11/12/2013— Kelsey Breseman
At the end of September, we released a set of slides that got a lot of attention. Probably, a lot of this was due to its somewhat inflammatory title: “The End of Web Development (as we know it)”. However, because the slides were designed as visual aids for some tech talks Jon gave, they didn’t tell the whole story without him speaking in front of them. I thought this would be a good opportunity to respond to one reaction we received:
“Why do you think electrical engineering is hampering the internet of things?”
It’s not that electrical engineering is hampering the internet of things; pervasive computing would not be possible without the dedication of electrical engineers. However, the key point presented in the slideshow is that electrical engineers are not equipped to create the connected world in the same way as software developers, for a few reasons:
Electrical engineering is really hard. Even for a seasoned electrical engineer, the speed of development for embedded hardware projects is very slow. There are delays in ordering parts, in soldering components together, in debugging a circuit only to find that one of the chips is fried. We wanted to abstract away this whole complicated process so that the makers of the internet of things can focus on their product ideas– what they are and whether they’re worth pursuing– before they have to think about designing embedded circuits.
Software developers are used to a different standard of deployment and analytics. When software developers are dissatisfied with the development tools available to them, they can create better ones. And they can track how well their software is performing after its deployment in order to further improve. Electrical engineers, on the other hand, have to work with design tools in software that are inflexible, proprietary, closed source, and prohibitively expensive, and have no analytics suites to use on embedded devices in the field. Tessel’s development environment seeks to leverage the best software tools and developments available– and those tools are made for software.
The software community is already instilled with the values of open source and community creation. The pace of innovation is fast in software partially because there are so many projects open to be copied, forked, and improved upon. This community doesn’t exist in the same way with hardware. Although the Open Source Hardware movement is growing, it isn’t as established as in software, and few tools currently exist to centralize the movement or share hardware designs. Technical Machine wants to speed up the pace of innovation in hardware by not only open sourcing the hardware and software of Tessel, but also by making a system that a community can capitalize upon: modular components and open components from the get-go.
The creation of the next generation of connected devices requires both software and electrical engineering expertise. Since very few individuals have both of those required skillsets, the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs in the space can be prohibitively high. Technical Machine wants to make that barrier to entry as low as possible by abstracting away the complexities of electrical engineering at the prototyping stage, and ushering in lean, entrepreneurial, innovative software developers to start with the tools they already know how to use.