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BUG - "The LEGO of Gadgets" 131

TheBrutalTruth writes "Bug Labs will soon be launching what Webware calls 'the LEGO of gadgets.' From their site: 'BUG is a collection of easy-to-use electronic modules that snap together to build any gadget you can imagine. Each BUGmodule represents a specific gadget function (ex: a camera, a keyboard, a video output, etc). You decide which functions to include and BUG takes care of the rest, letting you try out different combinations quickly and easily. With BUG and the integrated programming environment/web community (BUGnet), anyone can build, program, and share innovative devices and applications. We don't define the final products — you do.'" Looks a bit vaporous, but conceptually interesting.
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BUG - "The LEGO of Gadgets"

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  • by whyloginwhysubscribe ( 993688 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:46PM (#21970054)
    But worrying about it being vaporous...
    • by splutty ( 43475 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:50PM (#21970126)
      That entirely depends on the strength of your powersupply I'm sure. But your teleporter might still find a good use as a smoke signal generator. So not to worry! The possibilities are endless.

      The concept is a great one, though. And also one that goes back a long way to all the electronics kits I used to have as a kid. What I'm wondering is mainly: How easy would it be to build custom modules that 'click into' all the other modules? And with that I mean not using the already available ones.

      That's basically what I ended up doing with those electronics kits. Little wooden blocks with my own R/C circuit on it, and connecting that into the existing block of the kit. I'm a bit doubtful about this being feasable in this sort of setup, though, since the complexity is probably way too high. A shame, really..

      Give kids more electronics kits! (Let them build their own computer with a Z80 :) Nice and cheap, and if it blows up, well, it costs $2 to get a new Z80.
      • There are kits to build a computer with a Z80? Do tell, where?
      • Coincidentally, I've been thinking about this recently. It's was a bit of a shock when I saw the idea here on Slashdot :-)

        You could easily make a 2 or 4 wire serial bus out of the 4 feet and reception points of a block, but it might be quite limited in speed. Technically though, this could be pretty simple. Most controller and DSP microcontrollers have support for some type of serial bus, and the whole system can standardize on one.

        Something like Microchip's CAN [] (controller area network) seems ideal - nodes
      • by Hatta ( 162192 )
        Or give them chemistry sets! That is if you can find one with any decent reagents anymore...
    • Diddo. But from what I've seen of ideas like this even if the company folds the modder community will take the general idea to heart and keep going with it. With any luck these things will revive the area of hardware hobbyists who are not just tweaking existing store bought hardware. Every hardware project I've done was either too long or minor to be very interesting.
    • by Ruie ( 30480 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @01:26PM (#21970660) Homepage
      From the website: base module $299 (for early adopters) and 4 more modules (GPS, camera, accelerometer, screen) for $50-100 each. Buy all: $595.

      How is this different from the many embedded boards you can buy or even a PDA/phone (e.g. openmoko) ? The only new feature is fancy packaging. It does not appear you can connect more these four modules or link bases together easily.

      I wish they actually made something that let you do new things. For example, I would be delighted to shell out $299 for one of these:

      • A Spartan FPGA board with 1 GB MAC+PHY (or PHY alone). Spartan must be largest that WebKit supports, with all connections routed to nice high-speed connectors (with more than 40 usable pins !). Current best:, 40 pins, USB 2.0 interface (limited to 10-20MB/sec due to the way they hooked up FX2 chip). Such a board is possible (and relatively easy) to design by an amateur - but very expensive to make as it would have to be 6 layers and require soldering BGA chips. Price can only go down when many are made at the same time. Possible hobby applications: software radio, software oscilloscope, home made projectors, photonics.
      • Same, but with connector for SPF modules instead of built-in MAC/PHY
      • Same, but capable of usable 10Gbit per second
      • 10/100 and/or 1Gbit and/or wireless board with 8 or more 1 Mhz 16bit ADC inputs and equal number of 12-16bit DAC outputs, plus digital I/O. Should be easy to design and medium hard to make - mostly because 10/100 MAC/PHYs and FPGAs do not come in convenient packaging and Digilent board (and similar) do not have enough I/O. Applications: MEMs closed loop control (make a tiny robot/device and get it to move using piezos, static electricity or plain electromagnets), sensing of electrical signals from muscles/brain, environment monitoring, ultrasound.
      • Hackers PDA: a PDA with large Hex buttons and auxiliary buttons around the screen (one can enter ASCII letters with two keypresses - beats phones and writing), with several multimeter channels (using TI chips for example), several relay controls, and multiple digital I/O ports that double as compact flash or SD slots.
      • It would make an awesome base for robotics proto-typing. You could obviously make something cool for your car. It might make a good front end for an "e-house" - you could embed them in the walls with just a single or dual screen. They're connected devices, no wires except power, they'd be easy to install around the house. Setup full size flat panel on the wall next to it. Glue one on the back of a flat panel, with a usb hub, and a big usb hard drive, and make a one-piece computer. I think it's pretty
      • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:28PM (#21972562) Journal
        >Such a board is possible (and relatively easy) to design by an amateur - but very expensive to make as it would have to be 6 layers and require soldering BGA chips.

