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The Story of Capsule Lights

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Capsule Lights

The original capsule light was first introduced in podpoi in 2012. It was the first LED light unit used in the flow arts to have USB recharge-ability and an accelerometer. It also had 10 adjustable modes, 10 preset modes and the beginnings of enabling users to save favorites and program shows.

The design of the capsule shell was clean, simple and mechanical, and a departure from the alien aesthetic of the flowlight and the organic design of the pod shell and flowcap. We had intended from the start to modify the capsule shell mold to create some texture and visual interest, but were quickly consumed by the challenge of the Li-ion battery.

Months of a small private beta did not prepare us for the issues that arose with the Li-ion battery. Shortly after the release of podpoi, we began to hear of multiple cases of battery failures. It took months of testing, dissecting, and working with our battery manufacturer to understand how off-the-shelf Li-ion batteries did not allow for the kinds of impact that our artform was putting them through.

We worked with our battery manufacturer to create a new way of manufacturing a Li-ion battery, and for a short spell thought we had fixed the issue. Unfortunately each batch of batteries for the next 4 years had a different issue. Most of which were hard to detect and test for, and only happened to a percentage of batteries. Some people had no issue for years, some customers had repeated issues. We provided support with our awesome warranty, but it was definitely a hassle. The battery issue was perhaps the greatest product challenge that we experienced. It made our users question the durability of the product (it's incredibly durable), and taxed our warranty resources, but it was also an incredible learning experience. After years of tackling the issue, we finally figured out how to make good Li-ion batteries for poi and the flow arts, which we have integrated into our juggling props, and we were also pushed to stand in integrity of our warranty and create a great customer care team.

The capsule light was the little light that could. It was designed to be modular, versatile and interchangeable, and could fit into our system of tubes to create staffs, batons, contact wands, LED nunchucks, darts and more. Like the flowlight, you could just get 2-4 capsule lights and a bunch of parts, and make a lot of props while saving yourself money.

The inside story of a few design bloopers: The original capsule shell was a short shell and was a fraction of a millimeter too big to fit into our tubes. Oops. The short shell was designed with just enough space to hold a washer at the end of the leash. While it worked for our private beta, the washer proved to be insufficient for the rigors of our most hardcore poi spinners, and the leash and washer would separate from the poi head during hard spins.

We extended the capsule shell, and shortsightedly decided to favor absolute security over usability with the "donut shell". We quickly realized that the donut shell would be a real hassle for our customers to deal with when they had to send in their capsules and it also prevented people from being able to use them in tubing-based props. Oops again. We re-designed the shell to what it is today - with long enough space inside for a knot and a washer, and that splits in half to allow for easy changing and removal of leashes. Live and learn.

Capsule 2.0

Capsule 2.0 launched another whole new paradigm in LED light technology for flow arts and juggling. While it's housed in the same polycarbonate capsule shell, the heart and soul of the capsule light went through a complete transformation.

Following the release of the flowlight-FS with its new UI architecture and operating system, we were able to fine tune the UI and OS for the capsule light. We recognized the need for a cohesive architecture for all flowtoys light engines, and went very deep with our 1-button interface to develop an intuitive UI that enables users to access over 60 modes and adjust them, create up to 60 favorites, change global settings and more. The UI is simple and seems obvious, but it is the simple and obvious things that take the most effort, organization and creative solutions to come up with.

Capsule 2.0 took a lot of the desires of our users to heart. One of which was listening to the many spinners wanted a brighter light, while acknowledging that many also wanted a subtle glow. It was a challenge to create a very bright light given how little space there is in the capsule shell to dissipate heat. We ended developing custom high-temp thermal LEDs to be able to handle and regulate the heat emitted by the LEDs without damaging them and other components on the circuit board. We also created a whole settings page to enable us and our customers to dial in the global brightness of their lights according to their needs and environment. Hella bright for performance or even daytime spinning, and super dim when you're in total darkness or just want a subtle or magically romantic nightlight.

In recent years, we've all experienced so many advances with our other electronic devices that we've come to expect all our devices to have auto-magical feature like wireless control. While we knew we wanted to be able to control our props wirelessly, we didn't want to be tied to an external remote control or a phone app. We knew we would eventually develop those to have finer and more varied controls, but we decided to put the ability to control directly into each capsule 2.0 engine, so people would immediately have the ability to control their props with the equipment they already had. This also opened up many other possibilities like facilitating interaction between spinners and non-spinners, and encouraging community with the universal group.

We sourced and tested radios, painstakingly chose components, and created a custom radio protocol that was robust and became the basis on the new flowtoys "connect" technology that underpins the wireless features of the capsule light. The new "connect" tech has been implemented in the vision system props - the newest flowtoys LED light engine.

Never mind that there are hundreds of millions of mobile phone users, and only potentially tens of thousands of flow artists, who would pay for LED props, let alone high quality equipment. We're really a very small niche market, and it takes a lot of innovation, love and commitment to want to invest so much into serving a small niche market. These we have in spades as y'all are family.

Click here for the capsule 2.0 light engine