On Point with Orion Labs and Star Simpson

MIT-trained engineer Star Simpson is neither a stranger to prototyping electronics nor to machining. She etched her first printed circuit board (PCB) at the age of 14 and even worked as a machinist in high school. It’s no surprise that when we fast-forward just over a decade to the present, Simpson is now the Lead Technology Strategist for buzz-worthy San Francisco-based wearables startup Orion Labs.

As an integral part of a tight team of 20 engineers, designers, and artists, agility is of the utmost importance to her, and she relies on the Othermill for producing fast-turn, same-day PCB prototypes. If the agenda for the day involves, say, testing the various placement of buttons and LEDs on the devices they’re developing, Simpson can make it happen on the spot. She explains, “With my Othermill, not only do I own the means for making circuit boards—powerful for any electronics designer—I can also go from concept to prototype in mere hours. Normally this process takes days or weeks.” Previously, her main option was to hand etch with toxic chemicals like ferric chloride, which is not only messy and dangerous, but yields a low rate of repeatability. Alternately, she could send the board off to a service and have to wait. She adds, “The acceleration in proving designs is unbeatable by anything else.”

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Aside from PCBs, Simpson has used the Othermill for other projects as well, like prototyping gaskets for Orion. She designed and milled what she describes as a “very precise, small, cupcake sheet” of molds that then had silicon rubber poured in to create the custom gaskets.

With my Othermill, not only do I own the means for making circuit boards .. I can also go from concept to prototype in mere hours. Normally this process takes days or weeks.

Simpson has been using the Othermill for roughly a year, and was involved early on as a beta tester. Though the machine has been fine-tuned since, she says it was “exquisitely polished” and highly dependable even early on. To boot, Simpson finds the small form factor liberating, adding, “The machine’s portability has allowed me to carry it between my home workshop and my office, depending on where I’m doing the work of testing prototypes.”

So what exactly is Orion aiming to accomplish? Though the details of the wearable devices they’re developing has been kept under wraps, according to well-known investor Rich Levandov, “They will fundamentally change the way the world communicates.” What we do know is that Orion’s wearables will allow groups of people to seamlessly communicate without the use of their phones—in style. There is a heavy emphasis on creating devices that not only revolutionize communication, but are verifiably beautiful.

Considering that Orion Labs started with a brilliant idea and a prototype that founders Jesse Robbins and Greg Albrecht built right on Albrecht’s kitchen table, it’s only natural that the empowering agility of the Othermill is right at home in their R&D lab.