How could I not like Rafe Neeleman's recent posting on Webware called "Bug Labs: The Lego of Gadgets"?! Here's so many of my favorite themes all wrapped into one: Lego block modularity, mashups, gadgets and the whole DIY ethic (Do It Yourself).
OK, I confess to having a severe gadget addiction that dates back to my early youth in an earlier era where it manifested as hot rods, restoring antique cars, woodworking, metalworking, sewing, and other pursuits. The DIY gene is very dominant in me (along with just being plain cheap). A friend and I were just discussing this idea this past weekend, when it worked out "cheaper" to go buy a new MIG welder and some other tools to build some custom stainless steel brackets that were going to cost too much to have made by a local shop:
DIY labor = less $$ + new
What's not to love about that formula?
If you have any similar tendencies, do take the time to check out the Bug Labs site. It appears to be the work of a very passionate group—my favorite kind of people! On their new web site, their stated inspiration is:
There are so many great gadget ideas that haven't been thought of yet. With BUG, we want to unlock and inspire the discovery and creation of as many of these devices as possible.
Right now, they have a "BUGbase" unit (image left) which is the size of an old tape cassette (remember those? If not ask your parents) and is (their site described it); "a small hackable Linux computer" that has the basic components you need for most devices such as a CPU, USB, LCD interface, battery, WiFi, etc.
Some of their initial add on hardware modules (image at right) include a GPS, digital camera/videocam, touch sensitive color LCD screen and an accelerometer/motion sensor—all of which snap together with the BUGbase, of course, and can be programmed with the open source software SDK.
They apparently have a full development environment called Eclipse which is also open source and according to Rafe's posting, "looks to be philosophically similar to the Bug hardware—that is, highly modular."
While Bug Labs is still pretty high up the geek/DIY echelon, I do hope that this is evidence of an evolution towards a more modular and interoperable level, enabling mashups for hardware, much as we are seeing on the software side with widgets and the like.
Once again however widespread adoption will depend upon the emergence of standards, be they de facto or de jure that will make everyone's modules interoperate and "snap together". What would Lego blocks be without standard "pin" size?!
On the good news side we are seeing how something like the relatively ubiquitous USB connector has sparked an explosion of devices that all work off this same standard (even with the slight hiccup of there now being two USB connectors—A and B). This ability to use the same cords to plug any USB compatible device into any USB port has been a huge improvement in the interoperability of hardware and the exchange of power and data between such devices as cell phones, cameras, GPS, scanners, printers, etc. Heck, some of them even span the great Windows/Mac divide!
On the other hand, no one seems to have been able to come up with a standard DC power plug in! Even within the same manufacturer, it seems like every new laptop I get, for example, has a slightly different size connector, which renders all my other "brick" converters useless and means almost none of us can share them when we are together.
So here's hoping that efforts like Bug Labs can start to make some significant progress towards standards that matter! In the meantime, all you DIYers like me, have fun creating more mashups, and be sure to share some of your creations with all of us.