Hardware is hot again – announced BusinessWeek earlier in July this year, and Chis Anderson, who just left Wired after 10+ years being an editor-in-chief, to say that “Today’s makers movement is the new industrial revolution”. Chris is now working on its own hardware startup, a DIY Drone company.
But wait, what is this “maker subculture” that everybody is suddenly talking about?
The maker subculture is a contemporary subculture, representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker subculture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.
Makers have always existed, but there is a myriad of things happening this past which make hardware hot again:
- Open micro controllers and sensors accessibility: Arduino has paved the way on how to make electronic accessible for everybody. It’s now possible to buy an Arduino board and a few sensors from your local RadioShack and start hacking. Lot of sites provide tons of great sensors for the Arduino platform, and the tutorials that goes along.
- Single-Board Computers are now accessible for a very reasonable budget. Raspberry Pi and its ARM processor is showing the path for Single-Board computers under $30, and has managed to create a lot of buzz, especially for the new opportunities it creates in the education space. Those devices generally run Linux or Android, and thus provide easy integration with 3rd party APIs or services.
- Cloud Computing: The cloud is the processing and storage piece in the loop : Sensing -> Storing -> Processing -> Acting. The processing part generally involve the data from several sensors which clearly can’t be handled by the micro-controller itself. Service like Cosm (ex-Pachube), are at the forefront of aggregating data from sensors and making that data more open. PaaS like CloudFoundry provide an environment that let developers focus on the software rather than operations (Scaling, Deployment, etc..
- CrowdFunding platforms: Kickstarter proved that everybody can have an idea and leverage its community to raise funding. The Pebble watch project raised $10M+ and it’s not unusal to see projects raising their first million in a matter of a few days.
- Community: The Silicon Valley has shown since a few decades that physical proximity is important to create an ecosystem of innovation and creativity. Being able to meeting with like-minded people is important to There’s not a single week passing by in San Francisco without a hardware meetup where makers can meet, exchange ideas and hack together. Among others, Hardware Startup SF meetup lead the way, and hackatons like the fantastic Drone Games where participants can compete for the best AR.Parrot drone hack. A lot of forums and educational resources are also flourishing all over the Web.
- Mobile and Tablet: Thanks to their screen, wireless connectivity, and tons of sensors (GPS, Accelerometer, Camera, Microphone…) mobile devices are a natural fit for the Internet Of Things. Products like Blood Pressure monitor (From Withthing), Square card reader, the Yobble iPhone Air Guitar pick or the AR.Drone 2.0 are taking advantage of the screen and wireless connectivity of mobile device.
- Manufacturing is getting easier: “Entrepreneurs can now head to China with their $50,000 in Kickstarter money and quickly watch their products come off an assembly line.” says Joe Garrison, creator of Saleae logic analyzer, a popular debugging tool for hardware hackers. Costs are decreasing very fast: “the cost of getting a good hardware idea off the ground had gone from roughly $10 million to roughly $1.5 million” says Gadi Amit, president of San Francisco industrial design firm NewDealDesign.
- 3D printing and modelization is becoming a commodity. Inventor Fusion, the latest child in the Autodesk family (Maya, Autocad) is a fantastic prosumer product that lowers the barrier of entry for designing 3D models that can then be printed on one of those cheap 3D printers. 3D printing is reaching a new age too, with MakerBot leading the way. PrintrBot, a kickstarted project, managed to raise 830k (out of a 25k goal!) in 30 days to build “Your first 3D printer” for $449.
- Private-equity funding: For a year now we can see investors getting interested by hardware again. High-Profile VC firms like SoftTechVC - funding FitBit – or Khosla Ventures (funding littleBits), are starting to complement their software-based portfolios with hardware startups. On the angel/seed side, Paul Graham talking about Y-Combinator last batch says: ”Out of 84 companies, 7 were making hardware. On the whole they’ve done better than the companies that weren’t.” Some Y-Combinator-like funds focusing only on hardware project are also beginning to appear: Lemnos Labs “San Francisco’s Premier Hardware Incubator” - offering $50K for a 8-12% stake - and HAXLR8R (“Hack-Celerator”) – probably figuring out that Kickstarter is eating their lunch in that space.
Let me know which what kind of hardware project you’re working on, I’ll probably do a weekly column on the Makers movement and invite guest editors to participate.
Happy Hardware Hacking!