21 January 2008

Innovation: Bug Labs' Open-Source Modular Gadget, Endless Possibilities

Silicon Alley Insider reports today that Bug Labs is now open for business, taking orders for its new open-source modular unit on its Web store, albeit without the WiFi unit.

Bug Labs was the darling of CES and featured on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, where founder Peter Semmelhack got to meet with bloggers on the bus and pitch their product.

It's a cool product, known as the "Bug," a build-your-own mobile gadget platform.

"The Bug," according to Silicon Alley Insider, "is basically a Lego kit for mobile coders: Mix-and-match up to four modules like LCD screens, GPS, a digital camera, etc., and write whatever software you want. A base unit costs $299; an all-in starter kit with motion sensor, GPS, LCD touchscreen, and 2-megapixel digital camera costs $549.

"The company is initially targeting hobbyists and prototypers -- both tiny markets. But Bug Labs also hopes some industries might figure out how to use the Bug as a basis for commercial devices -- and help provide backers Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital a return on their investment."

I've been interested in the Bug since last fall when I first learned about it from Brad Burnham at USV. As he described it to me I envisioned all sorts of cool uses for it in the field -- for conservation, microfinance, and global climate change monitoring.

Imagine being able to build a device on the go for whatever need you had:

Want to map sacred sites and conservation lands in Outer Mongolia? Snap on the GPS unit, take pictures and positioning, and upload data about what's found on the site.

Doing due diligence on a small MFI? Use the Bug's wireless function to tap into your records back in the office.

Think sea level is rising on your remote Pacific island and need to track changes over time for adaptation models? I bet you can do that with Bug.

The only thing missing is a remote sensing module that can gauge temperature changes, barometric pressure, soil types and temps, and other indicators. But that may come with demand or a really good hacker.

Anyway, I'm excited about the possibilities here. If and when the price comes down, this gadget could have all sorts of applications in the field.

I'll be meeting with founder Peter Semmelhack in a couple of weeks and will try to explore this line of thinking further.

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