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Motherlode Electronics wants to power your jam session


We spoke with Ian and Doug Chidester at NAMM 2019 where they showed off a prototype for a portable, rechargeable power supply specific for powering guitar pedals and whatever other music related electronics they can. They talk about the ups and downs of designing electronics and the specific challenges they've faced. The result is a power supply that can last for many hours, if not all day, depending on the application, versus an hour or two at most with current solutions. We hope to follow up with them soon and see what comes of this project! 

Here's a transcript of what we talked about at NAMM:

Ian Chidester:  So what we have here is a lithium-ion battery powered guitar effects pedal power supply. So, it's an isolated unit, it's all-in-one, we make the battery packs out of 18650 lithium ion battery cells and create our power system on top of that. And since it's an all-in-one unit, we have more control over the ins and outs of the battery pack and we can get much more efficient step-up conversions and whatever else and it's totally isolated. It's super convenient. You can just strap it to your pedal board, throw it on the ground, turn it on, and you're ready to play.

Ian Chidester: So I've been playing guitar for a long time and one thing that always frustrated me was, when you're trying to get portable power within these units, you can throw a 9V battery in but it only lasts an hour or two. And so we wanted to find a way to have battery powered effects units that last a lot longer, are more reliable, and are rechargeable. 

Doug Chidester:  We had our original concept and it took a little while. We got a breadboard, trying things out, but we had to figure out, what's going to work? What kind of values are we looking at? What's our peak? What's our load? And how are we going to match what we need the output to be, so that it's useful for everyday use? So we start designing these things, make a small circuit and then go from there. 

Josh: So what is your background? Engineering? Or what do you guys do? 

Ian Chidester: I do computer science mostly. I like to work with a lot of the lower electronics though. And I kind of dabble around with it and I'm more of a hobbyist but I don't really have much formal training in it. But it's just something that's of interest to me. But I formally studied computer science.

Doug Chidester: And I'm an engineer by trade. But I've always tinkered with stuff. My whole life, really, electronics, computers, all that stuff, it's been a passion of mine. So doing something like this is really fun for me, because you get to just go there and you get stuck in it for hours, and you don't even realize the time has past.

Josh: So you're telling me these are just prototypes? Correct? So what is the next step? What do you have to do to get this designed for manufacturing and ready to actually produce these in bulk?

Ian Chidester: Well, we still obviously have a lot more testing to do. We've got some different options that we're looking at in terms of where we want to place everything, how many outputs we want to have on it, what kind of switches we want to use.  The amount of options we have to add on to this thing are endless.

Josh: So what would you say has been the most interesting, exciting part of this project?

Doug Chidester:  I mean, for me, it's been the past three days just putting together these prototypes real quick because, I live farther away from where he is. So we're doing this remotely and it's hard to do hardware when you're both not right there sitting next to each other the whole time. So, for me, the past few days have just been... sink into it and getting stuff done. And it's really rewarding because you're pulling all nighters, but you come out and you're like, "Hey, it works! Oh, my god! It worked the first time!" and that's that "Aha!" moment. And just coming here and being able to show it off and be like, "Hey, I built that." You know, that's great.

Josh: You said the "Aha!" moment just... you feel fantastic. On the flip side, what has been the worst portion of doing this? What are your "just bang your head against the wall" moments? What has been the most challenging and interesting portion?

Doug Chidester:  So some of the design work we've been doing, just trying stuff out, and we hit a wall and it doesn't work, right? And then you're like, "Ah, back to the drawing board" or, for me, when I'm tinkering around with the electronics and ... "Oh crap, I fried something" or whatever and you're like, "God, now I gotta go run back down to the store and there goes another four hours."

Ian Chidester: Or accidentally shorting out a lithium battery.

Doug Chidester:  Those are probably the most frustrating parts, but you know, there's ups and downs but it's all fun at the end of the day.

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