Semmelhack says that the Bug’s design was inspired by the Lego set. Users, he says, should be able to snap pieces in and out without worrying about the device freezing up, and the pieces should be attractive and fun to play with. To that end, the company has developed the Bug module interface, open-source software designed to recognize modules when they are snapped into ports, keep the system from crashing as modules are plugged in or unplugged, and respond to the different power-supply needs of different modules. Because the base has such a sophisticated management job to do, Semmelhack says, “it really is a minicomputer.”
Limor Fried, an engineer who operates Adafruit Industries, and who is involved in the open-source-hardware movement, says that the Linux computer running the Bug is the key to the device’s beauty. “Your camera, your toaster, and your car have tightly integrated computers that you can’t get into,” she says. “[Bug Labs] is saying, let’s put a real computer inside your camera or your PDA or your GPS. Because it’s just like a laptop, it’s really simple and easily understandable how you can get in there and modify it.”
Bug Labs’ Toeman says that at first, the product will be aimed primarily at engineers. While the average consumer is welcome to tinker with it as well, Toeman expects that most will wait until they learn of specific applications that are useful to them. The company plans to make its profit from the manufacture and sale of the Bugbase and modules.
Eric von Hippel, head of the innovation and entrepreneurship group at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says that Bug Labs is part of a general economic trend toward letting users do things for themselves. Von Hippel expects that early adopters will come up with useful innovations, encouraged by the Bug’s relatively cheap modular components and the community spirit that Bug Labs is trying to foster. “Ordinary users can benefit from the hacking efforts of the leading edge,” he adds.
Toeman says that the company hopes to start shipping Bugbases in late November. The Bugbase itself should cost several hundred dollars, and modules will be priced according to the cost of components.