On February 9, 2012, Portable Scores registered as an LLC with the state of Wisconsin. This is not, however, where the story of Portable Scores begins.
<old crony voice>
On New Years Eve 2006, Bob Baddeley, Nick Cramer, and Doug Love were playing ping pong in Doug’s garage. As in all ping pong games, remembering the score and whose turn it was to serve was a bit of a challenge. And as engineers, we quickly started designing aloud a project that would track everything, store it to a database, keep statistics on who beat whom how often, etc. It wasn’t long before other features crept in, too, like a buzzer, timers, remote controls, and others.
But we all worked at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where we had to register any invention, even if it was outside of company time. We did, and asserted that we wanted to keep the rights to the invention, and since the lab had no interest in pursuing it, they signed it over to us. We made an enclosure and started playing with the electronics. Nick and Doug gave up at this point but Bob pursued it half-heartedly and by 2008 had a working demo based on an Arduino.
The project then languished for a few years until Bob left the lab in 2011. At that point he started his own freelancing business (WYZGYZ), and took on development of the scoreboard part time. He built a second prototype, this time smaller and better, though still with its own bit of hand-made charm.
In December, Bob realized he wasn’t making enough money on freelance software development or spending enough time on the scoreboard, which was seeing greater and greater potential, and he weaned off all his contracts and started on the scoreboard full time. Today, it’s official.
Portable Scores only has one person behind it, doing all the work. But he’s passionate and excited and has the skills and ambition to take it all the way.
Design is coming along for mass producing the scoreboard. The arduino is a nice product, but it’s a little expensive, it doesn’t have enough pins, and it doesn’t do all the things I’d like. I’ve switched to a Microchip PIC device and have refined the design accordingly. This should reduce parts cost, assembly cost, and complexity of the board, while giving additional features. It’s a win-win, but it’s also more complex than the arduino, so it’s taking a lot longer to get everything working, and since it’s a bare chip I can’t just plug it in with through-hole components and see what happens.
I’ve been working on various options for the board; everything is surface mount, which is nice for assembly, and will keep the board thin. The microcontroller operates at a lower voltage and power consumption, and the fewer chips I’m using will also help reduce power consumption. For LEDs I’m choosing between through-hole LEDs and surface mount LEDs. They have the same brightness, cost, and viewing angle, so they’re essentially identical, but it’s a matter of aesthetics and assembly cost. Dual-sided SMT vs. 192 through-hole parts is a difficult comparison.
The original design was 20″ x 13″. Then I sized it down to 18″ x 10″. Now I’m reducing it to 16″ x 10″. The reason for this reduction is packaging; getting boards made that were larger than 16″ to a side was difficult at many board houses, and acrylic sheets were measured in increments that made 18″ difficult to divide. Plus, packaging and material costs is reduced, while the size of the digits remains unchanged.
There are plenty of other things I’m dealing with for producing the scoreboard. I’m making good progress, but it’s slower than software development and I have a lot of documents to read. Hopefully in the Q1 2012 I’ll have my first batch done.
We think the portable electronic scoreboard is pretty awesome, and we use it all the time and hear great things from people when we use it (often it’s things like “oooh, we’re going professional!” or “great, now you guys can’t cheat anymore”). Sometimes we hear great things that make us improve the scoreboard. The most recent improvement was the addition of a speaker so that the scoreboard can buzz when the countdown timer reaches zero, which was the direct result of someone telling us about their problem.
We want you to tell us what you like and don’t like about the scoreboard. It won’t fall on deaf ears, and we really appreciate it. You can contact us through the contact form.