A new type of device?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to see Nascent Objects approach to Modular Consumer Electronics in action. This is mind blowing stuff — a shift to modular computing (swappable modules for CPU, speaker, sensors and more) — a shift to on-demand production (3d printing with an embedded compute bus) — and to an amazing prototyping experience for designers.

It’s a fantastic time to be a maker, but the time to satisfaction can be long and slow. Arduinos are fun to play with, but by the time I have something working on the board, I’m generally out of time to build the whole system.

The Nascent Objects system, on the other hand, is just satisfying. I think this is because after each reconfiguration everything just works. There’s no delayed satisfaction. Move the chips, and the software is automatically updated to suit the new system.

This is a new experience that falls somewhere between the maker ‘build it from scratch’ and the consumer ‘black box’ device. It provides transparency and affordability, with an immediate payoff for reconfiguration.

We started with the first configuration, the Droppler. It seems to work well, using an audio sensor to track use of a water budget over the day, with a companion cloud service and app.

For me the most interesting part came when I was able to take the CPU chip from that device, and clip it (and a speaker component), into the printed block for a wifi speaker (picture) like a Sonos, or similar. They call the speaker config “Red”.

I’d expected a delay for downloading a new program or some instability, but there is an ID for each 3d-printed block, and software had already been downloaded as part of registering the chip with this user, so the wifi speaker just worked. I’ll say it again … it just worked! This is seamless modular computing. And the sound was impressive for such a small device.

Then I took the same CPU chip and moved it to a security camera enclosure. The camera config is called “CouCou”. Here the software was still being finalized, but the camera clearly works. They showed me how it would use a high quality open-source cloud based security system — which seems an excellent fit. I’m looking forward to seeing this capability in action.

I was deeply impressed by how simple this has all become and I’m looking forward to receiving my devices from Nascent Objects’ Indiegogo campaign.

But there’s more. By the end of 2016, Nascent Objects will have six more consumer objects using this system. Six more devices, using exactly the same compute modules. From our discussion, it looks like this is only the start, and much of our consumer gadget world could be addressed by this system. (Nascent has partnered with designers and software engineers to create the next objects. [The process of programming for these devices is really elegant and a topic for a different post.])

The next object off the shelf will be a quad-copter! While I saw the prototype, they asked me to only to show the more elegant rendering of the planned design.

There’s also a more serious angle. Nascent Objects approach to ‘Modular Consumer Devices’ is an appealing rethink for planned obsolescence. I‘m embarrassed to admit to having a drawer full of older devices — where there’s simply no way to re-use them. They’ve been designed for a few years of life, after which a new purchase becomes nearly mandatory. Imagine being able to just update the screen, the CPU, the memory, and avoid contributing to even more heavy metal trash. Or to be able to reuse key pieces from that gadget that turned out not to be quite so useful.

Today’s ‘things’ are the very opposite of transparent (modular) devices, and Nascent brings a breath of fresh air to our modern obsession with objects that are high tech, seamless, discardable & opaque. Magic, but unsustainable. Nascent Objects = sustainable magic.

As a maker, I want the Nascent Objects system right now for the fun of reconfiguration, for the transparency and modularity. As a technologist, I want it for the ocean of new possibilities it brings. As a citizen, I want it for the fresh approach to reuse, for the mindset of thoughtful consumption. This is worth supporting.

Check out the Nascent Objects Indiegogo campaign.

[BTW, 2016 is just a start — I had a peek into what comes next. Mind blowing, but I’m not allowed to share. Just wait …]

Michael Harries - Technologist (and Nascent Objects fan)



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