Verizon, EU Give Thumbs-up to Bug Labs' Open Source Hardware

Bug Labs sells open source hardware modules that lets you build just about any kind of gadget you can imagine. Last week the New York startup got a big helping hand from (who-would-believe-it?) Verizon. At the same time, it finally got the full OK to sell its wireless modules in Europe.

Verizon Wireless announced plans to partner with Bug Labs as part of the Verizon Wireless' Open Development Initiative (ODI). ODI-approved devices have access to the Verizon network so developers can test their 3G functionality. Verizon requires many hoops to be jumped through before it gives a device the ODI stamp of approval. Fees for independent testing houses to certify a device can run tens of thousands.

"Our relationship with Verizon is specifically to target product developers, and that is still in the early stages. The value with that relationship comes from the fact that we are skipping over 4-8 months and $50K-$100K of network certification costs. This used to be a major barrier to building connected devices. With Bug Labs, that is no longer a challenge,"  founder and CEO Peter Semmelhack told Hot Hardware.

The Verizon news caused shock among independent mobile device makers. Verizon has a reputation as an open source foe. Semmelhack wrote in his blog: "It may come as a surprise to you that a company that is so often vilified for being closed is teaming up with Bug Labs, a company that is defined by its openness. I was skeptical at first too. But over the past several months the teams we’ve worked with at Verizon have demonstrated time and again their commitment to supporting our mission."

Bug Labs modules have been called the "Legos" of open source mobile hardware gadgets. Devices start with the BUGbase, a palm-sized computer with up to 64GB of storage and a rechargeable battery that supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB. It includes two MicroSD slots, 1 slot for display-related BUGmodules (BUGview, BUGvideo), four user-programmable LEDs and three slots for other BUGmodules. With these you can add any kind of wired interfaces you could want. Or you can tack on other modules, like BUGlocate which sports a SiRF chipset and can track up to 20 satellites. You can add docking stations or LCD touchscreens and so on.

Bug Labs isn't the only source for Lego-like open source hardware prototyping. Arduino is another, though it bills itself as more for hobbyists.

In addition to the Verizon partnership, Bug Labs has announced a 2.0 version of its base device with WiFi that is both RoHS and CE compliant, allowing modules to be sold the 29 countries in the European Union. Previously, it was only available in the U.S. The 2.0 version includes a number of other improvements, too, such as a utility to remotely control devices over the Web, support for 720p HD video, and improved battery life. It will be available to existing customers in October and others by year end.

I asked Semmelhack to describe some of the devices Bug Labs modules have built since the company launched in 2007. He told me about everything from cameras to wired shoes. "We worked with a government agency to create a low-cost 360-degree video camera system. This is something we are using as a platform for further product development," he said. "We've built a few products with Accenture that are functioning with end users. One is a fleet tracking device that feeds location and crash data into a cloud-based system that is being sold to insurance companies. That product line is also experimenting with adding sensors that can detect alcohol content in the air that has been exhaled from the driver. Another Accenture product is in the healthcare industry which is an automatic blood glucose machine."

In another example, at MWC this year in Barcelona, "Bug Labs showed off a demo which integrated insoles developed by a tech startup 24Eight, which did gait analysis and fall detection," he said.

Because the hardware is open source, once you've imagined, designed and tested your 3G-equipped Next Big Thing, you have access to all of the specs of the modules (published here), which you can use to manufacture your idea. The sky's the limit.