Jon Bruner

Jon Bruner is a data journalist who approaches questions that interest him by writing and coding. Before coming to O'Reilly, where he is editor-at-large, he was data editor at Forbes Magazine. He lives in New York, where he can occasionally be found at the console of a pipe organ.

Ben Einstein on accelerating hardware startups

The O’Reilly Solid Podcast: A discussion about critical issues for hardware startups.


Subscribe to the O’Reilly Solid Podcast for insight and analysis about the Internet of Things and the worlds of hardware, software, and manufacturing.

Hardware is getting more accessible, which makes hardware startups more appealing. A small team can develop a viable prototype for a simple product on a few hundred thousand dollars, and even tricky problems like autonomous cars are within the reach of startups.

Incubators and accelerators like Highway1, Lemnos, and HAX have played an important role in making hardware accessible; they help their portfolio companies work through the tricky engineering, manufacturing, and marketing problems that software startups don’t have to deal with.

In our new episode of the Solid Podcast, David Cranor and I have a wide-ranging discussion with Ben Einstein, co-founder and managing director of Bolt, one of the leading hardware startup accelerators.

Einstein, who spoke at Solid 2015 in California, talks about the importance of hardware marketing and customer development, including branding, crowdfunding, and virality (which is “much more possible with hardware now than it was 10 years ago,” he says). Read more…

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Coming up at Solid Amsterdam

A look at our unified program for unified creators.


Register now for Solid Amsterdam 2015, our conference exploring the intersections of manufacturing, design, hardware, software, and business strategy. The event will take place in Amsterdam on October 28, 2015.

Creating a great product means knowing something about many things: design, prototyping, electronics, software, manufacturing, marketing, and business strategy. That’s the blend that Solid brings together: over our one-day program at Solid Amsterdam on October 28, 2015, we’ll walk through a range of inspiration and insight that’s essential for anyone who creates physical products — consumer devices, industrial machines, and everything in between.

Start with design: it’s the first discipline that’s called on to master any new technology, and designers whose work has been confined to the digital realm are now expected to understand hardware and connected systems as well.

Design at Solid begins with our program co-chair, Marko Ahtisaari, who was head of product design at Nokia from 2009 to 2013, and is now CEO and co-founder of The Sync Project. We’ll also hear from Thomas Widdershoven, creative director at Design Academy Eindhoven and co-founder of thonik, a design studio whose work specializes in interaction and motion design. Read more…


What to see at Solid

A look at the interdisciplinary learning paths you'll find at Solid.


Flipping through the schedule for our Solid conference, you might wonder why we offer talks on synthetic biology in the same program that includes sessions on smart factories and how to ship goods within supply chains. The answer is that Solid is about a nascent movement — new hardware — that draws on a lot of different areas of expertise. It’s about access and the idea that physical things are becoming easier for anyone to create and engineer. Understanding hardware and the Internet of Things, then, is critical for every technologist and every company.

Solid’s program has emphasized interdisciplinary learning from the beginning; we’ve seen that a smart, accessible, connected world will need contributions from a lot of different backgrounds: designers, electrical engineers, software developers, executives, investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and artists.

The keynotes that we’ve lined up will provide an overview, and a sense of how widely impactful this idea is; they touch on designmanufacturing, urban futures, synthetic biology, governmentinnovation, and techno-archaeology (a topic we’ve explored in the Solid Podcast). And they’ll wrap up with a thought-provoking talk — with a demo — on how we experience flavor.

After lunch on Wednesday and Thursday, the program gets broad.

I’ve drawn up a handful of paths that you might consider taking as you go through Solid next week. None of these is a comprehensive program, but they’ll serve as jumping-off points for different members of the new hardware community. Read more…

Comments: 2

Why the Internet of Things isn’t the same as the new hardware movement

Cheap, accessible, open hardware is driving the IoT.

The Internet of Things and the New Hardware Movement are not the same thing

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been committing a lot of buzzword imperialism lately. It’s a hot term, marching across the technological countryside and looking for rich disciplines to capture. Electronics, manufacturing, and robotics, among others, have all become dominions of the IoT. The result is that the meaning of IoT has broadened to include practically anything that involves 1. technology, and 2. something physical.

At the same time, practitioners have been trying to escape the IoT — and its early association with Internet-connected refrigerators — for years. Big enterprises that want to develop serious applications for the Internet of Things have come up with other terms for what they’re doing, like Internet of Everything (Cisco) and Industrial Internet (GE).

Let’s put a stop to this and define some boundaries. In my view, the Internet of Things is the result of a much larger and more important movement that’s about making the physical environment accessible in the same way that the Internet has become accessible over the last 20 years. I’ll call this the “new hardware movement.” Read more…

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Tying software and hardware together through art

The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Andy Cavatorta and Jamie Zigelbaum on art that combines physical and digital.

One of the theses behind our Solid Conference is that the stacks — the ranges of knowledge that technologists need to understand — are expanding so that the formerly separate disciplines of hardware and software are merging. Specific expertise is still critical, but the future lies in systems that integrate physical and virtual, and developing those effectively requires the ability to understand both sides at some basic level.

Installation art is a great place to look for those seamless integrations, and we’re excited to feature a couple of interesting installations at Solid. Our latest episode of the Solid Podcast takes us to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, home to a collective of designers and engineers called Dark Matter Manufacturing, where David Cranor and I spoke with Andy Cavatorta and Jamie Zigelbaum. Cavatorta and Zigelbaum both create installations; Cavatorta works with sound and robotics, and Zigelbaum’s projects explore communication and interaction.

Cavatorta’s Dervishes installation will appear at O’Reilly Solid, June 23-25. He will also speak on “Music, machines, and meaning: What art teaches us about robotics and networks.” Read more…


Building a hardware business

A free compilation of chapter excerpts from our IoT library highlights the approachable complexity of hardware.

