The Rise of Open Source Hardware

It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. But there is a way to bring it down. Somebody has to take the modes of production and hand it over to consumers. That’s what Bug Labs hopes to do. To find out a detailed discription of who they are, how they will do it — read on.

Jeremy Toeman paused for a drink of water. His voice was straining and raspy from having talked over the crowd at the Punch Bar in New York, giving the same fifteen-minute presentation for the last two hours. The current group of six onlookers, arranged in a semi-circle around Toeman, remained patient. They had been waiting to get close to Toeman for some time. Everyone on the top floor of the bar was there to gawk at what the young company Bug Labs was getting ready to offer the consumer electronics world and Toeman had it enclosed in his hands. It was Bug Labs first public showing. Nobody outside of the company had seen what the young startup had been working on for the last year and a half, so their eyes remained fixed at Toeman’s outstretched hands.

BuglablogoIn it was the standard motherboard to a computer from about two or three years ago, which included USB, Ethernet, WiFi, and Bluetooth. It fit perfectly in Toeman’s open palm. The green plastic and soldered on transistors, the guts of a computer, were only interrupted by four adaptors that stuck out of the green circuit board like tiny pyramids. As Toeman, the marketing director for Bug Labs, continued with his presentation he slowly grabbed two smaller motherboards, one he identified as a functioning like a five mega pixel camera and the other worked as a motion detector. Then he proceeded to connect them to the first motherboard like giant computer Lego blocks.

Bug Labs hopes to do for consumer electronics what Web site mashups have done for the Internet, provide the means for anyone to create their own product. What they will start selling in the fall are the BUGS or the base piece of hardware that can be adapted to include any number of modules that snap into the baseboard like jigsaw pieces. The various add-ons, like a GPS device, a camera, an LCD screen, or keyboard, can be mixed or matched to produce as many gadgets as the consumers can dream up. With 80 potential plug-ins to choose from the BUG could become the foundation for any number of niche gadgets.

But before BugLabs can try to disrupt the multi-billion dollar consumer electronics market, they need to polish the plastic casing that is going to house their gadget. At this event in August, Toeman was only able to showcase the internal organs of the gadget.

“The final product will be cased in plastics and will look like a gadget you would buy, this is what we have to show you right now for demonstration purposes,” said Toeman as he pushed the green motherboard towards the center of the circle for the latest group to get a closer look.

The next few months for Bug Labs was a harried race to the finish. They needed to complete their Web site (finished November 1st), any usability issues their product might have, the final aesthetics for the gadgets need to be in place and they have to find a way to generate buzz throughout the consumer electronics industry. If they don’t manage to stay afloat after the full public launch the dream that Peter Semmelhack, CEO and founder of Bug Labs, had back in 2001 will never come to fruition. (click below to read more)


Bug Labs has been working on this launch since April of 2006 after they received venture capital funding from Union Square Ventures, the same VC company that funded, Twitter and Tumblr, but the idea for a customizable gadget that could fit the unique needs of any customer has been brewing in Semmelhack’s head since October of 2001.

It was one month after 9/11 when Semmelhac, now 41, had his first son. He had been working as a software developer since 1987 and at the time was CEO of Antenna Software, which provided mobile solutions for large companies. Like many people living in New York after September 11th, Semmelhac was dealing with the constant fear of terrorism, which was conflated by the natural urge to protect his infant child.

“Everybody in New York wanted to know where their loved ones were at all times so if anything happened they could rendezvous and have a plan, but there was no way to know where your family members were, we just spent a lot of time on cell phones,” said Semmelhack.

What he craved at the time was a GPS device that would wake up every 10 or so minutes and plot the position of his loved ones on a map so he would know where his family was instantly without having to call.

“That gadget just didn’t exist, it still doesn’t exist. The market for a device like that wouldn’t be big enough,” said Semmelhack.

That yearning for a gadget that just wasn’t on the market stayed with Semmelhack for the next two years. And more kept mounting in his brain. Next he imagined a security device that you could stick at your door and would turn on from a motion detector and automatically take a picture of who was at your door. He didn’t want an entire home automation system, just a “simple little tool,” he said.

more details…



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