Thoughts on Hardware 2.0 and the Internet of Things

Gigaom recently hosted a great get together in San Francisco talking about Hardware 2.0 and the Internet of Things. The meetup focused very specifically on connected devices and the quantified self, but the crowd was much more generally hardware focused. It was cool to see the energy around the event, and the continued growth of the hardware startup theme.

There were 2 parts of the meetup that made me sit up and pay attention, and I wanted to share the first of them here. It was from David Merrill from Sifteo’s talk on designing hardware in the world of the glass slab (smart phone). He argued that the smartphone has and will continue to kill lots of application specific hardware, but that there are 3 very specific reasons to build hardware despite the smartphone.

1. You need to interact with legacy hardware

Nest is a great example. Buying a smartphone and wanting to control the environment in your house simply aren’t enough to replace your whole heating and cooling system. So Nest created a piece of hardware that bridges the gap.

2. You need to interact with atoms

Makerbot is a great example. There is no conceivable way to print plastic from your smartphone without a new piece of hardware. Transportation, telepresence, and distributed sensor plays all fit this bucket too.

3. You need to interact with the human body

Pebble, Nike Fuel Band, WiThings, ibgstar, etc are all examples of this. I think its kind of a combination of the above 2 categories, but it explains better as 3. Quantified self fits pretty squarely in this bucket.

The short version is that as I was sitting there listening to Dave I realized that while he was talking about the reasons and ways to design IoT hardware. The ways not to get killed by the glass slab. And the role hardware startups have in solving problems. Dave was also describing a very large chunk of the Upverter community. He was describing our users and the problems they are using Upverter to solve.

And after I dug a bit deeper I realize a couple of things…

  • Most of the designs in Upverter fit into one of these buckets.
  • Most of the designs in Upverter are Hardware 2.0
  • Most of the designs in Upverter are part of the Internet of Things.

Pretty cool. We set out to build the best design tools at the exact same time as the hardware community set out to build smaller connected devices – it might turn out we’re made for each other.

But realizing this has made us all wonder – how else can we help throw gas on the fire? What features to IoT hardware hackers need that engineers have never needed before? What happens when you engineer a connected device that doesn’t happen when you engineer a phone or a server? What would make you better and what don’t you care about?

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