At HardwareCon, makers from all types of industries gather to explore the phrase: “Hardware is hard, but it’s getting much easier.” The convention is a two-day celebration of everything related to hardware and features speakers with pedigrees that ranged from robot builders to video game designers.

Start of Atari

Allan Alcorn, the creator of Pong and first design engineer for Atari, was the keynote speaker for the day. He described the process behind the creation of the world’s first home video game console and offered words of encouragement and advice for other creators based on his own experiences.

“It’s easier to disrupt an already existing market than create a new one,” Alcorn said. Pong, and the following collection of Atari consoles, birthed into a world where teenage boys were already spending hundreds of quarters at arcades. Alcorn simply found a way to tap into that want to game all the time. He contrasted his experience with Apple, a company that created its own market.

Alcorn ended the keynote talking about business plans. You could tell he was not a fan. He cautioned against staying rigid while designing a new product or piece of entertainment. Everyone at a start-up needs to remain “agile” to ensure there’s constant innovation.

Everything Old is New Again

“It’s one thing to make a great product, it’s another thing to distribute it.” – Mark Rose, Product Lead for Nest Learning Thermostat.

Representatives from Nest, Root, and Sensel all spoke on a panel to discuss the rising trend of recreating old technology as something new. The group promoted researching distribution practices as one of the most important steps to making something old into something new again. You need to convince buyers that they need a smart version of an old product that they already know works fine.

For example, what can a smart smoke detector offer that a regular one already does? Well, for starters, you can design it to detect which room the smoke is coming from. Smoke in the kitchen? It’s probably just someone burning food, which might be a cause for emergency or might not. Smoke in the kid’s room? Someone is probably doing something they shouldn’t. Smoke in the garage? Better call the fire department cause there should never be smoke in there. Fire alarms are already at the top of their game, but a smart alarm will help prevent some unwanted false warnings. That’s an idea that people will buy into and make the product an easier sell.

Robot Invasion

It wouldn’t have been a convention about hardware without someone talking about robots. The panel posed a lot of questions, ranging from “What is a good robot for society?” to “When will robots reach a stage where they are interacting with humans?”

Unfortunately, most of these questions could only be answered with conjecture. Though both fields in robotics and AI have made strides in recent years, there’s no telling what they’ll evolve into. The panel continued to discuss the ramifications of robotic evolution and how AI might one day affect our society. The group echoed the advice from the “Everything Old is New Again” panel and hyped the importance of finding a lucrative avenue of distribution. However, they went on to advise that the message behind your business is just as important. Entrepreneurs should not be creating products, but building businesses instead. Inventors will always have to build better and better products, but a business needs to last. They advised people design their business, and from there you build a product, and from there you perfect the features of your product.

Hardware Avenue

Hardware Avenue was a small expo hall reserved for creators and Kickstarter projects to advertise their work.

Getting Kids into Coding

Roboloco was one of my favorite startups in attendance. They build small kits that help young makers learn the basics of coding and robotics. The designs start simple enough (mostly just learning how to program flashing LEDs), but expand into movement, motion detection, and sound effects.

Use Your Phone Every Which Way

The representatives over at Bullz-i were very enthusiastic about their product: small rings that you can attach to the back of your phone. Easy to grasp, these rings are significantly easier to use than your typical PopSocket. My favorite part was the presentation of how these rings can be used in other ways. They can be affixed to a tripod to transform your phone into an easy podcast mic or table webcam, or given little add-ons (like a small basketball hoop so you can challenge your coworkers to a friendly game on your break). They’re very versatile, and something I look forward to using.