Start-up develops open source mobile device

Users will be able to make their own gadgets, company says

Bug Labs, a start-up based in San Francisco and Manhattan, has developed a collection of Linux-based, snap-together electronic modules that let users build and program their own mobile gadget. It’s like extending the concept of open source from software to hardware.

BUGbase is the foundation of a BUG gadget, a fully programmable and hackable Linux computer with an ARM1136JF-S microprocessor, 128MB of RAM, built-in wi-fi, USB 2.0 and Ethernet interfaces.

Today,it's possible to pick from four BUGmodules that plug into BUGbase: GPS, digital cam/video cam, touch-sensitive colour LCD screen and combination motion sensor and accelerometer.

The BUG smarts are built completely of open source software. The BUG Module Interface logically links modules to the base. Relevant services and applications dynamically become available, depending on which modules are plugged in. Higher up the software stack, Java hosts a service-oriented standard framework for dynamic software modules, called OSGi, created by the OSGi Alliance. The goal is to make simple, intuitive BUG applications that can discover and work with each other automatically. The BUG software development kit is available for download and BUG applications are share through an online community, BUGnet. A BUG wiki gives details on how to get started.

The tinkerers behind all this are just that: tinkerers. And, according to the company website, they think everyone longs to discover their Inner Tinkerer: “At BUG, we want people to recapture and share this excitement again, and we want them to apply this to their everyday device. We believe everybody is an inventor at heart, so we've developed a platform for users to create and forever modify their favorite gadget, allowing for ultimate customisation and use.”

The BUG in chief is Peter Semmelhack, 42, who notes in his brief online profile that “I started Bug Labs after a roughly 20 year career in software because I desperately wanted the product we are now building.” BUG is his third start-up, the most recent being Antenna Software, which offers a toolset and applications for mobile enterprise computing.

At the recent Computer and Electronics show in Las Vegas, BUG Labs unveiled its pricing, and the components are on sale as of Janaury 21, with shipment due on or before March 17.

The company also announced a new BUGmodule, called the Von Hippel (named for MIT professor Eric Von Hippel, author of Democratizing Innovation.

Also new is a program called BUG+EDU, which will be a series of promotions to introduce BUG to all levels of the education market. “We believe the BUG is a great platform for aspiring engineering students as well as kids who just like to tinker,” Semmelhack says in his online blog.

Gizmondo.com got a walk-through of the components in November, posting video, photos and some tough questions for founder Semmelhack, such as “Who will buy this thing, besides hackers, that is?” and “How will you avoid comparisons to the revered but ill-fated Handspring?” (That start-up, by the Palm Computing founders, tried to create a new line of PalmOS devices, including the Visor and Treo; it was eventually acquired by Palm).

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