What is Hardware 2.0


Last week I spoke on a panel at a conference in San Francisco hosted by Lemnos Labs a very forward thinking hardware startup accelerator that like Upverter has a lot invested in the resurgence of hardware as a startup genre. The topic of the conference was “Hardware 2.0: The future of hardware” and it got me thinking about what changed. What is different between Hardware 1.0 – the Apples, Intels and the Sun Microsystems of the the world – and today?

This post is a first attempt at defining Hardware 2.0 and explaining the resurgence of hardware startups. I think five things have happened together, and they are colluding to bring hardware back.

Hardware as a Portal

Startups: LarkFitbitNestElectricImp

Call it the internet of things if you want, but it’s really more than that. As the big data movement continues to call for more and more data about everything from our hourly activity to our car’s engine hardware will be built to put it all online. It’s the reason for every buzz word from M2M, to the quantified self. It’s resulting in the merging of industrial control networks and the internet. It’s going to make it a hell of a lot harder to fake your dress size, or keep your reactors virus free.

Democratization of Tools

Startups: UpverterGrabcadSunglassTinkerCad

For the better part of the last 30 years CAD, ECAD, MCAD, EDA, CAM, PLM, etc. have all been impossibly inaccessible to most designers anywhere but at large companies. Workstations becoming desktops helped. Windows OS helped. Bittorrent helped. But generally startups couldn’t and still can’t afford thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of software before ever creating something. The combination of the HTML5, crowd sourcing, real-time collaboration, and github inspired reuse are resulting in a new breed of better, cheaper, modern and more accessible tools – which ultimately opens the door for an order of magnitude more hardware startups.

Rapid Prototyping & China

Startups: MakerbotShapewaysPonokoTechShop

If you know anything about software development, you know that it’s amazingly cheap to compile your product in both money and time cost. For all but the largest software packages it only takes a few seconds and a fraction of a penny worth of power. For most of history “compiling” a hardware prototype cost many weeks and many, many thousands of dollars. Often you could only afford to build a few before you ran out of time or money. 3D printers, rapid prototyping services, and China have all changed this. It’s now possible to get a couple of just about anything built and shipped, just about anywhere in the world, for a total cost of maybe a hundred dollars and a few days. This means more prototypes, faster iterations, and less capital required to start a hardware startup.

Pre-Sales & Crowd-Funding

Startups: KickstarterIndiegogoTindieGrandSt

This one is kind of amazing. It’s now possible to sell a product you haven’t even built yet. This has two huge impacts. First, hardware has high upfront capital requirements, non-zero cost of goods sold, and things like component lead times which all means it’s hard to jump the gap between a prototype and mass manufacturing as a startup. Pre-sales means startups can sell product to fund manufacturing it without requiring venture capital or government grant money. Second, it aligns the incentives of consumers and hardware startups allowing the startup to test market fit before investing in manufacturing a product the market doesn’t want.

1 Billion Cellphones

Startups: PebbleSquareAliveCorDoubleRobotics

Today odds are that 1 in 3 people you know (in the developed world) carry a veritable super computer in their pocket at all times. This computer is capable of acting as the brain or the display or the network backhaul for any number of new devices. These mobile computers also now represent the majority of connections to the internet worldwide. These computers mean startups can build simpler and cheaper devices, with better interoperability, fewer battery constraints, and generally shorter times to market. The next great consumer electronics company will very likely start as a hardware startup with a widget for a product, a small device that is little more than a feature.

So What?

It’s always been harder to start a hardware startup. It takes a different kind of founder. A different kind of tenacity. But these five forces are levelling the playing field. Lower barriers, and better incentives mean hugely more startups. It means more problems become solvable, and more aspiring entrepreneurs build real companies instead of bullshit social coupon sharing apps. It’s still going to take a couple years to hit full speed, but it has already affected the devices we wear on our wrists, the way we pay for things, and the way we heat our homes.

The rest is inevitable.

Should we love or fear flying robots?

Most people loved Vijay Kumar’s presentation at TED of the work being done in his GRASP lab at Penn. We did, Hackaday did, and Chris Anderson sure did.

