Founder, Adafruit Industries
Limor Fried was the sort of third-grader who took apart VCRs for fun. Gradually, she discovered that a hobby could become a degree -- a bachelor's and then a master's in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. Finally, she discovered it could become a business. During her student years, Fried would post photographs and detailed instructions of her latest experiments in hardware hacking. First, she built an audience, and then a company, Adafruit Industries.
Through Adafruit, Fried (hacker handle: ladyada, after Ada Lovelace, the 19th century proto-programmer) sells DIY kits out of New York. Her best seller, something she calls the "Minty Boost," is a backup battery pack for your iPod (or any USB device), nestled into a cute little Altoids can. It's a good starter kit for someone making their first foray into hardware hacking -- only a minimum amount of soldering necessary.
Another of ladyada's fruits is a cell phone jammer. In 2004, while still an MIT student, Fried tried to get work done in cafes -- but couldn't hear herself think, so ubiquitous were the cell phone conversations around her. So she brainstormed, and put together a device that disabled all cell phone signals around her. (When a Samsung rep later met Fried, he quipped: "Could you make one that just disables Nokia phones?") As it turns out, the manufacture, sale, or even use of such a device is illegal in the U.S. -- but writing about it is fine, and if someone theoretically wanted to learn how one could theoretically make such a thing, that information is also up on Fried's site.
Her company and site have made Fried something of a DIY goddess; she's on the advisory board for Make Magazine, often speaking at its Maker Faire events.
Fried's approach is sometimes called "open-source hardware" -- similar to open-source software, but instead of the source code being open and malleable, the source materials are. Is there something anti-corporate in the way that she likes to encourage the hacking of consumer products?
"Absolutely not, I'm totally a staunch capitalist," she says. She just thinks hardware hacking is good business. Adafruit has become something of a business incubator itself, inspiring others to start similar businesses. "They see how Adafruit is run, and say, 'I'm gonna go off and start a company that makes 3-D printed robots!'" Fried says.
But there's more to it than business. "I think of Adafruit as a cause, not just a company," she says. "There's a company that sustains me, but that's not enough to drive what I do. What we're trying to do is make electrical engineering exciting, cool, and fun." —David Zax