transaction fee from IndieGoGo , Amazon and/or Credit Card), if the funding goal was not achieved to any contributors wanting a refund. Disregard contributors’ decision, we are committed to deliver the products since we are working with companies that are highly interested in OEM our products.

How difficult is it to get PC-level performance into such a small device?

The biggest challenge we faced in evolving the xPC was the ability to squeeze all of that traditional, large PC technology into a smartphone-sized chassis. We had to consider not only the space limitations, but heat dissipation. The latter was a consideration for the components as well. We overcame these issues by increasing the printed circuit board layers to 10 to be able to reside more than four thousand of interconnected tiny circuits, while maintaining a 1mm or less thickness. Our innovative thermal module for heat dissipation of non-fanless processors took care of the heat dissipation issue, separating the heat sink and cooling fan and ensuring proper airflow.

To effectively manage the communication between the ICE xPC and peripherals, we designed an embedded control unit into each along with control software. The control unit and software form a master/slave relationship between the xPC and its peripherals to facilitate performance as a single, integrated PC when connected.

Has ‘The Death of the PC’ been over-hyped, and what sort of impact can portable PCs such as the xPC say about their decline?

“Post-PC” has been a buzzword since Steve Jobs announced at the iPad2 launch event. To us, post-PC is something we are seeing the beginning of but it’s not just due to the latest Smartphones/Slates/Tablets that are around, but also includes other future devices which will revolutionize personal computing:

  • Brain in pocket – new small device in our pocket can do a similar job to a laptop.
  • Computing anytime anywhere – devices offer new pleasant Internet, Communications, and Entertainment (ICETM) user experiences for worldwide consumers enjoying business and personal computing as much in offices, labs, Starbucks, libraries, schools, living rooms as bedrooms.
  • Cloud services – devices can access application, data, and even instantly download/boot lightweight operating from clouds anywhere.
  • Eco-friendly devices with better, lighter, and cheaper components that can be easily shared, reused or recycled.

Smartphones and Tablet PCs are becoming the future of mobile platforms. However their features are overlapping each other. For example, Apple’s iPad is basically a version of their intelligent cellular telephone (i.e., the iPhone) with a larger display. In fact, iPad is just a pricy oversized iPhone. Furthermore, Netbooks/Notebooks/Desktops are still needed by most of people for their greater flexibility. But owning all three of Smartphone, Tablet PC, and Netbook/Notebook devices is redundant and will cost you more. ICE Computer is developing a set of new computing devices by combining these three products into one novel general-purpose intelligent platform.

Possible business use/advantage?

The ease of upgrading and cost savings is the major advantage for business operations. As your employee base and markets grow, you can continue to shrink your IT requirements and costs. Additionally, the xPC is an optimal mobility solution for businesses with remote or mobile sales and support staff.

Aims for the future?

ICE Computer is focused on continuing to revolutionize the personal computing experience. We have prototyped, and demoed several other products in addition to the products that we offered at IndieGoGo. We are planning to release them one by one before end of 2014.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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