Technical Machine launches new board and makes production easier

Technical Machine, a startup making a development boards for the internet of things, has launched a second generation product that has more power and better Wi-Fi. The Tessel 2 goes on sale today for $35 and will act more as a hub device mediating the inputs from a variety of sensors or other inputs. The board will ship in August.

Jon McKay, the CEO of Technical Machine, said in a few weeks the company plans to launch a lower-power version of a Tessel 2 board that will function more like a sensor device.

The idea of the board is to get web developers more accustomed to playing with code, comfortable taking their ideas for software and bringing them into the real world. With both Tessel boards they can now connect the web to a physical device — be it a sensor or something a bit more complicated like a display. McKay says companies such as Azure and SAP are using the boards in their data centers while other customers such as a doctor trying to prototype a wearable device and a company trying to increase insect protein production are also using the boards.

The companies building prototypes are a big market for the Tessel 2 and one that McKay is trying to better serve with this iteration. McKay designed the board to make it easier and cheaper to take it into limited production of a hundred to a couple thousand items, such as making sure that unused sections of the boards can be broken off to avoid wasting space, you can integrate modules into the PCB so they the connectors or more secure.

These efforts are part of several being attempted by companies in the burgeoning hardware sector to make manufacturing and prototyping easier. For example, when I covered the partnership between SnapEDA and Octopart I wrote:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]With the emergence of startups like the Toronto-based SnapEDA or the YCombinator startup Octopart, we’re seeing the evolution of hardware development that aims to be a bit more like software. Faster, more iterative and more responsive to the needs of a rapidly-changing marketplace. We won’t ever get to the speed of code, but it’s awesome to see the agility that’s common in software creeping its way into the hardware world as much as it can.[/blockquote]

With Tessel 2, programmers now can use these boards (currently they can program Tessel 2 in Node.js/io.js) to take their ideas for new hardware and turn them into reality without having to spent a lot of time learning a lot about hardware. The steps the Technical Machine team has taken to make getting prototypes to production easier means that the software developers using the boards get an even longer runway when it comes to learning about hardware. This will only help let good ideas mature a bit further and broaden the scope of what the internet of things will make possible.

Technical Machine is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.

Google’s self-driving car prototype is now on the test track

Google’s first complete self-driving car prototype is now ready for its first autonomous spin. When Google announced the bubble-like electric vehicle in May it unveiled a concept car and showed off what amounted to several different pre-prototypes designed to test different self-driving vehicle systems.

Some of those cars didn’t have steering wheels, brake pedals or even headlights, but Google has now put all of those systems into its new fully functional prototype, which it is testing in the lab — aka the track — over the holidays. Next year, Google hopes to have the car out in the streets of Northern California, the company said on its self-driving car project Google+ page.

Google Self-driving car prototype

This car still looks a gumdrop on wheels, but its roof-mounted sensor rig has been scaled down to the size of a large nodule, resembling the bump that grows from a cartoon character’s head when hit by an anvil (Speaking of cartoons check out Oatmeal’s sneak peek of the Google car). This car also actually has headlights and manual controls like a steering wheel so its “safety drivers” can take over the vehicle while testing it in the wild.

iPhone 4G Rumor Mill Heats Up With Photos, Corroboration

Recently, photos of what many thought was the next iPhone surfaced, only to then be discredited as actually being pictures of a Japanese knock-off device. It’s beginning to look like whoever was trying to discredit that photo was actually just trying to cover up the truth.

Retail Rumors: Apple to Build New Prototype Store

Dream bigger,” Steve Jobs told a Disney executive as they discussed plans to reinvent the media company’s retail outlets. He insisted Disney develop a prototype store, much as Apple did before it launched its first brick-and-mortar outlet at Tysons Corner, Virgina, in May 2001. As the majority shareholder it’s in his best interest, of course, for Disney to be successful, but you have to imagine he’d offer the same advice to anyone.

Well, it has been almost nine years since Apple got into the retail store game and with Microsoft (s msft) blatantly copying Apple with their recent move into retail, it’s time for a change. As last week drew to a close, clues emerged suggesting Apple is looking to reinvent its retail store design, and once again it’s developing a prototype. This time, however, it’s not tucked away in an aircraft hangar at Area 51, but can be found at 340 University Ave, Palo Alto.