        I have a few tips from personal experience. You can get multilayer boards built fairly inexpensively if you can justify having four made at one time: you might be looking at under $80/board for a 6-layer (although I'm not positive about that. I know you can get 4 layer done for under $60/board.)
        It's possible, although unpleasant, to reflow your own BGA's. You need a microscope with a tilt-head. Draw the BGA package outline in the layout software as a silkscreen, making sure it's at least as large as the actual package, or even better, draw several outlines of increasing size. Align the BGA visually within the closest package size, double-check by looking at the edge with bright illumination and a microscope to make sure you're basically on-pad, then gently reflow it down with a heat gun. It works best if you can preheat the board from the bottom with one heat gun on low, then do the reflow from the top with the second one.
        I'm doing this at work with microSMD, which are way, way smaller than BGA -- chips 3mm on a side with 12 bumps on the bottom. After a bit of work I have a 70% success rate. The main thing I've found is that while you're reflowing, you'll see the chip move as the capillary action of the solder pulls it into place. Very, very lightly touch the chip on one edge with a probe. If it rocks, the center isn't yet reflowed and it's pivoting on the as-of-yet-solid bumps. When the whole chip bounces like a spring on all the melted bumps, rather than rocking, then it should be good.
        • by Ruie ( 30480 )
          Thank you for the suggestions !

          I also have only made 4 layer boards, $250 for 5 copies. The problem, as you mention, is yield. BGA chips can't be easily reworked, so if any got screwed up the entire board is toast. With FPGA and PHYs being more than $30 each this quickly adds to cost and difficulty - and reduces the number of people who would want to replicate the project.

          • If you're thinking about trying this, do a single-layer board with a dozen BGA sites and find yourself some cheap BGA's to try and practice. It's a bear. You can remove screwed-up ones the same way you put them on: one heat gun on the bottom on low and one on top on high. Again, it's a bear, and carefully removing all the solder with solderwick from every bga pad is slow and demanding.
            The main problems we see are: ground plane connectivity with the bga bump, because the ground plane pad isn't warm enough
    • It doesn't say what it can teleport. Teleportation of a single electron has been achieved in the lab so it might be a rather unimpressive add on.
    • Two bucks... And it only transports matter?
  • it would be more interesting if the parts were a bit more low level. I would like to see something like this at just the board level (and maybe therefore cheaper) with maybe an option for a few case designs that would contain the base + x modules. Or leave the case design to you (which was my first thought).
  • I can't wait until someone releases the cube with the +5,+12V Analog IO. $299 for a networked (Ethernet AND Wireless) Serial ported, USB Programmable box doesn't seem too bad.
    • Hobbyist I take your meaning to be...

      Hobbits I'm afraid may either have little use for this, or try to rule the world by means of WMD (Weapons of Mass Dysfunction...)
  • Overhyped? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:51PM (#21970144) Homepage Journal
    I dunno. Looking at the device on the website, I can't help but wonder if this isn't overhyped. It appears to only have 2 generic snap-in ports on top with the rest of the ports defining a more specific interface. What that means is not so much, "You define the final product", but more along the lines of, "You can use these attachements... or not."

    It really doesn't seem all that different than your average embedded dev-kit + a USB hub. Certainly the comparison to LEGO does not hold. LEGOs are based on a key component of classical construction: The brick. Toys of its nature existed long before the LEGO was invented. The key innovation to the LEGO was the "snap-together" interface which gave the bricks a structural stability that their real-world counterpart lacked.

    What you have here is not so much a key innovation on top of existing, generic components, but rather a repackaging of components that can be found in a variety of products. Of course, there's always the possibility that I'm underestimating this design. In which case I look forward to BUG proving me wrong. :-)
    • by bperkins ( 12056 )
      It really doesn't seem all that different than your average embedded dev-kit + a USB hub.

      except that it has a chassis, battery and WiFi.