Farhad Majoo at Slate did not. In fact, he sounds like he’s ready to go all John Connor on us.

About a year ago, Mellinger posted a video showing a team of three drones building structures out of large metallic beams. The machines fly in a terrifying, coordinated ballet, each of them picking up a beam, finding the exact spot where it should be placed, and gingerly snapping the object in place.
Stare at this long enough and you could mistake the scene for something adorable—birds building a nest. But by this time you’ve stopped staring. Instead, you’ve opened another browser tab to look for good deals on bomb shelters and MREs.

Upverter believes that robots are cool and that flying robots are REALLY cool! Designing a robot from scratch is a great way to bond with your kids, help them learn math and science, and show them what you can do with advanced calculus and n-dimensional matrix algebra. No more questions about what use does math have if they’re optimizing the 4th derivative of a path for their flying robot OF DOOM!

One thing we did learn from Terminator 2 is that it takes a Robot to beat a Robot. So regardless of where you come down on the question of whether or not Penn’s flying robots will kill us all, you should be building your own and designing them here on Upverter!

There was a guy on the Daily Show the other night talking about how the point of the space program was to beat the Russians. Not to make the world better. And when we won the Cold War we killed the space program. For proof, look at NASA today vs yesterday. Despite doing it for all the wrong reasons, it made the world better. We respected engineers and technologists more than at any other time in our history. Little kids grew up wanting to be tomorrow’s heroes – engineers. In a small way the engineers of today are all reminicient of that. Flying shit is cool not only because it is a feat of engineering, but because it makes us dream of tomorrow. And it makes our kids want to be engineers again. Which is probably the most valuable thing we could ever hope to achieve.

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it possible to share designs for real things. There are thousands of high fidellity, accessible anywhere, publicly shared and open sourced designs waiting to be forked, manufactured, and hacked on. If you’ve got a design, you should share it! Need a design, find it! Or just explore for some inspiration.

TPB, Physibles And What It All Means

About a month ago The Pirate Bay launched a section of their site called Physibles [blog] [gizmag] [physibles]. I’m amazed by how huge this is. And almost equally amazed by how little its been talked about. I didnt think I’d be one to have to tell you why this matters, but alas, it looks like I am. You’re welcome. Sorry it took me so long.

Collaboration and reuse are valueable

First and foremost. I want to let that sink it. Starting from scratch is painful and duplication of effort is ridiculous in the age of the internets. And the market is very, very good at removing inefficiencies. Look no further than Napster, released in 1999, 4 whole years before the iTunes store enabled access to media on the internet legally.

People are desperate to share

For a decade or so a small number of people have been sharing their designs for real things in impromptu message boards and phpBB forums. Its a horrible managomy of MS Paint drawn schematics, blinky text and scans of photocopies of pictures from (war era) text books. It’s beautiful in its agressiveness, and provocativly resourceful. But terrible for how hard and unapproachable it makes it all look.

The Pirate Bay is responding to a very real need: the ability to share. Even things as seemingly esotaric as the designs for real physical objects. They will be shared. They will be used. And their availibility and ubiquity will only increase. Someday soon the designs for the next smartphone, or assult rifle will be just as easy to find pirated as Microsoft Office is today. Which leads me to my closing point…

Open source hardware as a deterant

Not unlike what happend in software the companies responsible for building the multitude of real things that surround us will come to a crossroads. Is their offering and their value stored in their designs? Their cad files? Or is it somehow secondary. MySQLRedHat and JBoss all built very large and successful businesses around a secondary value, all the while giving away most of their IP. As a product maker is it your ability to design the next great smart phone? Or your marketing, manufacturing, distribution and supply nextworks that really matter? Or maybe its doing it first? Or doing it at all?

If you need an example of a company built ontop of open source hardware you need look no further than the every-man’s 3D printer, the MakerBot. Since inception MakerBot Industries has opensourced the vast majority of their core IP. In otherwords you need not give them $1300 dollars and wait through months of backorders. You could buy all the parts in the design, assemble one from scratch, and even save yourself whatever margin MarkerBot would make from you. But their value somehow isnt in the design. Because despite being completely open source the vast majority of 3D printer owners own the product as produced by MakerBot.

