Let’s Talk Hardware

A big theme on this, the final day of TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013, has been hardware.

On stage upstairs, Limor Fried of Adafruit sat down with TechCrunch to discuss her company and philosophy on hardware and education. Adafruit is a NYC-based electronics design and manufacturing company. We profiled one of their products, litleBits, on this blog a few months ago.

The goal of the company is to teach people how electronics work and to have them become comfortable making relatively simple things. Relatedly, they want to help encourage kids to get interested in engineering.

Underlying all of this is Ms Fried’s perspective on open source hardware. While open source software is widely known about (insomuch most companies are running at least some of it) open source hardware is less so. Beyond just source code, open source hardware includes such items as CAD files and material specs. The idea is that someone could take digital files provided and go make an exact working replica of the hardware in question. This is similar to how someone can take open source code and compile their own perfect working copy of a computer program.

Ms. Fried shared an anecdote of how she had posted a design for an efficient solar battery charging mechanism. After some time, someone reached out to her to let her know they aimed to use her designs as the basis of a new Kickstarter project. The project aimed to create solar charging stations for mobile devices in developing nations. Instead of being protective of her designs, Ms. Fried was more than happy to bless the project in the name of the overall advancement of innovation.

Meanwhile, downstairs on the expo floor today is a dedicated area called Hardware Alley. While most of the startups showcased on days 1 & 2 were primarily software-oriented, today’s focus is on hardware. Displays include home automation systems, 2D and 3D printing technologies, tech for dogs, and a little drone helicopter the size of your palm.