      You can either go the gumstix route and roll your own, which seems painful and actually ends up being quite expensive, or you can try to hack existing portable music players, which, (at least until recently []), wasn't really panning out.

      Although the platform isn't very interesting at this point because of the lack of peripherals, the price is actually pretty good.

      I'm interes
      • How is it good?
        for $300 you can buy two OLPC computers which include the keyboard and display, a cool meshing wi-fi bridge etc ...

        • I didn't think you could buy them new at all anymore unless you were a third world educational authority. Theres a few on ebay but they seem to be going for closer to the g1g1 price ($400 each) than the price you give ($300 for two).

    • At first I was totally psyched, then upon further examination I decided that, really, I can accomplish much cooler and more interesting things, for now, with a Gumstix linux computer (or a cluster thereof) or a Parallax "stamp" or even something like this guy here []. The problem is that none of my ideas require only an LCD screen, motion sensor, camera or speaker. They all require the ability to tie in other circuits in a way that this device doesn't appear to support (there's ethernet, for instance--also ove

  • I hope it doesn't get smashed up with legislation and patent infringement shebangs and copyright infringements etc, etc...

    Think of it, with millions of people out there building essentially whatever they want/need, the way things are going across the world someone is bound to infringe on someone else's IP or such.

    Good idea, hope it changes the world for the better...
    • With a name like Bug Labs, they probably will have a lot of copyright issues. I think Micro$oft has that name copyrighted.
  • If you look on the right side of their product page, it lists a "Teleporter" for Q2 2008... Beam me up!
  • Available Q2 2008: Teleporter. Hmmm.

  • by INeededALogin ( 771371 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:52PM (#21970166) Journal
    Its called "Whitebox PC" []. Seriously... peripherals: camera, keyboard, mouse, trackball, gps, harddrives, infared, etc...

    Seems like nothing more than the recreation of a PC with non-standard interconnects.
    • LoL... mod up!
    • by sk8dork ( 842313 )
      oh yeah, let me tell you i just _love_ carrying around my super whitebox pc. it's a bit bulky, but when people show me their spiffy little glossy handheld modular open source dohickeys i just laugh, because i've had this not-at-all-portable whitebox pc way before this "bug" device was even a dream! silly unoriginal youngsters... and can we talk about price? why spend a few hundred dollars on these little bug modules when you can spend more on a mini-tower whitebox pc? oh wait...
    • This is quite a bit smaller than that, and considerably easier to assemble. Did your parents fob you off with boxes of old TV components and claim that was Lego or something?
    • Don't forget that this bug one also has a Teleporter coming in Q2 this year!!!
    • by thosdot ( 659245 )
      Check out [] - already claimed the 'electronic version of lego' mantle. I remember seeing it on the (Australian) ABC's New Inventors show back in the heady days of '04.
  • Comparing this to Lego is a bit of a stretch. When you can connect some moving parts to the base, and then more bases to those parts, with some sort of swarm networking kicking in, then it'll be cool. Otherwise this is not much more than an all-in-one gadget where you can take some pieces off.
  • Oh Crap... (Score:4, Funny)

    by dfn5 ( 524972 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:54PM (#21970190) Journal
    This must be the real cause of the replicator problem in our galaxy. They started out as Plastic Lego's until they worked their way up in some strange Katamari fashion to Asgard alloy technology.
  • but with an LCD screen, a motion sensor, a GPS and a exactly do you come up with thousands of devices?

    Neat idea, but definitely overhyped.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AndGodSed ( 968378 )
      Build a stand alone device that you can attach to a shipping container that logs messages according to motion, to detect when it is offloaded for instance, reports the GPS location (to track if it is misplaced), records video of everyone who tampers (motion sensor again) and customs officers can plug in the screen to check the logs/video on site.

      And I bet that is not even the best idea, and more components are to follow...
    • 1. Use GPS to track guard's movements.
      2. Motion sensor detects guard outside door.
      3. Hit guard over head with LCD screen.

      The camera's just for posterity.

      C'mon man! What would MacGyver do?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Orgasmatron ( 8103 )
      Wait for second quarter when you can add a teleporter module.
    • buy a couple of thousand of each, voila you have thousands of devices. Marketing at its best :)
  • Only 4 ports? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @01:06PM (#21970378) Journal
    This thing only has 4 ports? Is there some other add on that splits one of the ports in to 3 or 4 more ports? I also don't think an accelerometer is worthy of taking up one of those precious ports all to itself. I think this is a step in a nice direction, but I don't think it lives up to it's potential, or is valuable to the average non-geek consumer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      they should have put pass through ports on anything that doen't need a surface for a screen ir lens or whatever. Then you could just pile another thing on top of the accelerometer.
  • by autophile ( 640621 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @01:20PM (#21970580)

    I remember about 30 years ago, there was this set with these little clear plastic cubes. Each cube contained a discrete component: a resistor, transistor, wire, whatever. You could fit the cubes together to make a circuit. I don't remember what that was, or whatever happened to it.

