More and more people might be making their own electronic devices these days but the technical skill required means building hardware is still limited to dedicated hobbyists and professionals.
Jeremy Bell wants to change that.
“The idea is ultimately to democratize the creation of electronic things,” Bell says. “When we look to the future, everything is going to be personal, everything is going to have an IP address.”
Bell is the cofounder and CEO of Wattage, a Toronto-based startup that wants to make hardware design as easy and accessible as a game.
The idea is pretty straightforward: users would design a piece of hardware, using a browser-based interface, by choosing from a vast number of different modules – both components and controllers.
“Kind of like electronic Lego blocks,” Bell says.
Inside each device “there’s what we call the brainboard,” Bell says. Also known at the OneWatt, it will provide the computing power for the system. The circuit board has physical slots which makes adding expansions easy, Bell says.
Eventually, he sees Wattage offering several different “brainboards” with varying levels of computing power and price points.
“It should have enough horsepower for someone to create some pretty sophisticated stuff,” he says.
Once a Wattage device is ready to be shipped to customers, it will be put in a custom box made through a mix of laser cutting and 3D printing that’s intended to make the devices look as good as consumer products.
Bell says he got the idea to start Wattage when he was a partner at design consultancy Teehan+Lax. Influenced by the Maker Movement, the company had set up a small lab.
“What I saw was a lot of people would walk into the lab and walk back out,” he says. “Seeing people want to express themselves but not be able to do it.”
So what can people build with Wattage? So far, Bell says ideas include a podcast streaming device, which he describes as a “modern twist on the radio”; an “idea around tactile puzzles and games” that involves proximity sensors; and creating tactile controllers for DJs and musicians who are currently using their laptops or tablets during performances.
But once Bell gets Wattage out to the public, he expects the type of things being built to become more and more diverse. His goal is to make as many components as possible available and he says, the more customizable Wattage devices are, the better.
“I think people are going to be creating all kinds of crazy stuff,” he says.
The Wattage team now consists of four people and it recently joined the Cossette Lab incubator in Toronto.
Bell says he’s aiming for to release Wattage early next year. Right now, he’s starting to raise money and he wants “to start engaging with people who want to shape how this goes.”
While things are “coming together nicely,” he says there’s “still a lot of work to do.”