As both the hardware and the way that it is manufactured continues to evolve, here are some of the important changes I see shaping the future.
Greater Level of Abstraction
When we built the first Roomba in the early 2,000’s, our team needed to create custom H-Bridges on the PCB to drive the motors, and then write the low level code to get them to spin. This process took weeks to design, build, assemble, test, debug, and repeat. Today, with a Tessel, you can be spinning motors over the air in five minutes with just a few lines of code. By standing on the shoulders of those who have come before, it’s possible to get a proof of concept working much faster and less expensively than ever before. As the next logical step, we see the building blocks of the future enabling a transition to manufacturing with the same chipset and code. These new building blocks will provide further abstraction to smooth the transition from prototype to production through the use of EE and SW modules (ME will remain custom, but may evolve with production 3D printing).
Supply Chain Complexity
Most of the “easy” ideas (i.e. accelerometer, radio, processor and battery) are already out there, and the next wave of companies will innovate through the combination of disparate supply chains. A great example is BlueSmart – integrating suitcases with PCBA CMs in a way that was not imagined even a year ago. Building on these combinations, the quantity and diversity of products will continue to increase.
Crossing the Manufacturing Valley of Death
Driven by the democratization of hardware and powered by crowdfunding, demand for lower initial volumes (5k – 10k units) will increase. These volumes are ideally suited for domestic manufacturing, and will drive the global creation of local manufacturing models that can compete with factories located at great distances from the end consumer. To be competitive, local factories will need to build selective, flexible automation to combat rising labor costs.
Companies will need to find and match with trusted factories. Likewise, factories will need to find suitable customers that are a good fit for their capabilities and growth. Efficient manufacturing expertise and network access will continue to be a competitive advantage to manage cost, quality and schedule.
Thoughts? Are there other trends that I missed? Let me know. And if you missed it, check out The Future of Hardware – Part 1: The Tools and Technology here.