This year's CES promises, as every year, to bring a wave of excitement about all the new gadgets and technologies early adopters crave. But as a hardware startup we think Bounce Imaging's participation at events at CES signals three important changes in how the market is thinking about electronics.
The first of these changes is the return of hardware to the startup world. As has been covered elsewhere, rapid prototyping tools such as 3-D printers (for example, see Formlabs at CES booth 35160) have made it much easier not only to test designs but also to convey hardware concepts to customers and investors in a tangible way much faster and at lower cost. The ever-improving digital tools available for CAD and other 3-D modeling have made updating designs and even testing performance much simpler and cheaper for small startup shops. New startup-friendly accelerator programs like MassChallenge in Boston and the Haverhill Hardware Horizons Challenge have "taken a chance" on hardware and provided access to initial funding, mentorship, and other resources. Perhaps most importantly, high-speed internet connections worldwide have allowed us to connect our CAD engineers in Costa Rica with rubber mold shops in Canada and hardware experts in New England to create a product that can be built and assembled in Massachusetts. While the Apples and Samsungs of the world will continue to dominate the gadget space, the door is opening for hardware startup products built in the USbut designed digitally around a globalized world.
The second change is the degree to which social and other digital media have allowed companies to connect to their target markets. After we were highlighted in traditional media like TIME, the spread of information about our company via re-tweets and YouTube views connected us to the police and fire departments we had been trying to reach. Within days of a major posting, we were receiving dozens of inquiries from SWAT teams in California and firefighters in Tennessee -- a link to our target beneficiary we could never have achieved without the growth of social media. It's easy to dismiss a lot of Twitter and Facebook activity as frivolous, but for small startups like ours these can be essential tools for reaching and understanding end users.
The third change is that while the festivities this week are still under the broad banner of consumer electronics, the rapid prototyping and close connections to customers described above have allowed for hardware products that are increasingly tailored for specific markets and specific needs rather than a more vague and unspecified "consumer." As an example, a fellow winning hardware startup at MassChallenge, Guided Surgery Solutions, is using 3-D printing to create patient-specific surgical guides for use in dentistry. While someday our own design could evolve into a broader mass-market product, these same design tools and customer connections have allowed us to target our product features specifically for first-responders.
In short, we feel very lucky to be a small part of the broader CES picture this week, but we also hope the presence of companies like ours at this great event signals a new era for hardware startups and for products designed to solve real and important needs -- consumer or otherwise.
This blog is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post on the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2013), the behemoth consumer-electronics trade show held annually in Las Vegas. To read other pieces in the series, click here. What are your thoughts on CES? We invite you to submit pieces of 500-850 words -- for possible publication in The Huffington Post -- to firstname.lastname@example.org.