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April 11, 2008

Introducing the BUG at Kinnernet

There are about 250 nerds gathered here at Yossi Vardi’s Kinnernet camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; there couldn’t be a better place to introduce the BUG to the Israeli development community. By the grace of the demo gods, the BUG worked flawlessly and I didn’t make any mistakes I couldn’t recover from and I avoided a shower (more on that below).

The BUG is going to revolutionize consumer electronics; it’s going to enable a huge wave of innovation in consumer devices just as the PC unleashed software innovation I’m an investor in BUGLabs, BTW; not only because I believe in the product but also because, once I heard about the BUG, I realized it’s something I always wanted.

See the BUG lets software hackers who can’t solder become hardware hackers; now we can invent and build new gadgets as easily as we’ve been able to program personal computers. I’m building the world’s best anchor alarm so sailors  can sleep at night in an anchorage knowing they’ll be awakened if the anchor drags or even might drag. Every cruising sailor’ll have to have one.

So what’s a BUG?

It’s a 128MB Linux box about the size of a pack and a half of cigarettes. What makes it special are four ports onto which modules can be snapped – that’s where the hardware building capability comes from. The four modules available today are an LCD, a GPS, an accelerometer/motion detector, and a camera; many more are coming soon. Until BUG, you couldn’t get a consumer-usable box put together with the components you need for your application unless you were willing to order 100,000 of them or so – that’s limited innovation in consumer electronics pretty much to companies which can take gambles of this size and have the marketing muscle to make at least some of them work.

The pieces I need to build my gadget cost me $525 – early adopter price.  Presumably once am buying in some quantity, I can get these kits for even less per unit, load my application on to them, and sell to my sleepless sailor market at a price point below $1000 and pay for ads and marketing and still make money.

My plan had been to demo my own app at Kinnernet – that would be cool and re-earn my nerd credentials before my younger peers. The BUG software developer kit (SDK), which I’m doing a workshop on at Kinnernet, is easy to use (if you know Java) and even features a virtual BUG so you can test without hardware. Both BUGlabs and the growing developer community are helpful. Everything is open source and interface specs published so anyone can develop software or hardware for the BUG. There are lots of sample apps and my Hello World app was running in just a day or so (I had to learn Java).

But Baby Jack got born early and got priority (good excuse, huh?) so my app not ready. Quickly BUG coding genius John Connolly put together an impressive demo using the camera, LD and accelerometer – shake’n’show. It was fun; it made the point; and, above all, it worked.

On stage here is a little dicey. Thirty seconds before your time is up, there’s an ominous roll of thunder; at fifteen seconds a shower above the presenter’s head starts to mist; at zero time there’s a deluge. I might have been willing to take a shower to make a point but couldn’t afford to get the BUG wet. Just stepped forward towards the audience in time to avoid the flood and still deliver a closing line.

I’ve been doing small demos since. Most frequent reaction is “where do I get one?” (remember, this is still a nerd device; it needs to be programmed to do anything; and this is a very skillfully nerdy group). The fun thing is watching people immediately come up with cool gadgets that they’ll now be able to build. Next week I’ll get back to work on mine.

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