Patient Alpha is a reimagining of the classic 80s keychain noisemaker for the Curious Sound Objects series.




I've spent the bulk of my professional career helping brands big and small communicate their products to their desired audiences and that can be quite a blast, but I had never promoted my own product.

Meanwhile, I started a series of sound art shows called Curious Sound Objects, and until this project, that was entirely for the fun and community of it. So as the last year was coming to a close, I had three weeks before Christmas without any paid work and decided to see if I could bring an idea to market!

The timeline was crazy. I started working on December 1st, did the product development, videos, and packaging before launching on December 10th, and collected orders until the 16th to ship in time for Christmas.  And shipped 50 kits before Christmas!  Below is the video on launch, and you can see more on the sales page.

The idea for the product was to take the classic 80s laser zapper keychain and turn it into a playable instrument of sorts. In its original incarnation, each of the 8 buttons played a predefined sound. But with a little tweaking (and a big red knob!) one can affect the speed and pitch of the sounds and it becomes a crazy little monster. 

I called it Patient Alpha because of the way it felt like performing surgery on a little dude, and it is the first of many sound toys to come.

Check out the videos below on the CSO Instagram.



The Product and Packaging

So to be specific, the product consists of two things: the kit itself, which includes the original keychain and all the doodads necessary to make the mod, and the instructions, which clearly lay out everything one can do themselves if they have one lying around. The instructions are free and open source (CC BY-SA).

The product packaging itself was an adventure. Typically electronics kits like this are a bunch of components in a loose pile inside those semi-opaque reflective bags. I didn't think that would be particularly attractive.

Fortunately my friend David Cranor had a suitcase of white bags with transparent faces that he bought on the street in Shenzhen, and that was an awesome start. I used a heat sealer to make a pocket for each individual component, and then it became good. They bag has a layout.

I was also eventually fortunate enough to have two interns in the beginning of this year to help with the factory :)


Extended Life


In the months following the launch, the kit was featured on Hackaday and Adafruit. Becky Stern (maker- extraodinaire) did a fabulous YouTube review and build. And it was on local TV here.

It was also carried at Loyal Supply Co here in Cambridge, and Perfect Circuit Audio in Los Angeles (see below). Also had some fun with spring intern Brian McGonagle, who made an awesome 2001 homage with the monkeys.

Oh, and I got a box of Moog goodies for submitting it to their annual circuit bending competition, thanks Moog!



Kids with Kits

And lastly, this might be the warmest thing that came out of this – Leslie Watkins used a dozen kits at MIT to teach an early high school STEM class about circuits. Photos of me and the kids below also taken by Brian.

If Anthony (the other spring intern) is reading this, he contributed quite a bit as well, but some of his work is secret for now :)

Stay in Touch


If you want to chat for any reason, shoot me an email!

There are three new sound toys in the works right now. If you want to see what's happening early, I invite you to join the Curious Sound Objects mailing list. I keep emails to about quarterly.