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Colorful, and Configurable Electronic Dice! - Maker Faire


We had an awesome interview with Jean Simonet of E-Dice and Bomb Squad Academy. Most of us come up with an idea and then complain 2 years later when we see someone else actually implement our vision. Jean Simonet is an idea guy, but more importantly, he's a relentless finisher. Whether it's creating, testing, and launching his highly rated game, "Bomb Squad Academy", or grinding through revisions of his bluetooth enabled, wireless charging, LED lit, dice; Jean just gets stuff done. Check him out on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jean_simonet?lang=en or see some of his video game work at https://systemic-games.itch.io/.  And here's a transcript of our conversation:

Jean Simonet: People who can't see really well, maybe, like the phone can read out the numbers because it knows the rolls, etc. Or you're a nerd and you want to know your stats? Like, perfectly? The thing that can record everything? So, there's a range of applications starting from it's just a cool light-up dice.

It's an electronic dice - it lights up. It has full color RGB LEDs, 21 of them, actually. An accelerometer, wireless charging and bluetooth communication, so it's really packed with electronics. And the idea here is to make first a cool bling dice, something that just lights up. So you can take them to play your regular games, just use it in place of a regular six-sided dice. Or if you're a maker or are interested in taking it further, take advantage of the bluetooth parts, and build new applications with it. Like games that take advantage of the communication. Maybe play games online with your friends, using the dice to communicate your rolls.

I know a lot of D&D players who do this, for instance. Use it for accessibility, people who can't see really well, maybe, like the phone can read out the numbers because it knows the rolls, etc. Or you're a nerd and you want to know your stats? Like, perfectly? The thing that can record everything? So there's a range of applications you know.

Starting from it's just a cool light up dice. And because it's a two-way communication, the app can make the dice play certain animations. So, on a great success could light up all kinds of colors. Or maybe you know, you're temporarily disabled so the dice just doesn't light up anymore. You just can't use it anymore. All kinds of ideas like this.

I was looking at this here and it shows like the different prototypes as you went through the design phase. Can you talk us through that a little bit?

Jean Simonet:
Yeah, so I had to first say, "Oh, you know could be cool!" After trying to figure out how to bring electronics into games and stuff that I love. Because, by day I'm a game developer. I was like, okay, maybe I can make a smart dice? And so the first prototype, I just went with what I knew which was rigid boards. And then tried to stack them in clever ways so that I could put LEDs on the sides so they would face exactly the right way, etc. But that left no room for the battery or anything. And so then I somehow got the idea from MIT on some project and I saw them use a rapid flexible PCB on something and I was like "Oh! That's good to know" and so I started trying and I made a first version and it kind of sucked.

But it was the first one that had a flexible PCB that I wrapped around the battery, put it inside the case, etc. But at the time, I couldn't find a rechargeable battery so I had to leave it open. And it had screws so I could take the thing apart and there and, as a result, it's really unbalanced. It just doesn't feel good. Eventually, I was able to find a rechargeable battery. And somebody gave me the idea for wireless charging and I thought, "I'm gonna look into that." And so this version is finally fully encased. It has a LiPo battery in the middle and a little wireless coil and because now I don't need to open and close it, I was able to enclose the whole thing in epoxy. Which made it really solid and rigid and feel great. It also evened out the density. So, as a result, they're really well balanced now.

When can I buy one?

Jean Simonet:
Oh god, that is the best question! That's the next step for me. Now that I'm done with the basement prototype version, I need to figure out manufacturability, price points, things like that. Find the right contacts to help me through this process, because it's a difficult step. Moving from prototype to actual product. It's a lot of unknown to me still, but it is generally difficult. So I'm looking for partners. I'm looking for people who will help me through this process.

People who want to make applications using dice like this. The whole point is for it to be open, open source code and the designs are open source. Of course, but even the application I'm using you know. The popular game engine Unity to design it because that's what game developers use and that's what hobbyists use. So somebody says,"Oh, yeah, I'm gonna grab a pair of these dice and actually make my own app." They'll be able to use something that's free, that's available, that's really easy to use.

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