Touring New York Startups: Meet Bug Labs

bug labs david albertBig thanks to our friend Joel Shaughnessy who tagged along and took these great photos for us >

Photo: Joel Shaughnessy for Business Insider

There’s a reason electronic hardware is dominated by just a few brands.It takes time and boatloads of money to build a product. Not to mention, the hellish approval process with the FCC.

After all that, there’s no guarantee the product will be a hit.

Just ask the guys that built the JooJoo.

To upend the delays and financial dangers of the normal hardware process, New York-based Bug Labs offers an open-source hardware alternative.

Click here to take a tour of Bug Labs >

Bug sells a bunch of modules that lock together like Lego pieces to build little gadgets. A Bug kit sells for $400 to $700 depending on what’s in it.

Say you want to make a gadget. You can buy a Bug kit, build your device, test it, and then start shopping it around. If you think you can sell a few hundred or thousand of your device, Bug helps put finishing touches on it. And because Bug’s hardware has already been approved by the FCC, it’s easier to clear that hurdle.

Bug CEO and founder Peter Semmelhack told us he built a little Bug that has a 3G wireless connection and a motion detecting accelerometer on it. He threw in on his sailboat. From afar, he can monitor how much the boat is shaking. If the boat starts shaking too much because of choppy seas he can go check it out or have a friend that lives nearby make sure everything is OK.

Now, says Peter, imagine if he wanted to start selling these things to other boat owners. With Bug’s kits, it would be easy to do.

It sounds neat, but it also sounds like it only appeals to a niche group of people. Can Bug Labs turn into a real business? Peter sure thinks so.

When we suggested it would be a small business, he said it was not going to be some small pet project. “It’s not just going to be a $10 million a year company,” he says, adding, “Based on interest we’ve gotten this year alone, I know we’ll be bigger.”

How big can Bug become? He brings up open source software company Red Hat, which had $653 million in revenue last year.

To get to that size, Bug is working with big enterprise clients. If Bug Labs can be the primary dealer for those companies, then it just might become the hardware answer to Red Hat.

Bug Labs' office is the door next to Duane Reade

This rather uninviting door takes you into Bug's office

It's just one wide open floor. Bug has 16 employees.

Here's CEO/Founder Peter Semmelhack speaking with us in a conference room

And these are the BUGs. The big grey block is a security piece. The white in the background is the base BUG to build on.

This one can pick up on chemicals in the air, like carbon monoxide

Building a bug is simple, just take the different pieces and lock them together like Legos

In the office Bug has these polaroids of each employee as a visual history of all the people that have worked there

A few Bug Lab folks ride their bikes into work

This is a little lab. Sometimes schools come to the office and they show the schools how to make things

You don't have to wear a lab coat when working in the station, but obviously, it wouldn't hurt.

Here's the kitchen. Nothing too special here...

...but if you look at the fridge, you can see a Bug on there. Everytime the door opens, the Bug records it. Sorta goofy here, but it has a use in the real world. If you are a nurse monitoring senior patients in a home, and you want to make sure they're eating, you can use a Bug.

Brian Ballantine is heading up the web efforts of Bug, and is a software engineer

Vish Kumar is an engineer at Bug Labs

Director of sales and Biz Dev, Mike De Senna is in deep thought here.

Antonio Hernandez, a designer at Bug, was being chided for not smiling. He made his feelings on the matter known to his coworkers.

Matt Cholerton has the Orwellian title of Minister of Culture. He does a lot of outreach for Bug

Here's Dave Riess an electrical engineer at Bug.

And here's your token dude with bunny ears, engineer David Albert. He took them off when we started taking pictures, but was goaded into putting them back on.

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