Call to action

As you probably have already gathered I think this is a powerful and necessary step forward for the collaboration on and design of real things. I think in the months and years that follow this will be a blip on the radar. And it wont be long before its as common place to share models and designs as it is to steal music and movies.

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it possible to share designs for real things. There are thousands of high fidellity, accessible anywhere, publicly shared and open sourced designs waiting to be forked, manufactured, and hacked on. If you’ve got a design, you should share it! Need a design, find it! Or just explore for some inspiration.

MIT 6.002x Is A Damn Big Deal. And About Electronics

From the site

“6.002x (Circuits and Electronics) is an experimental on-line adaptation of
MIT’s first undergraduate analog design course: 6.002. This course will
run, free of charge, for students worldwide from March 5, 2012 through June 8,

What did you do?!?! Is it my birthday? Christmas? What just happened?

Thats right. MIT’s biggest ever online course offering, and their first attempt at a fully online course is on learning analog electronics. Not software. Not economics. Not civil or mechanical engineering. Not some bullshit social sciences course. But real, powerful and positively useful electrical engineering.

Why Electronics?

I have some guesses. First is the obvious: OpenCourseware (their last attempt at online education) was pushed strongly towards biology, electrical and mechanical. The second is with the advent of things like codecademy, the Stanford ai course, and their own 6.00 online course doing another such course for software would be redundant. And third of the remaining options my guess is they would have optimized for a course where they had material that was easy to serve and check in a web-based environments.

The last 12 months

Its been pretty exciting! A year ago there was nothing beyond the very simple Falstad simulations, a few small communities of professional engineers, some larger communities of makers and DIY hackers, and not much else. Since then about a dozen startups have launched into the open source hardware / electronics / designer community space all very much in an effort to change the way we build real things.

And now, if that wasn’t enough, MIT has bet their prize horse in their second stab at teaching people over the interwebs on an electronics course. Amongst a plethora of wildly successful software courses. It makes me glow.

What’s next?

I can only predict more. The idea of building with atoms and electrons will continue to become a bigger and bigger part of public consciousness. Incredible new ways of doing education will continue to be created. In our lifetime today is the day the fewest of us have personalized, designed, or created something in the real world. There is so much more to come.

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it easier to design and build real things. Tomorrow’s pocket platforms and the most revolutionary hardware yet to be conceived is being designed in Upverter right now. I challenge you to take 6.002x, learn something about electronics, and design something real in Upverter.

Quick! Make It Easier For Your Kids To Hurt Themselves

Keeping your kids safe now is only going to keep them safe for now. What happens when it comes time for real life? Do you really want to be responsible for the child who grew up in a padded room?

I didn’t think so.

I’m not here to give parenting advice – but you’re doing it wrong. Do your kids a favor; throw them something other than a pack of crayons. I’m not saying hand them a switchblade, but a circular saw couldn’t hurt. I mean at least let them explore a little…

In utmost seriousness, help them learn some skills that can be used in the real world. Because let’s face it: most artists pay their bills early, and with plenty to spare. While the world is just full of out-of-work plumbers and electricians.

The innovations moving the world forward are going to continue to come from the builders and doers, the engineers and technologists, the adults that we all know who fondly remember the time they blew up the neighbours’ tool shed as a toddler. We need a world filled with more doers, more makers, more hackers, and more builders. We need a world filled with people enabled to fix the big problems we are destined to face. We need a world with more Lego, more K’Nex, more childhood inventions, and a few less toolsheds (insert Darwin joke).


Before I end this and go cut something big into smaler pieces. I wanted to answer the burning question you must have right now. The answer is yes. Yes you absolutely can. I don’t care if you’ve never built shit before. You can learn with your kids. You can go to a public workshop.  Hell you’re always welcome to swing by our place. Just do it – whatever it takes.

But what you absolutely cannot do is to just allow your children to adopt your fears and your limitations. Because if you’re not careful, they probably will.

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it easier to design and build real things. Tomorrow’s pocket platforms and the most revolutionary hardware yet to be conceived is being designed in Upverter right now. Once your kids move past the tearing stuff apart, Upverter might be able to help them start putting stuff back together.