    Maybe it was German. I remember my dad used to bring me home a lot of Philips electronics kits from his business trips to Europe.


    • by toQDuj ( 806112 )
      And they were absolutely terrible since the contacts corroded, the components were poorly soldered to the contacts and other contact issues that actually required the user to sort of twist and squeak the ensemble to get anything useful out of it...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AVryhof ( 142320 )
      It seems like this [] ?

      I bought one of these for my Nephew this last Christmas... not sure if he's lost all of the parts yet or not...
    • by vimh42 ( 981236 )
      I do remember something like you are talking about. Wasn't quite 30 years ago for me, closer to 20. Out of the set you could build a variety of different things based on the instructions or come up with something unique. Much like I did with legos.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They were called Denshi Block, japanese, and the contacts did not corrode. The Phillips were the ones whose contacts went bust.
      • Blo(c)ktroni(x|cs) (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Animaether ( 411575 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @02:48PM (#21971872) Journal
        yeah, I don't recall how it was spelled (I know I have a box of them here somewhere, but they're behind all kinds of other youth memory crap), and I don't know if they were the Philips equivalents - but they appear similar to the Denshi Block stuff and they were good fun (no corroded bits that I ever encountered).

        Both, at least, allowed anybody to build simple to reasonably-complex electronic devices without the need for either A. soldering or B. pushing the components into little metal strips of a 'base board', leading to all kinds of problems, especially at younger ages.

        The major down side that I ran into was that whatever you built - it ended up rather big. The blocks where maybe 2cm on each side for the simple components (a speaker would be 3x3x1 block in size, etc.).
    • by UnkyHerb ( 12862 )
      I remember playing with capsela's and having tons of fun. Not sure if that's what you were referring to or not. [] []
    • Do you, by change, mean Bloc Tronic []?
      Unfortunately, not many people remember it []

      God, I feel old, now...
    • by ozbird ( 127571 )
      Sounds a bit like Capsela [], though that was plastic bubbles, and mostly mechanical components (motors etc.) Fischertechnik [] had some electronic modules, but again was more aimed at robotics than generic electronic circuit construction.
    • This is ringing a bell. I don't remember the name, unfortunately. The unit looked sort of like a blue-gray speak and spell, but one without a keyboard. Instead of the keyboard, imagine a shallow tray with recessed gridlines that held in place little clear plastic blocks containing electronic pieces with a schematic-type symbol on the top. and electrical contacts on the sides. There was battery power on one end of the tray and a speaker on the other. It was a lot easier to use than the Radio Shack nnn-in-
  • I thought Lego Mindstorm was, you know, that Lego of gadgets.
  • Now if it had an LED that i could read from a diatance in a lit room i would think about it. News, weater, e-mail ticker. LCDs are ok but you can't really read them unless you are stood right next to em or they are about 2 inches tall.
  • I don't see a motor control module listed. This might be cool for building robots. It already has the vision system and will soon have audio for saying "Death to all organics".
  • I really hope the modules are waterproof, so that FINALLY I can have my fricken sharks with fricken laser beams on their heads!
  • It seems a bit unfair to accuse a product of being vapor when they've announced pre-order and approximate dispatch dates [] and demonstrated working devices []. Sure it doesn't guarantee they'll be able to follow through but they have done plenty to suggest that intend to.

    Maybe we really have got to the stage where a cool-sounding concept and a pretty website is an indicator of an imaginary product... But a little research before publically labelling a young company a vapor vendor might be nice.

