Live from CES: Build Your Dream Portable Device—No Soldering Required

By Tyghe Trimble
Jan 10, 2008 6:58 AMNov 5, 2019 8:42 AM


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During the discussion of current technologies driving the future, the need for modular technology—in automotive systems, robots, and personal devices—was discussed at great length. As consumer electronics continue to become more personalized, customizable, and able to interact with a growing number of other devices, they will consequently need to be more modular—not just with open software, but also with the hardware they carry. In the near future, you may be able to build your cell phone at the store—choosing a five-megapixel camera, a small LCD touchscreen and, heck, throwing in GPS capabilities. On top of that, you’ll be able to easily customize your programs, choosing from pre-packaged software or writing it—in a simple meta-language, of course—for your own needs. Today, cell phones come in packages where the manufacturer makes the big choices, putting together the hardware and software for you, making a product that is, to say the least, difficult to customize. Without a minor degree in soldering, access to a pile of scrap electronics, disregard for the law, and a talent for hacking, you’re pretty much stuck with what you get. Bug Labs is coming out with a product later this month that is looking to show that this complete finished-package approach to consumer electronics isn’t necessary, nor is open-source customization just for geeks. Bug Labs is selling a modular device that runs off of a half-inch-thick, six-inch-long plastic-wrapped Linux device with four open ports. For the ports, you can buy any combination of an LCD touchscreen, an infrared sensor (with a built-in accelerometer for the Wii-like haptic touch), a five-megapixel camera and a Global Positioning System (GPS) card. Bug Labs then provides a program that is similar to that used for LEGO Mindstorms, allowing you to write specific software for your unique device. Maybe you’re looking to create a camera where you can take pictures with the wave of your hand, or a hands-off scrolling remote control, or a cool digital travelogue—a combination GPS/camera that can place your pictures on a map, pinpointing just where you took them. The point is, the capabilities are only limited by the hardware, which is provided to you in nice plastic snap-on packaging, with no need for hours of playing with lead, soldering irons, and scrap circuit boards. The Linux-based unit will be available later this month for around $400, with each module sold separately for $50. True to their open-source philosophy, Bug Labs’ website will provide software written by the users. Even if you think this sort of coding might be over your head, keep your eyes on Bug Labs' website—some very interesting combination devices will no doubt be popping up from this product.

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