BugLabs is an NYC startup that will soon be releasing OS hardware modules (or Bugs). These modules can be combined in almost anyway to create a device to fit the user’s needs. The Bug’s APIs and specifications are all open, allowing anyone to create peripherals or software for them — no licensing necessary. I met with Peter Semmelhack last week and got to handle early prototypes (all of the working ones were at SCaLE 2008) and talk about the product.
The initial set of modules include the BUGbase (the main connector module, sadly wifi-free initially, but with ethernet) and a series of add-ons: BUGlocate (GPS), BUGcam2MP (2 MegaPixel Still/Video Camera), BUGview (touchscreen LCD), and BUGmotion (accelerometer/motion-detector). Future modules include double-size touchscreen LCD, a QWERTY keyboard, improved audio i/o & speaker, and a teleporter.
Physically the modules are very easy to handle. They are thin plastic blocks that fit together to make a thick plastic block. They feel sturdy. The add-on bugs are all squares. The BUGbase is a rectangle that will fit two square bugs on each side. The BUGbase has several buttons and a small LCD for setting modes or changing the application on the fly. There are lots of grooves on the devices that will make it easy to affix them in the real world. It wasn’t until I got to interact with in person that I really wanted a set.
These modules can be put on the BUGbase in almost any combination to create the device that you need right then. You can have a camera that takes a picture whenever there is movement (complete with geotags) like FlickrUppr. Or a motion-sensing alarm that sends an IM message. Or a to-do list/alarm clock that is based on location instead of time. Give me a 3G/EVDO module and I’d be pretty happy with what I could create.
To make these flexible gadgets come to life connect the Bugs to your computer via USB. Using an Eclipse-based development environment you can load apps onto your bug or write your own in Java (there are some experiments with Python as well). The dev environment seems very slick. When your bug is plugged the SDk determines what modules are on your BUGbase and shows you the available apps from the community (called BUGnet). There’s an emulator in the SDK if you don’t have a bug, but want to check it out (or starting writing apps).
Unsurprisingly, a lot of what is available from the community are location-based apps. Of the 40+ publicly available apps are tagged GPS. Already there are a number of apps that replace common commercial products (like a GPS logger) and some uncommon, but desired ones (the auto-geotagging camera). The number and variety of these will only increase in time; I think that the BUG will have a major impact on the geohacking community in the next couple of years. I hope that there will be geohacker-specific modules released.
Peter will be speaking at ETech on Tuesday, March 4th about BugLabs.