The mega-trend is this: The network is the new electricity. Connecting products is the new electrification.
There are leaders in this field. My personal favourites are the Amazon Kindle, for using connected hardware to put the shop inside the book. And, less well known but just as amazing, Vitality GlowCap for using the network to add behavioural economics to pill-bottle lids, to make sure you finish your prescription!
And of course, the connected products on Kickstarter are a massive future-discovery effort too. Inspiring stuff.
The difficulty is that, for a particular business, no-one really knows what opportunities you get from network-enabling hardware products.
And because there are so few great models to mimic, unless you try out your connected products while you make them, they’re not so great.
We’re all learning.
So we’ve created Sandbox: a massively multiplayer prototyping and research program to figure out the future of connected products, built especially for institutions and corporations, and based on BERG Cloud… the very same technology we used to create Little Printer. We’re just getting going, and we’re announcing our first Sandbox organisation today!
Let me tell you our story…
* Exploring the future with prototypes
At BERG, we made the first magazine on the iPad with Bonnier, and we’ve prototyped videophones with Google. And I take one big lesson from our years of work helping clients figure out what big tech and social trends mean for their business: You gotta get your hands dirty.
When you prototype early, you test your strategy at the very point it needs testing most.
So we work through workshops. Prototyping, iterating, communicating… going from concept to version one.
But in recent years, companies have been asking us what connected products mean for them. Are there new features? New product categories? New business models? And what we’ve found is that it’s hard to prototype. It’s too costly – in effort, time, and money – to experiment, learn, and invent. There’s no scaffolding, no “get going quickly,” nothing like Ruby on Rails that let us validate and build quickly for the web, or iOS that let us do the same for smartphones.
In response, we made BERG Cloud.
* We built a platform for invention
First we made Little Printer, our own connected product.
(You can buy it now! Go ahead, I can wait.)
Next we extracted all the useful parts from Little Printer and created an operating system we call BERG Cloud — first you use it to prototype connected products, and then you take them to production, maintaining agility all the way. It’s soup to nuts, and we include everything
- from the APIs to control and configure your connected product from the web (we love the web)
- to a friendly mobile website for users to claim, share, and interact with products, making use of all of our design learnings…
- to the actual hardware and wireless.
You can get going quickly using our new BERG Cloud Dev Kits, with dev boards that plug into common hardware prototyping platforms (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and ARM mbed). The first 3rd party on BERG Cloud is Twitter — we worked with them to make #Flock, a limited edition connected cuckoo clock that sings when you get a retweet or a fave!
BERG Cloud is especially good for autonomous, low power devices — products that are smarter than sensors, that shouldn’t require a smartphone to run.
And today, we’re launching Sandbox — for institutions and companies to figure out what connected products mean for them.
- We first set up campus-wide connectivity using the BERG Cloud Dev Kits, and provide dev boards so that connected hardware can be prototyped and used exactly where connected hardware belongs: In retail spaces and corridors, stuck to the wall or water coolers, on office desks and in pockets (the dev boards can be battery powered)
- Since a BERG Cloud product will run wherever there is BERG Cloud connectivity, with zero reconfiguration (we have a principle: the product is yours, the network belongs to everyone), we’ll provide the opportunities to link together Sandbox organisations so they can meet and share their learnings and code
- We co-run product invention workshops, with the designers, Arduino programmers and web developers already in the organisation, giving them the ideas and skills they need to prototype and run workshops on their own and with their colleagues
We know that future products and future business models can only be figured out with prototyping, which needs both a platform for invention, and a culture of experimentation through workshops and easy tools. With Sandbox, that’s what we’re offering — the best from our the consultancy and product sides of our business.
* Introducing our launch partner: Fabrica
In the spirit of learning through doing, we sought out a first Sandbox organisation to work with closely — where we can create the required tools in response to what we see is needed, and practice and improve our workshop patterns.
With Fabrica, we have the ideal partner.
Fabrica is the communication research centre of the Benetton Group. From their headquarters – a seventeenth century villa in Italy – they research communications, new products, and retail experience for a range of clients. They’re experimental, forward-looking, multi-disciplinary…
…and they’re going to be covering their campus in BERG Cloud connectivity, using the dev boards to prototype and learn about connected products for themselves, and with their own clients. We’ll be co-running workshops, and figuring out the future together.
As we do so, BERG will be learning from Fabrica’s feedback — developing and improving Sandbox so that we can work with even more organisations on their own products and ideas – on the cutting edge of the Internet of Things – creating a global collaborative prototyping and research program.
Talk about really getting your hands dirty.
* Join the Sandbox program
If you’d like to become a Sandbox organisation — get in touch. We’re learning too, so we’d love to chat, and we can bring all our product invention expertise to bear on your particular challenges.
And to follow the Sandbox and Fabrica story, watch this space. We’ll cover the installation, the first workshops, and what we learn.
Let’s electrify the world.
Read the press release here. (Includes press photos!)