Y Combinator Challenge #27 – Hardware/software hybrids

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first.

27. Hardware/software hybrids. Most hackers find hardware projects alarming. You have to deal with messy, expensive physical stuff. But Meraki shows what you can do if you’re willing to venture even a little way into hardware. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in hardware; you can often do dramatically new things by making comparatively small tweaks to existing stuff.

Hardware is already mostly software. What I mean by a hardware/software hybrid is one in which software plays a very visible role. If you work on an idea of this type you’ll tend to have the field to yourself, because most hackers are afraid of hardware, and most hardware companies can’t write good software. (One reason your iPod isn’t made by Sony is that Sony can’t write iTunes.)

This one is fun.  Most of my ideas are small-scale, things that could potentially be up-and-running on the Interwebs within a few weeks.  But hardware, that takes a long time.  And you need lots of up-front cash.  And the ability to deal with complicated things like supply chains and faulty heat sinks and all that.  Or, a blog where I can just throw out some crazy hardware ideas and then quickly move on to some crackpot idea about how to fix Email (reminder to self – insert link to future post here).

Instead of doing one long idea, I’ve gonna throw out two quick ones instead.  Let me know which one you like best in the comments below.  As an added bonus, I’ll choose one comment as the grand prize winner.  I can’t tell you what the prize will be, but I guarantee it will be something cool.  Like a pony.

Idea #1 – Internet-Controlled Switches

The idea is to have a set of inexpensive toggle switches that each have a wireless adaptor and a unique IP address assigned to them.  The switches can come in various forms, such as a wall plug, light switch, or battery pack.  Each switch you purchase comes with a code – users can go to a site, enter the code, and get access to an API that can remotely activate the switches via the web.  The key is to keep the switches cheap enough and flexible enough to allow hackers to come up with their own uses and applications that can use the switches in unique and fun ways.

Idea #2iBear

Remember this?  My idea is actually somewhat similar.  It’s a soft, cuddly teddy bear with basic phone components buried inside it.  Each bear comes with a phone number that parents can call when they are at work to check in with their children.  Kids could use the bear to talk to their parents, and potentially even twist the paw in a certain way that would allow the children to call their parents.  In other words, it’s baby’s first cell phone.  Harry Harlow would have been so proud.

What do you guys think?  A, B, or C (none of the above)?  Be the change that you aspire to and vote today in the comments below!  Unless you already have a pony.  Then you should probably put down the Internet and go feed it or something.

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4 responses to “Y Combinator Challenge #27 – Hardware/software hybrids

  1. I think the IBear has a lot of potential as a product. It’s not a portable handheld, so you if you can find an easy way to set it up on a wireless network you don’t have to worry about slapping in a modem in there and handling monthly fees (which would likely be a dealbreaker for most). It’s also got a great opportunity for additional revenue – simply add an online store stocked with audio books and children’s songs (perhaps that the bear can even react to in different ways) and you’ve got a very lucrative device.

  2. The first one seems a lot better to me, but I’m not a child and don’t have any so it’s harder for me to see that benefit.

    There might be a challenge with making it easy for people to open up their router’s firewall to give the switch internet access and giving it a static ip.

  3. The first one is already in use in some form in India. See this – http://tepp-innovators.blogspot.com/2006/08/perpetual-motion-machines.html and read about “Prem Singh” – a farmer who switches on his Water pump using his cellphone.

  4. Pingback: Winners and What’s Next « A Startup A Day

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