Interview: Petduino Creator, the Pet You Build Yourself

6 min read Michael Carroll on Dec 17, 2015
Petduino Creator Matt Brailsford

This week Josh interviews Circuitbeard, creator of the adorable Petduino electronic pet. Petduino is an Arduino derived kit that you can assemble and program yourself.

Meet Matt Brailsford, a.k.a. Circuitbeard

Josh: Hi Circuitbeard. I’m guessing that’s not your real name, right?

Matt: Haha, no, my real name is Matt Brailsford.

Josh: How did you come by the name Circuitbeard?

Matt: Being an entrepreneur running a couple of other businesses, I know the importance of having a brand. So when I decided to make a go of it with Petduino, I knew I’d need something to differentiate myself. I still wanted it to represent me – and my passion for electronics / making – so I started brainstorming.

Having recently learnt the ways of the mighty beard, I thought:  “…why not use what is now a distinctive part of me physically and merge it with my passion of electronics / circuitry to form the brand Circuitbeard?” And so the brand was born.

It also has the added benefit that my wife can’t ask me to shave it off now either, as it’s a fundamental part of my brand now 🙂

Josh: Cool. Just like Bob Ross. 🙂 Where do you live?

Matt: I am based in Sheffield, England.


Josh: Could you tell us about Petduino?

Matt: Petduino is the first kit I’ve decided to bring to market. It is a virtual pet that you build and code yourself. The kit comes with everything you need to make your very own Petduino, and requires you to learn key maker skills such as soldering, to put it together, and Arduino based programming in order to give it’s own unique personality.

Josh: And why did you make Petduino?

Matt: Being a latecomer to the maker community myself, I found it really frustrating getting into the scene. I knew of these things called Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, but I didn’t really know what to do with them. Like many people, I bought a few, and they stayed in my drawer for months, not sure what to do with them. The problem was, whilst these boards are very powerful, unless you have an idea of what to do with them, they are useless. And, if you are just getting into the scene, often you don’t even know what is possible, and so haven’t really got anything in mind.

The idea behind Petduino then is to give people that end goal and something to work towards, but still leaving the door open to extending it further once those ideas start to flow. By having that end goal to work towards, the mind is free to just learn and work towards a finish line where at the end of it they know they have something cool and fun to play with.

For me, this is what was missing when I came to the maker scene, so I thought why not try and help those wanting to get into making not hit the same roadblocks I did.

Josh: But you could have just posted some instructions. Why did you decide to mass-make Petduino and sell it.

Matt: The idea to sell it was always the goal. I really like to do things that help other people out. In my regular day job I work as a web developer and contribute a lot to the open source community, so when I came to hardware community, naturally I geared towards sharing and helping others where I might have struggled myself.

Another side of it was also the challenge of it. I’d never created a “product” before, and it’s always interested me to know what it takes to get one to market, so I decided the best way to find out was to just do it. It was a steep learning curve for sure, but so interesting learning all the steps, from designing / manufacturing a custom PCB, to sourcing parts to keep the cost of entry as low as possible. It was definitely a fun process.

Petduino + PubNub

Josh: What did you do with Petduino and PubNub?

Matt: The idea behind Petduino was to make something fun and cool with minimal components to show that even with a few simple sensors, you can make something pretty interesting. The Petduino itself is USB powered and because of this simplicity, it doesn’t have many advanced features such as an Internet connection. But recently, I’ve been putting a tutorial together to show how you can combine the Petduino with other hardware – such as a Raspberry Pi – to give it extra abilities including a net connection and allowing it to access the plethora of web services out there.

A key part of that is being able to pass messages to and from the Internet. This is where the PubNub Python library came in so handy- offering a simple solution to implement a real-time message protocol that just worked.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to the tutorial, but hope to release it on my blog real soon, giving full step-by-step instructions for how to get everything up and running.

Josh: That’s a neat use for PubNub. I love the idea of small cute things on the Internet. Do you have any more personal projects you want to code up for the Petduino? I’d love to see a social network for all of our little friends to communicate. 🙂

Matt: I’m pretty sure once Petduino connects to the Internet a whole heap of ideas will come flooding in. I’d really like to do some Internet connected gaming, but I’m actually really excited to see what others do with it. We’ve already got people turning them into little notification devices, so I’m hoping this is just the start.

Tiny Gaming

Josh: Your product page mentions playing games on the 8×8 matrix screen. What games have you or other people made?

Matt: So far we’ve made Snake, Flappy bird, a simple push button game to time how fast you can press the button before the screen empties, and even a mini Dance Dance Revolution style game. In addition, we’ve also got lots of other cool examples like a theremin and a mini sequencer for making music, and many other code examples for getting started so there really is lots you can do with it.

Josh: Now that you’ve shipped Petduino do you have another product you want to sell? Perhaps a Mega-Petduino to hang on the wall?

Matt: We’ve got tons of ideas for the Petduino project on how we can take it further so we still have plenty to do with this little fella. But of course, we definitely have other ideas up our sleeves,  so you’ll just have to wait and see what they are 🙂

Josh: Is there a community for Petduino that you’ve created? Where should people post about the things they’ve built and help each other learn?

Matt: There sure is 🙂 It’s pretty early days still, but you can use our community forum to ask any questions you might have, or show off what you’ve been building, and of course we’d love to see people sharing their pictures/videos on Twitter/Instagram using the #petduino hashtag.

Get Your Own Petduino

Josh: Where can someone buy the Petduino? Do you plan to offer any other colors or styles?

Matt: Petduinos are currently for sale on our website (we are approaching re-sellers right now) and are available in 7 different colour options. Each kit comes complete with a plethora of pet accessory ears and arms so you can mix and match your creations. Or, if you have access to a laser cutter, it’s pretty simple to create your own accessories (we like to give out custom design files during the holidays to help people theme up their Petduinos, so keep an eye out on our blog for those).

Josh: Thank you so much Matt,  I mean Circuitbeard.  We’ll keep a look out for your tutorials on your blog.

You can order a Petduino of your very own from the Circuitbeard website. Matt says they have plenty in stock and can ship right away. Happy Holidays!

Circuitbeard Petduino