Company helps build gadgets

February 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Let's say you have an idea for a new gadget, but you're not Microsoft. Now a company called Bug Labs is making it possible for anyone to build their own thing.

This is the first usb-photo-phono-wifi-locator-rfid thingie. An explanation: Make-it-yourself kits are all the rage in the high-tech world.

There is a hybrid car kit to add batteries and modify your bumper to turn it into a plug-in hybrid. There is a kit to modify a mobile phone to make it do what you like.

But no kit to build is something that doesn't exist -- for example, to turn a camera GPS locator into a wireless personal tracker.

"In October, 2001, I really wanted to find a wireless GPS tracker that I could use to keep track of the folks whom I cared about, in the wake of 9/11, and that device just didn't exist," said Bug Labs founder Peter Semmelhack.

So Peter decided it was time for an electronic Lego set. A set of electronic blocks that can be configured in any way you want.

"I take my GPS, I take my LCD screen. So, now, in 5 seconds, I've built functionally the device that I wanted," said Semmelhack.

The modules are now made by Peter's company Bug Labs.

"One day, I was playing Legos with my son, and I said, 'Well, here's a great metaphor for a device, why can't we have or build devices like that?'," said Semmelhack.

The first modules are: a GPS receiver, a modem for 3G wireless, an LCD touch screen, a motion detector, a 2mpx camera, and the Bug Base, a pocket computer with connectors for USB, Ethernet, and power. Initially, it's aimed at inventors who know software called Java, like these at Menlo Park's TechShop. But Semmelhack's own 6-year-old boy surprised him.

"He said, 'I'm going to put an LCD screen on this side, and then I"m going to put an LCD screen on this side,' said Semmelhack.

"I said, 'Why would you want LCDs on both sides?' He goes, 'So I can watch TV with my sister.'

And the concept for was: You know, he sits in a car, and he sits this way. It would be great if he could just watch, you know.

What was interesting about that interaction was that he is thinking conceptually. He's not thinking about how I'm going to build it, he's thinking about what I want.

The Bug building blocks will be available only online, and not until later in the spring.