The golden age of hardware is here

Writing for the LA Times, Chris O’Brien says consumer electronic start-ups have entered a “golden age” characterized by the removal of costly barriers traditionally responsible for blocking market entry.

As O’Brien notes, start-up hardware companies were a prominent part of CES 2014, with TechCrunch holding its first ever “Hardware Battlefield” at the show. Meanwhile, Eureka Park, the traditional start-up corner of CES, hosted approximately 200 companies prominently displaying their wares.

“After years of focusing on Web-based start-ups, which seemed cheap and easy to launch, there is a long list of factors that are making it easier for entrepreneurs to shift to making physical electronic things,” writes O’Brien. 

”The cost of many components such as sensors has fallen dramatically. In addition, boutique manufacturing operations have sprouted across the U.S. and Asia that offer low-cost options for building small batches of new products.”

In addition, notes O’Brien, the rise of powerful, inexpensive 3D printers like the Atmel-powered Makerbot and RepRap facilitate the rapid prototyping of products for both engineers and DIY Makers.

“If you had an idea and wanted to get it out into the world, you used have to be a tycoon in an industry,” says MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis. “Now you just need an idea and the willingness to fail until it works.”

It should be noted that Brady Forest, who runs the Highway1 ( incubator in San Francisco, recently expressed similar sentiments in a San Diego Daily Transcript article authored by Phil Baker.

“New, open platforms such as the [Atmel-based] Arduino make it easier for anyone to make something,” explains Forest, who runs the Highway1 ( incubator in San Francisco.

“However, a startup needs to learn how to create something that can be made — when they aren’t in the factory and do it tens of thousands of times. Mistakes in manufacturing can be costly and the wrong misstep can kill a company before it even gets to market.”

Baker, who also penned “From Concept to Consumer” for the Financial Times Press, notes that one of the major challenges faced by young hardware companies is bringing their invention to market.

“As [difficult] as it is to invent, engineer and manufacture a product, finding a way for it to be seen and purchased can be many times harder. And new solutions need to be found,” Baker concludes. “But there’s reason to be optimistic for our country. With so many new products being developed by so many innovators new channels will be found. As I told the class at Highway 1, there’s never been a better time to develop hardware products.”

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