Maker “Kits” Will Explode In Popularity, Sophistication

Homebrew Motherboard
An early hobby assembled motherboard

The Homebrew Computer Club was started in 1975 and ran until 1986 in Silicon Valley.

Driven by the availability of affordable hardware and concentration of electrical engineering talent, the club of bearded gents proved to be an invaluable epicenter of hobbyist innovation which resulted in several “do it yourself PC kits.”

One of these kits, assembled by none other than the glorious Steve Wozniak, would go on to become the foundation for a somewhat famous company known as Apple Computer. While fun, these kits were just the start of the real revolution: A fully assembled computer which could be mass produced and sold cheaply.

Walking through Ada’s Technical Books here in Capitol Hill I noticed piles of DIY kits which got my mind running…make your own plush computer powered pet, make your own flashing bracelet, DIY wearable clothing, DIY coffee hacking…The list goes on. Just like the Homebrew Computer Club, newly available, affordable hardware components are being assembled into pre-fabricated experiences and sold together. How much longer before one of these “kits” is turned into a mass produced solution that anyone can use? 

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Electronics kits of a similar nature have been sold for years, what is so special about these new toys?

The answer is simple: Connectivity in the form of Bluetooth LE, lightweight power sources and self-containment. The older types of kits were stuck in their own world. You couldn’t get data into and out of them without a cable and you couldn’t communicate directly with them using a standard mobile phone. You also couldn’t wear them due to their bulk and the size of their  battery packs.

When I attended a wearable computing hack-a-thon held by AT&T several months ago, participants were provided with a profusion of the available hardware at that time. The #1 question I got over and over was “Can I get it talking to my mobile phone? Can I upload / receive data from an API?”

At the time the answer was “no.” In the months since then,  new, low-cost Bluetooth LE chips such as the Adafruit Bluefruit have become available.

We have entered a new world where  wearable computing devices and mobile phone can easily talk, share data, upload and download data in real time. This combination has all the hallmarks of a melting pot from which the next Apple Computer may well emerge.