One of the most common problems facing any innovator is finding the right application for it. It sounds unusual – why wouldn’t any inventor or researcher consider the potential applications before doing the work? Well of course they do, but proving the application is worthwhile to the Market is difficult, and so there is often a gap between R&D and actual commercialization that is bridged by rigorous product development and market validation. For some products it’s less of a gap and more of a chasm. In addition, some technologies find uses in areas that the original inventor had no idea about. And we've always had the vision that Desktop Electronics Fabrication would be the bridge for innovation, taking ideas to commercial success at a faster pace than ever before.
This ‘Commercialization Chasm’ is most commonly seen in the electronics industry. Miniaturization and new materials researchers have been pumping out new components with few ideas of what ‘killer app’ they may have. A famous example is where Apple hardware Engineering chief Jon Rubinstein came across Toshiba’s miniaturized disk drive in 2000. Toshiba was at a loss for what to do with the mini-drives – Rubinstein saw an opportunity and took the rights to integrate it into the Apple’s early iPod prototypes.
Online store Inventables was created by Zach Kaplan as a place where hobbyists and professional engineers could get their hands on the latest components and tools to encourage the inventive spirit. Flexible pressure sensors? Check. Smart LEDs you can Network? Check. They've raised $3M in VC money to build new tools like the XCarve, a CNC machine for milling boards and wood. Ultimately building your idea into a product is nothing without having the best tools and interesting components available.
Companies like Cypress are making Programmable System-on-a-Chip that combine a variety of analog, digital and microprocessing on one spot, including the software to make it easier for others to drag-and-drop modules and code into the chip. One of the most unusual developments specific to circuit components is the Korg + Noritake Nutube, a Surface-Mountable Vacuum Tube.
BotFactory believes that there is a perfect storm brewing for a Hardware revolution on par with the development of the Internet. It is being driven by a ever-growing variety of components coupled with more intuitive tools for fabrication, pulled by the demand for more connected devices. We've been taking the side of the tools, building the Squink with the idea that every element of circuit board can be made at your desk. However, the component side is a different question that we want to answer shortly. We've been tinkering with how to leverage the Crowd to share how they use new components to make inventive ideas, leveraging a bendable pressure sensor or a smart LED or a SMT Vacuum tube to go in completely different directions to the intention of the original manufacturer. Our software is browser-based, and as such, programming the Pick and Place machine for one part means that all users will be able to use that part.
Ultimately, when you have a BotFactory on your desk, you can browse Alibaba or Inventables with a different eye, seeing new sensors and smaller components with the thought "I could use that to do something interesting!".