Download a free copy of “Building a Hardware Business,” a curated compilation of chapter excerpts from our IoT library.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an astonishing change in what it takes to build a hardware business. Hardware remains hard — executing it well requires technical and marketing expertise in several fields — but the barriers that startups must cross have been lowered considerably.

That change has come about as a result of several changes in the way the market approaches hardware.

  • Customers, whether consumers or businesses, have become aware of what hardware and connected devices can do for them. The Internet of Things means more than connected refrigerators now. For consumers, it represents desirable products like the NEST thermostat and Apple Watch. For managers, it represents the highest standards of informed decision-making and operational efficiency in everything from delivery fleets to heavy machines to simple design-driven data.
  • Connecting with those customers has become easier. Startups can sell directly to niche consumers through online channels with the help of Etsy, Tindie, and ShopLocket, which are vastly easier to deal with than big-box retailers. These platforms also return rapid market feedback and offer ways for companies to connect with their consumers and build communities without intermediaries.
  • Funding has become available through new mechanisms at every stage. Crowdfunding helps entrepreneurs test their ideas in the marketplace and raise enough money for early development. Venture capitalists, impressed by recent exits and aware of the vast green fields awaiting the Internet of Things, are willing to invest. Supply-chain managers like PCH are willing to take equity stakes in return for invoice financing, addressing a critical cash-flow challenge that can be a big barrier to startups looking to have products manufactured in large quantities.
  • Read more…


Cottage industry 2.0

The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Amanda Peyton of Etsy on the rise of craft.

Our new episode of the Solid Podcast brings us to Etsy, where David and I spoke with Amanda Peyton, a serial entrepreneur and product manager at Etsy, about the company’s role as a macro-community of micro-communities.

The connection between Etsy and Solid might not be obvious at first. Etsy’s specialty is the ultra-analog: handmade crafts that represent a return to an earlier era of artisan design and manufacturing.

But Etsy is emblematic of how Web platforms have transformed the relationship between product creators and product consumers. It offers rapid feedback from the market, quick discovery of new trends, and access to a large and diverse enough customer base that even extraordinarily niche products can be viable.

The result is a community of distributed manufacturers that’s responsive and efficient. For goods that can be made without a large, well-capitalized factory (even some electronics now fall into this category), Etsy may be the future of manufacturing. Read more…


The challenge of connecting anything to the Internet

The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Zach Supalla and Will Hart on building a supply chain, making radios work, and taking on big telecom.


Subscribe to the O’Reilly Solid podcast to stay on top of topics related to the Internet of Things, hardware, software, manufacturing, and the blurring of the physical and virtual worlds.

A few weeks ago, hours after launching a blow-out Kickstarter campaign, Zach Supalla and Will Hart of Spark Labs dropped by our podcasting studio to have a wide-ranging conversation about how they’d built a successful hardware startup, how they manage their overseas supply chain, and how they’re taking on established machine-to-machine and telecom companies by turning themselves into a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO).

Zach and Will are leading a workshop at our Solid Conference called “How to manage China” on how to build and maintain a supply chain.

Spark’s latest product, the Electron, is a tiny development kit that can connect just about any kind of device to Spark’s back-end platform over a 3G cellular signal for as little as $3 per month. Read more…


Rebooting a 1970s satellite with modern software and hardware

The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Dennis Wingo on reestablishing contact with a satellite that had been silent for 17 years.

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Solid podcast to stay on top of topics related to the Internet of Things, hardware, software, manufacturing, and the blurring of the physical and virtual worlds.


The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, where Dennis Wingo and his team established contact with the ISEE-3 satellite. Public domain image: Wikipedia.

In the first episode of the Solid Podcast, we talked with Dennis Wingo, founder of Skycorp, in the former NASA McDonald’s where he’s been restoring the first images of the moon taken from space.

After an hour of recounting his techno-archaeology exploits — reverse-engineering the arcane analog image-transmission systems that NASA’s engineers developed in the 1960s — Dennis paused and said, “and that’s just one of our history projects.”

That teaser is where we begin today’s episode. Ready to apply modern computing to another analog challenge, Dennis turned his attention to the reboot of the International Sun/Earth Explorer-3, a research satellite launched in 1978 and commended to the heavens in 1997.

NASA decommissioned the equipment for communicating with the satellite in 1999, so Dennis set about reverse-engineering the ISEE-3’s control system and devising a way to communicate with it. In the 1970s, he would have needed custom analog hardware, but now, general-purpose hardware is powerful enough that he could do it all with software. Read more…

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Solid Podcast: Trip to McMoon’s

Dennis Wingo on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, the project's Indiegogo campaign, and Skycorp.

The first "Earthrise" image, taken by the Lunar Orbiter 1 satellite and recovered by Dennis Wingo's Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Credit: NASA/Skycorp Incorporated

Before and after: The first “Earthrise” image, taken by the Lunar Orbiter 1 satellite and recovered by Dennis Wingo’s Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Credit: NASA/Skycorp Incorporated.

We’re kicking off our newest series, the O’Reilly Solid Podcast, with an episode recorded in the manager’s office of a McDonald’s at NASA’s Ames Research Center. David Cranor and I visited McMoon’s, as it’s known, to talk with Dennis Wingo, founder of two audacious “techno archaeology” efforts.

In the first episode, we discuss the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, which has rescued NASA’s first high-resolution images from satellites orbiting the moon. Dennis’ team reverse-engineered the extraordinary analog image transmission system that the satellites used in 1966 and 1967, digitized 14 tons of magnetic tape, and interpreted them to compose imagery at vastly higher resolution than NASA was originally able to recover from the satellites. Read more…

Comment: 1