Sunday, February 08, 2009

Show me the hardware apps!

There is a lot of energy focused on hardware hacking and composable controllable ubiquitous computing but there do not seem to be any usable consumer applications yet. Paul Saffo is somewhat of an ideological leader for the movement in calling ubiquitous sensors the next wave of infotech innovation, on the order of the PC revolution. Mashup culture is becoming more pervasive and the hardware hacking community is getting busy tinkering, inventing and collaborating online and IRL, particularly through Make, Hacker Spaces (165 worldwide), Dorkbot (80 worldwide), Fab Labs (26 worldwide), RepRap and the TechShop.

Where can I get some stuff to try it myself?
Hardware componentry and kits are available from many vendors such as Bug Labs, SparkFun Electronics, Gumstix, MakerSHED, Adafruit Industries and Digi-Key. Some standard building blocks include the Arduino computing platform (which even has a microcontroller board for wearables, the LilyPad) and the BUGbase Hiro P Edition. The TikiTag also looks quite interesting as an RFID reader that can be used to create web services linking physical world objects with the Internet.

Hardware hacking is reinventing everything
The best thing about hardware hacking is that every aspect is up for reinvention, including at minimum, interfaces, signal processing, form factor and power. Additional interfaces are coming, voice (earlier this week, IBM announced a synthesized voice that is nearly indistinguishable from human), haptic (like Anarkik3D) and projection are the most obvious. Another novel interface could be a hack for the rudimentary manipulation of household objects with the Wii hand-held controller. Signal processing could include more options for shifting between and integrating digital and analog signals, Paul Saffo suggests a return to analog computing but hybridization and rapid switching could become standard. Form factors in various stages of maturity include any range of computing via implant (brain-computer interfaces), wearable, adjacent or distributed architecture. Power is a challenging problem to solve; some interesting innovations could emerge from energy-harvesting techniques such as piezoelectronics, optical Wi-Fi and thermoelectrics, converting, respectively, sound waves, light and heat to energy.

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