It’s looking like 2009 is set to be a great year for open source and hardware hacking. Likely lost in a lot of the CES news, BUG Labs, makers of open source, Linux-based hardware you can snap together like Lego bricks, now has a range of new modules. Most interesting to readers here: there’s an audio module, with input, output, a speaker, and even the possibility of basic onboard DSP. Combined with the other modules – GPS positioning, accelerometer/proximity sensor, physical computing-style inputs and outputs for sensors and robotics and switches and things, a touchscreen, a Linux-powered computer, a camera with stills and video, cell phone SIM – this could lead to some interesting projects. It’s certainly got competition from conventional computers and new Linux-powered devices like the Android platform, but then, that just makes for a healthier range of choices for designing your own mashed-up, hacked-up hardware of the future.

More details on the new modules on Create Digital Motion, where I’m especially excited that a new module added to the lineup is a tiny, tiny projector:

Bug Labs Open Source Linux Hardware Gets a Pico-Projector Module, More

And since I have a dev unit to work with, including the audio module, I’ll get to coding and report back later this month and next. It’s a little tricky – the development environment is gorgeous, but it’s a lot easier to do simple Web-style apps than it is tougher jobs like audio – but stay tuned. And if you’re in New York and interested, I think there will be some informal hacking get-togethers at Bug Labs and with local audio brain trust Harvestworks.

And yes, this means you can imagine an iPod-style music player that’s a lot more interesting than the off-the-shelf one, at least to us supernerds.

Update: Phil Torrone, whose work with gadgets made me a fan before MAKE even existed, is of course all over this. I love his idea of an “alt.CES” alternative to the mass-manufactured gadget party. And he’s already thinking about location-based music players:

This is really cool news, I can finally re-make my location based MP3 player again, the first one was made in 2002 using Macromedia Flash, GPS and Pocket PC, yikes. The way is works… you put in a playlist based on location, so maybe you’ll hear "Eye of the tiger" when it known you’re jogging up that HUGE hill, or maybe your MP3 player only plays bands in the town you happen to be in…

Welcome to Alternative CES — "alt.CES" – BUGLab modules [Make:blog]

  • http://radianweb.co.uk radian

    I nearly didn't click this since it had iPod in the title but I'm glad I did since it's the first time I heard of BUG Labs.

  • bliss

    Great article, Peter!

  • Darren Landrum

    The BugLabs stuff, though a cool idea, is way, way too expensive for me. I could get a nice iPod, a T-Mobile G1, and a Flip camera for the same total price as their bundle. Not as hackable, perhaps (well, I could write my own software for the G1), but I think I would find those things more useful.

    I was about to make some comment along the lines of "now if the idea could be brought way down in price," but the fact of the matter is, their market niche is so narrow there is no help from economics of scale. So, I guess I just have to get some cush tech blogging job instead. :-P

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Darren: Well, I think it's the modularity of the platform, combined with the potential to have more openness, that could give it appeal. I certainly here the economics question. I make the same point re: Google Android in the Motion article. And Android's *software* is open. Then again, apples to oranges: you'd need an Android handset, and a cell contract, and you can't very well open the case *physically* so the hardware isn't open.

    I'll put it this way: I think what you're pointing out is that the applications and the means of developing are converging. (For instance, learn Java, some mobile stuff, Linux, and even the IDE Eclipse, and you can apply that to both the Android and BUG Labs and many other things.) The specifics do matter, and I do believe BUG will find a niche.

    If you compare BUG's cost in terms of prototyping or research, for instance, it becomes really competitive.

    But I also hope to cover this not just in a way that says "go buy a BUG" but that gets at some of the underlying potential of all these platforms. They'll each find their specific place, but it's the underlying point that gets really interesting.

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  • Darren Landrum

    I think what I'm saying is a really miss my $22/hr job and really hate being broke. ;-)

  • Taylor Livingston

    This is one of those things which I can tell has huge potential, but I can't really think of any useful applications yet. I don't have a cell phone or mp3 player because they aren't especially useful to me, so I don't have any interest in a souped-up iphone. What I do like are little boxes that do complex things.

    The new Bugsound module would have the most appeal to me, but I'm not sure what kind of audio processing you'd actually be able to get done with that processor. I guess I have to wait until some people start doing cool things with this to get some ideas.

    I have a vague idea about audio-controlled visuals being projected from the little mini projector…

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