I was recently pondering the relationship between old style Research and Development and how R&D fits into today’s conversation about TIDE and the digital transformation that is coming about. Do you remember the late 70’s/early 80’s when owning a personal computer first became possible but justifying the cost of ownership was tough, even for a business? When the desktop computer became available, there was a definite struggle to justify personal ownership. The Osborne, Atari, Sinclair, Kaypro, or Apple could be used to hold recipes, write letters, or keep lists, but there were few real reasons for a small business to invest in one.
I recall my grandfather trying to write a Basic language program for the TI-99-4A computer to create a printable mailing list for his business, long before there were labels to print addresses on. The “T-I” was an early home computer, released in June 1981, originally at a price of US$525. It featured a graphics mode, upper and “lowercase” characters consisting of small capitals, and a full-travel keyboard. Retail software, such as games, came on plug-in cartridges, or you could develop your own software and save it on an external cassette tape recorder. I developed my first applications on one of these.
The Power of Instant Gratification
You may remember the early business programs such as “Visicalc or “Calc Star” and similar offerings, which we thought were amazing in their time. And then, very importantly, with the development of “Lotus 123”, we got the ability to craft mathematical formulas based on the relationship between “cells” on a spreadsheet! That changed everything! Complex, difficult to remember, and still more difficult to accurately calculate, formulas became visible, repeatable, and reliable. At the core of the power of the “visual calculation” killer application was a simple reality. They provided us instant and visible gratification from a program.
Budgets, mini-max problems, projections, cost estimates, inventories, quarterly reports, and a host of other dry and tedious mathematical and financial renderings became easy, and even fun. One could now develop charts! Spreadsheets became the innovation that empowered small business and personal computers, created the impetus for more powerful devices, and the was the engine that justified a personal computer on every desk. It was pivotal for the personal computer industry and changed the fundamental lexicon and essential knowledge base for business. It reshaped the relationship between management, accounting, and every other element of commerce.
Fast forward to today. Think about your business, your clients, and your personal life, wearable devices, and how you depend on computing technology for business, convenience, and pleasure. We got away from wearing watches, but are now coming back to wearable technology with much more capability than that envious watch worn by Dick Tracy back in the 1930s.
Now, in the middle of the second decade of this century, we are about to see another equivalent pivot in the nature of personal, small business, and small team power enabled by technology. Modern Technology is empowering Innovation and Disruption through personal and small group Entrepreneurship (TIDE). Through the power of open source hardware, open source software, micro resources, and micro tools, we are entering the age of personal and small business research and development that is fueling the evolution of TIDE.
Open Source Software
Open source software means that literally millions of lines of code are available for download, modification, and implementation, at no cost at all. The code is under constant review by thousands of dedicated activists/hobbyists, and every instantiation of the code adds to the power and inherent fungible utility of the code. The Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP (LAMP) architecture that under-girds and defines the Internet is open source software, as is Ruby on Rails, one of today’s most robust open source app development software tools.
Open Source Hardware
Arduinos, Beagle boards, Raspberry Pi, Parallax Propellers and countless associated devices form a tapestry of mix-and-match hardware that can be configured with open source code to empower and enable the Internet of things (IoT). The open source hardware devices are being used to monitor, control, and facilitate complex real-world operations at an increasingly complex level. They are available in hardened solar powered platforms and are being used to control water treatment systems, smart parking, irrigation systems, air quality monitoring, and countless other real-world applications.
Multiple vendors including Adafruit, Make magazine, etc., now provide a broad spectrum of equipment, hardware, software, and technology that can deliver open source hardware to meet almost any need. They stock, provide online training for, and ship microprocessors, sensors, wearable components, and countless other open source components to users/entrepreneurs anywhere on the planet.
3D printers, CNC laser cutters, 3 axis micro lathes, and free-hand 3D printers are now available as hardware commodities. A mildly talented amateur can design, print, carve, turn, solder, and forge a real-world artifact with a high degree of repeatable precision. Through these tools, the transition from idea to artifact has never been easier.
More Than the Sum of the Parts
In combination, these four elements define the new age of R&D and fuel our conversation around TIDE, and how Technology has caught up with our desire for Innovation, Disrupting the way we live our lives, and empowering unhampered Entrepreneurship. An individual, a small company, or a team within a larger company now has the power to translate ideas into reality.
An individual, like Dan Casebier, creator of the Mandle, can now search the internet for suppliers of off-the-shelf parts needed to create a new tool, outsource assembly to a third party, and have a fulfillment company market, sell, and deliver the product to the end user! This is termed “Combinator Innovation,” and is fueled entirely by the power of the Internet.
The facilitation of the translation from idea to reality is emerging as the next key skill that consulting companies need to be able to provide to clients. Brokers of 3D printer providers, CNC on-demand shops, and other equivalent enabling services are the real-world Lotus 123 of this decade. They form the pivot point for the future. Agencies that can provide end-to-end support services for development of tomorrow’s apps are going to be essential as Strategic Technology Partners in fueling success in the increasingly competitive entrepreneurial marketplace.
And, the changes just keep coming! We’re very much involved in empowering disruption of the old ways of getting things done, as we architect transformative digital applications for home and business today and the future. Contact CabForward℠ today about your idea to change things!
Here is a list of some additional reading in this series of posts on TIDE.