On Friday SiliconValley.com reported:

[Apple] will build an Apple Store that project developers referred to in planning documents as “a new prototype for the company.” The facade will be entirely transparent at ground level, vast skylights will flood the store with natural light, and trees will grow inside, fed by the sunlight from above.

It sounds so beautiful. Quite unlike the building that currently stands at 340 University Avenue;

Not much to look at now, but, give it time... Image from Google Maps

According to the report the architectural review board voted unanimously to approve the plans which, although referred to as a “renovation,” include completely demolishing the facade and roof of the building. It seems the structure has been altered so many times in recent years it doesn’t qualify for historic protection.

The plans credit architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson — the same firm behind Apple’s iconic Fifth Avenue store in New York, whose entrance resembles a giant transparent-cube. SiliconValley.com’s Will Oremus says several sources have told him Apple is behind the project, while Alexander Lew, chair of the arhitectural review board, said:

Apple is pretty secretive… But at the same time, when you look at it, the design is pretty unique. …I think a lot of people have kind of guessed.

The whole design is inside-outside, with everything completely exposed. With the huge skylight, there’s going to be lots of daylight and it will feel more like an atrium inside. … We’re excited about the project.

Naturally, Apple declined to comment on the plans. Shocker, eh? Thankfully, the proposal includes some tantalising descriptive prose detailing the vision for the new store, the beginning of which should sound familiar to anyone who has ever visited an Apple store.

The proposed store is a new prototype for the applicant. Fully half the function of the store serves to provide education and service to business as well as customer patrons in addition to product sales. The store is a commons for the applicant’s community to gather.

[The all-glass store front] dissolves the boundary that traditional store facades create. By not breaking the horizontal ground plane of the sidewalk with opaque wall or landscape element, for example, the street is made part of the store’s interior; the pedestrian is in the store before entering it.

Of course, we don’t know absolutely for sure if Apple is responsible; I suppose this could be Microsoft’s doing. And while we’re at it, Apple’s much-rumoured-tablet might run Windows 7 and feature a hardware keyboard and built-in fax machine.

I’m trying to imagine what makes this “prototype” so special and new. Aside from the interesting aesthetics (Apple does like its glass-walled cathedrals) what will make this store different?

The NYC Upper West Side store has been likened to a Cathedral. Image by Apple, Inc

Are we talking the tried-and-trusted Scandinavian furniture we see today in all other Apple stores, or will we be treated to a complete overhaul? Touch-enabled surfaces everywhere? More room dedicated to iPods and iPhones? A new Tablet Bar?

I’m holding out for a luxurious coffee bar in every Apple Store 2.0. If it did that, I could practically live in my local Apple Store. What would you change in yours? Share your ideas, and coffee-cravings, in the comments below.

Microsoft’s Grand Tablet Designs (Take Two)

Poor old Microsoft (s msft). You can’t blame them for trying, can you? Back at the start of the decade it gave us its vision for tablet computing in the form of Windows XP Tablet Edition and (via its OEM friends) a series of bulky, underpowered, overly-expensive machines.

Courier Tablet
Now they’re at it again, according to leaked prototype designs published yesterday by Gizmodo. The plans describe a machine codenamed Courier, a remarkable concept device that sports dual seven inch gatefold screens, touch-input and stylus-input support, wireless capabilities and a whole lot of awesome to boot. Read More about Microsoft’s Grand Tablet Designs (Take Two)

Book Reveals Rare Apple Prototype Designs

Jonathan Ive wasn’t always the Grand Overlord designer and demi-God at Apple (s aapl). Before Ive re-imagined the Macintosh, other talented souls attempted to shape the next generation of Apple products with the clean industrial design for which the company is famous.

In the 1980s, Frog Design was charged with producing design prototypes for Apple — specifically the Apple IIc and some early models of the Macintosh. 9to5Mac reports that the founder of Frog Design, Harmut Esslinger, has published a book which features many of those early designs.

frog_design_prototypes

“A Fine Line: How Design Strategies are Shaping the Future of Business” is all about the role “smart” product design plays in the success of a business. As well as gorgeous pictures, the book includes background stories from Esslinger detailing the design and prototype process.

“We worked closely with Steve Jobs and Apple’s developers to innovate computer usability and appearance, resulting in iconic products with no historic precedent.”

My personal favorite is that funky laptop. Can you see elements in these prototypes that have influenced the Apple products we use today? Share your thoughts in the comments, and tell me if you agree those earbuds are just short of being classified as a torture device!