  • I used to play with lego bricks myself when I were young, and these
    days 15 years later, I have returned to my roots, and is working on
    a graphics program that uses this idea, but limited in 2 dimensions.
    Its kind of a .werkkzeug clone for Mac. Still alpha quality. []

    The people that has made .werkkzeug is a team named farbrausch.
    They have made some incredible things, such as .kkrieger a 96k FPS.
    This is a great tribute to lego bricks. From a programming view point
    its some really challenging t
    • Douglas Coupland has his characters create a program based on lego in his book "Microserfs". It's a rather funny book as is his more recent book Jpod wich is similar in concept. Don't know if anyone ever wrote the app though.
  • All i want is a generic LOW COST I/O board, with driver support for everything from a little Palm PDA to a Linux server. just hook it up to a USB port, or wherever, and read from certain 'registers' to know the voltage of a input-pin, or write to a register to open or close a opto-coupled relais, or even better to set a resistance (so that you could dim a light, or make a motor go slower). but it should be completely fool-proof, in the sense that i can hook up 220V or 1.5V to the ports, and nothing 'bad' ha
  • So now people will have to think even less, and kiddies can think they're designers w/o having to do ANY work. This is the Microsoftification of hardware.
  • When I was a young proto-geek, the Radio Shack 1001 Electronic Projects kit was the "Lego of Electronics," and it actually taught you something about, you know, Ohm's Law and Boolean Logic, and that junk.

    The closest thing I can find on Google now is the modern version [], which looks pretty darn close.

    /we had to build our on Leyden jars, too
    //uphill, both ways

  • Back in the 80's and early 90's McDonnell Douglas's Computer System Corporation manufactured a computer composed of individual pieces that latched together. Each piece provided a port and performed an unique function such as a floppy, a hard drive, etc.

    So if you wanted a hard drive simply snap it on the end of what was called the "brick". latch on a floppy or an async port or video module etc.

    The more devices attached then the longer the brick became.

    It ran DOS and the other details about it are too hazy to
  • I think single board has a few advantages over interchangeable modules when it comes to gadgets. 1. Modules necessitate connectors which make the device larger. 2. Prices of components are low and falling, so there won't be much if any cost savings there when going interchangeable. 3. Design costs rise b/c you're creating multiple boards as opposed to size fits all. I think consumers want an all in one device that serves their needs. I'd be impressed if something like this makes an impact..
  • This idea was actually around before the integrated circuit.
    We got ICs because Jack Kilby invented the Integrated Circuit in response to a requirement to create modular electronics.
    See here [] or here []
  • Dupe? (Score:3, Informative)

    by SigILL ( 6475 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @02:57PM (#21972008) Homepage
    Didn't we already do this one []?
  • Some background: I've been to the BUG+NYC meetings, they bought me some drinks, I talked to the developers, and I've played around with the SDK, downloaded the high-level source....

    As the article explains, its the concept of "hardware based mash-ups" thats really interesting. The initial modules themselves are pretty much standard across most high-even portable devices (e.g. my iPhone). However, instead of a more typical hobbyist approach of developing some hardware and letting low-level programmers fuss
    • BugLabs has created an environment where you can jump immediately to building YOUR application after picking x, y, and z components. That's pretty neat - hot-plug, start up, stop, the general runtime has been completely written for you. All you need to do is write the application piece.
      Sounds like a pretty good description of the majority of the hobbyist market for Microchip PICs, Atmel, Lego Mindstorms, and even the OpenCores code repository. Anything you want to do you can get code to do for you, and you
      • The examples you gave are not the same...

        Take Lego Mindstorms, as far as I remember, the NXT stuff (ARM7TDM based I think) primarily uses LabView. If I wanted to write a custom application to execute on the firmware itself thats a much higher barrier to entry. Furthermore, if I wanted the discrete components to talk to one another and recognize when a component has been added or deleted (hot-plug), I need to write that too. I'm out of the loop on what the hobbyist's are doing with NXT - I mean I remember
  • If I'm building my own gadget I should be able to throw on a cell phone attachment :P

    I don't even see that coming in Q2

  • In China, motorbike producers sat down together and set up a standard for motorbike components. The result was that manufacturers could mix and match, say an engine from company A with a rear suspension from B, and so on. End user prices went through the floor, while the products got somewhat better quality (though admittedly much less inventive). Same idea in gadgets would be great. The key here is that the component standards were all open-source. Until Bug encourages other opportunistic companies to cre
  • I think that for general purpose gadget-making, an Arduino board ( []) is more versatile. They're commonly used by artists for the straightforward input-output commands but I'm sure that someone clever enough could make some killer projects. Also, it's a helluva lot cheaper and fully open source.
  • I always thought that something like this would be ideal for a KVM. The idea is to mix and match various input and output blocks with whatever connector type or protocol is required for the device or machines you have to get the mix you actually need.

    There would be a backplane, then you'd chose a keyboard input block (USB, PS2 or DIN), a mouse input block (USB, PS2, DIN), and, perhaps a microphone (RCA, Phone, Mini, sub-mini) or Game input block (Joystick etc) to plug into one side of the backplane. Then

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