Technical Machine gets $1M to let web developers play with the internet of things

Technical Machine (see disclosure) has raised $1 million in seed round funding led by True Ventures (see disclosure) with Slow Ventures and angels participating. The Boston-based startup was created this year and its founders are behind a nifty little project called Tessel, a board that basically lets developers who know JavaScript build connected devices.

As a project, Tessel, which is a microcontroller that runs JavaScript, is interesting, but the concept behind the startup is an emerging trend. As Technical Machine’s Kelsey Breseman explains, the goal is to make it easy for web developers to play around with the internet of things. As someone who uses If This then That (IFTTT) as a way to combine the talents and services built by web developers with my connected gadgets, I am a huge believer in this concept.

Others are too. Chris Matthieu, a manager in the Emerging Technologies section at Bechtel, has built a project called Skynet, that lets people build and see connected devices on a network using Node.js. He calls it IM for the internet of things. Other efforts, like Node Red from IBM, which offers people an easy interface for seeing how their devices connect, are also helping bridge the gap being the esoteric code for embedded systems and the Java-based languages that developers know and love.


While Java is too “fat” to control the internet of things, new compilers and tweaks to the language or bridge devices are attempting to link the huge population of Java programmers with the growing population of connected devices. Others are even thinking about how this array of connected devices will change the back-end web development environment.

Technical Machine is one example of a company trying to link developers and connected machines, and with Tessel the company had raised $196,682 from a crowd funding project. That money, plus this funding, will go toward producing the board, but also figuring out the right business model and method to support developers.

For example, if someone uses Tessel to build a product, like a digital photo frame that shows photos you tag with a special code in Dropbox, that would be amazing. (That really would be amazing. Can someone get on that?) But after someone built this photo frame, Technical Machine isn’t sure how to support the person. Does it create a Tindie-like store to help developers sell their connected wares? Does it produce the connected products for the developer? Does it create an ecosystem ti help them find manufacturing? These are questions Technical Machine and others are trying to solve.

For example, Joe Heitzeberg, a co-founder of the Poppy 3D glasses, is also asking these questions and looking for an answer. We chatted over the summer and afterward I wrote:

…we discussed how to build a lasting business around the hardware movement. That’s what they are trying to do with their company Hack Things. In many cases, Poppy is their attempt to learn the ropes and gain some street cred when it comes to building physical goods. And sure, it may be a wild success, or even just a mild success, but the two are thinking bigger.

“We’re thinking about how to make a guild for the hardware movement,” said Heitzeberg while Lowry described it as an equivalent of the graphical user interface for computers for hardware developers. This might sound a bit esoteric, but it’s important. The two are trying to figure out how to codify and automate the processes around building a product.

So Technical Machine and others trying to link web developers to the once-rarified world of physical hardware and embedded systems are one aspect of the problem. The next will then be how to create a real and scalable business from their inventions.

There are many entities trying to solve one of these two problems, and as the year progresses I think we’ll see even more. The question is who will figure out what the right business models are and then start creating a software stack and the fulfillment model for building out connected hardware.

Disclosure: True Ventures is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.