Last month, when Microsoft launched Kinect, an accessory that lets players control Xbox 360 games by moving their bodies, Limor Fried posted a challenge on her company’s blog. Adafruit Industries, which sells do-it-yourself electronics kits, would give $1,000 to the first person to unlock Kinect’s sophisticated motion sensors from the Xbox so that any tinkerer could repurpose the technology for such projects as building robots. In a week Adafruit had a winner, a Spanish engineer who got Kinect to work with his laptop just hours after it was released in Europe. “Now it’s unlocked for creativity,” Fried wrote.
That could be the tagline for Adafruit, the company Fried founded in 2005 while getting her masters in electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The electronics kits she sells are “open-source hardware,” meaning that Adafruit shares the designs that companies usually keep secret. “We’re giving away all our intellectual property for free,” says Fried, 31. The eight- employee company will ship more than $3 million worth of kits this year from its top-floor loft four blocks north of Wall Street in New York’s financial district.