"Today, Bug Labs interacts frequently with like-minded projects
such as TuxPhone and companies such as Chumby and OpenMoko. But
when Bug Labs began about two years ago, few of those efforts to
develop open source hardware existed.
"Instead, the inspiration for Bug Labs was personal, Semmelhack
says. As he sees the situation, free software has increased
productivity by lowering the barriers to getting involved. "You can
do a lot today with very little code," he says. "You can put up Web
sites for very little money, and you can put up ads on Web sites
and start making money very quickly. If you are someone coming out
of university today with a great idea for a new application, you
can build it without a lot of investment."
"By contrast, creating a new hardware product is far more costly
and difficult. "If you want to do anything with hardware,"
Semmelhack says, "you have to spend a lot of money, because you
have to buy materials. And what we've found is that you can't just
go and order anything from anybody, because you have to order a
minimum order in many instances. You have to buy 5,000; you can't
just buy a couple. Or they won't sell to you because there's a
waiting line, or you have to be on some approved list. In the world
of bits, you just have to go to an FTP site, and you're done; in
the world of atoms, you have supplies and inventories and
investments that create a huge barrier for entry -- especially for
a student who has an idea and just wants to go and build it. It
isn't an engineering issue; it's an economics issue."