RonAmok!

The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

Erectronic Kit: Circa 1958 Courtesey Allan JayneIn 1954, an Industrial Arts teacher from Long Island came to speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about his new invention: a breadboarding system that he proposed could be used to teach electronics. Arthur Jubenville had patented this system and started a company called Science Electronics, Inc. (SEI). During the conference, he was introduced to a Cambridge-based electronics company by the name of General Electronic Labs(GEL), which was developing RADAR countermeasure technologies for the Department of Defense. In this chance meeting, SEI became a wholly-owned subsidiary of GEL and with funding, SEI went began marketing Jubenville’s invention.

The breadboarding system was unique because it allowed students to assemble electronic circuits without the use of solder. The kit came with various electrical components, such as resistors, capacitors, diodes, vacuum tubes, loudspeakers, transformers, each mounted onto a module. The bottom of these modules contained evenly spaced “pegs” that fit nicely onto a supplied pegboard. After the student had placed the components onto the pegboard, the next part was to hook them up, with these clever little “Jiffy Clips,” wires with simple clips on either end that snapped onto module posts.

Not only was SEI looking to get this system into schools, but it also felt that there was a home market for it. “We all grew up on Erector Sets,” Arthur Nelson, co-founder of GEL said, “so we decided to set up a meeting with the AC Gilbert company.” A contingent fromComponents on the pegboard, wired with the Jiffy Clips.  Courtesey Allan Jayne SEI went to “Erector Square” and left with an agreement. SEI licensed the system to AC Gilbert for marketing to the home user, and the “Erectronic” (Sometimes called “Erec-tronic”) was born.

Since that time, many companies have built upon the original idea of the Erectronic. I remember getting my Radio Shack Electronic Lab, where I built crystal radios, motor control circuits, and sound effects generators that chirped with the sounds of phasors, machine guns, and explosions. I’d follow instructions to build circuits that came with the set, or try to invent new ones myself — with most of those experiments leading to smoke.

Although I never bought anything from it, I’d spend hours looking over the HeathKit catalog, filled with all sorts of projects to build using nothing but patience and a soldering iron. I played around with the Basic Stamp microcontroller and then in 1998, another toy manufacturer jumped into the game. Lego released its Mindstorms product, where not only did they place a microcontroller into a Lego Brick, but they packaged it with other special bricks that contained sensors, motors, and stuff. During the past fifty years, there have been leaps and bounds in the sophistication of Mr. Jubenville’s idea. And they are just about to take a quantum leap again.

As a hardware guy, I’ve always been a little jealous of the software guys. I mean, all software folks need is computer, a compiler and a six pack of Red Bull to start creating stuff. Hardware guys on the other hand? We have to set aside a space for test equipment and power supplies and all sorts of components to build anything beyond the toy-level stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lego Mindstorms, but if I have an idea that’s worthy of investment, I don’t want to go traipsing into a VC’s office with an assortment of interconnected red, blue and yellow plastic bricks.

Bug Labs Bug Base and Bug ModulesBut what if I offered you a breadboarding system like the Erec-tronic, but instead of a just a pegboard, we embedded an ARM11 processor into it? Heck, since we’re just dreaming, what if instead of a pegboard with an ARM11 processor, the pegboard was transformed into a palm-sized breadboarding system that contained a Linux-based computer, complete with WiFi, Ethernet, USB, USB-OTG, and a slew of others? And imagine that instead of simple components like a resistor or diode mounted onto a little module, we add some pizazz — like a GPS module, a touchscreen module, a 3G module or a digital camera module? What if the platform was totally open, such that users around the world are not only free to hack it, but they are encouraged to do so through open APIs. And lastly, imagine that through the use of New Media tools, a community could be built around it, to collaborate with one another, to share ideas, to invent new things? How cool would THAT be?

Well, I need to tell you that this isn’t a dream. It is a reality and the company, Bug Labs is about to release pricing on its Bug Product Line [consisting of it’s Bug Base (Linux Computer/Breadboard) and its Bug Modules] before the end of the year. I’m going to be watching this release very closely because it has the potential to change hardware design as we know it, through the combinatorial use of New Media and Open Source.

This product has the potential to drop the barrier of entry for hardware development to that which is closer to software development. Imagine if a Venture Capitalist walked into a struggling startup with ten Bug Bases, dumped them and a plethora of modules onto the table, and told them to start developing? Imagine the devices that’ll emerge.

I love this idea, and I’m really hoping that it works as well as advertised.bug base

If you wanna see the Bug in action, checkout the following video interviews by Robert Scoble, where the BugLabs CEO, Peter Semmelhack, demonstrates the device and a few modules.

Erectronic Photos courtesy of Allan Jayne Jr.
Bug photos courtesy of Bug Labs.

Tags:

Comments

Thanks so much for sharing the BUG Ron! Truly inspires a mind-shift. Social networks allow us to build our own mini-applications and share them with the world…now the BUG promises to allow us to build our own physical devices with which we can acquire content and *gasp* even share the devices themselves with others in the “real world”. Too cool.

Corey
December 8, 2007

Thanks so much for sharing the BUG Ron! Truly inspires a mind-shift. Social networks allow us to build our own mini-applications and share them with the world…now the BUG promises to allow us to build our own physical devices with which we can acquire content and *gasp* even share the devices themselves with others in the “real world”. Too cool.

Corey
December 7, 2007

Ron, you are very clearly not a software guy. Red Bull comes in 4 packs.

Jeremy Vaught
December 8, 2007

Ron, you are very clearly not a software guy. Red Bull comes in 4 packs.

Jeremy Vaught
December 8, 2007

See? I told you!

Ron
December 8, 2007

See? I told you!

Ron
December 8, 2007

This is sweet!!! The definition of “media” in Social Media has now been expanded to include functional devices. I already have an idea for an app and know that I’m in good company…and I’m neither a software nor a hardware guy. Talk about some serious geek envy! I’ll be doing something to fix this now.

The “Less Wood” video on the Bug Labs website is hilarious! See their “Store” link first for context.
http://www.buglabs.net/

Thanks Ron!

Ken Wetherell
December 14, 2007

This is sweet!!! The definition of “media” in Social Media has now been expanded to include functional devices. I already have an idea for an app and know that I’m in good company…and I’m neither a software nor a hardware guy. Talk about some serious geek envy! I’ll be doing something to fix this now.

The “Less Wood” video on the Bug Labs website is hilarious! See their “Store” link first for context.
http://www.buglabs.net/

Thanks Ron!

Ken Wetherell
December 14, 2007

Well, I got the context wrong for the “less wood” video having not noticed that there was a Version A video. But I guess the “Store” link sorta works the same way.

Ken Wetherell
December 15, 2007

Well, I got the context wrong for the “less wood” video having not noticed that there was a Version A video. But I guess the “Store” link sorta works the same way.

Ken Wetherell
December 14, 2007

[…] in my life. I’ve actually mentioned him in previous posts such as The Fog of Social Media or 50+ Years Later: Buglabs Arrives. He’s a very successful entrepreneur who has played the great game of business for over 60 years. […]

RonAmok! » My Mentor: Arthur Nelson
May 10, 2010

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.