Why You Suck At Changing The World; Try Hardware

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade you’ve probably noticed that gadgets matter.



RIM is failing [gaurdian], Apple is killing it [mashable], Square is the hottest company in SF [quora], Samsung is quietly taking over the world [cnet], and HTC is making lawyers giggle all the way to the bank [ars]. Hell, writing software for smaller, slower, drop-able, and heterogeneous hand-held devices is now an industry [tg].

But, I’ve got news for you; if someone hadn’t figured out how to build them, no one would have an iPhone, or a Droid or even a Blackberry. Fact is, no one would have a refrigerator or a toilet either if someone hadn’t figured out how to make those damn things work – but that’s a point for a different post.

As with most things there are the things the smart people do and the things the incomprehensible masses do. I break it down like this:

  • The plebs write the other million apps I will never use
  • Some smart people write software for the monster truck derby loving bird watchers
  • The smarter people write software for timelessly sharing inappropriate moments, and stalking ex-girlfriends
  • But the smartest people figure out how to build the fucking machines that run these mountains of software [woz]

I’m talkin’ about hardware. Things. Platforms for tomorrow’s software. And inventions that really change the world. Maybe it’s a traffic light that reacts to its environment, or Gate’s new toilet, or a device for connecting things to the internet. Solve a bigger problem than can fit on a touch tablet.

My point is, software did not change the world. Hardware did. And without it, your software startup is more literary adventure than problem solving. Why build more stuff that people don’t care about? Where do you rank in the 100K mobile developers world-wide? Do you seriously think you’re in the top 10? Can you win if you’re not? Still don’t think that’s why no one cares?

There are more things that still need to exist. They need to be invented to move our species forward. They are things no one has thought of yet, and they wont be built in a text file or downloaded from an app store. The people who will conceive of and invent them are visionaries. There is a reason the Homebrew Computer Club owned soldering irons. And Jobs vision was never “imagine the possibilities of putting C# in everyone’s pocket” [oreilly].

Its always been about the hardware, that’s where the real magic is, and that’s where the future still is as well. The next industrial revolution can’t be coded.

So stop being just another nobody tweaking the same bits, building the same app, and thinking a few lines of code can change the world. Elevate your skill set. Move up the food chain. Build some thing that changes the world.

Wouldn’t it be something to see something you built in pockets word-wide. To see all those plebs writing code that runs on your hardware. That’d be one hell of a high!

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it easier to design and build real things. Tomorrow’s pocket platforms and the most revolutionary hardware yet to be conceived is being designed in Upverter right now.

How GitHub Changed FOSS: What’s Missing in OSHW?

We are blitzing our go public release and are super cramped for time right – so today’s is a short post. Honza Pokorny wrote a great article on how GitHub changed FOSS, see here. And I liked it so much I wanted to draw some parallels to OSHW. Here are my 4 favourites and the ones that I think are very applicable to our community.

Unified place for all your projects

There isn’t one right now. We need this badly, but it also needs to support, or integrate with tools for actually doing hardware. It can’t be a dead space, where projects go to die.

Design discussions

I want to collaborate on designs, and I want that collaboration tracked. I want to look back and understand a bug fix, or why a resistor is 1K. Nothing makes this possible right now, and its a barrier to real collaborative electronic design.

Publish your hacks with ease

This is huge! I need a zero friction way to share my hackery, or else I just wont! The project sites that exist either need to focus on lowering this barrier, or someone else needs to fill the void. Again tool integration is huge here – but is possible. So many great hacks are wasting away in basements!

Discover new projects

Why is this so hard? The harkopen guys are helping, and instructables is good too, but I want a hackernews style occasional, cool project of the day, or week. Hack-a-day does a good job of this on the epic side, but I want stuff that I can obtainably build and make better.

Here at Upverter we are fighting to make these headaches go away. But its a hard fight, and the more people in the space working together the better we can all be. So I guess this is a bit of a cry out for us all to get better, and a bit of a push for stepping back and looking at the landscape. Lets build a github, or at least lets do the same things they did right for OSHW.