Our Solid World

March 5, 2014

building-a-solid-worldWeb developers tend to forget about the physical. It’s easy to forget about flesh, bone, steel and sand when one’s day consists of objects, control statements, databases and APIs.

Even while the code we write runs on computer chips sitting on our laptops and desktops as well as in data centers in Oregon, Virginia, Amsterdam, Sao Paolo and Singapore, we tend to take that all for granted.

We deal with software, not hardware.

But that is all changing.

As the folks at O’Reilly Media, the venerable publishers since the late ’70s of programming books whose covers famously feature grayscale drawings of animals (everything from bees to fish to armadillos to camels to polar bears), wish to remind us, we live in a solid world.

O’Reilly is going all in on solid, launching a conference and recently releasing a free e-book primer on the subject. And why not? As this hardware movement accelerates, they face a potential profit center as big they’ve had providing education around software. Because everyone is going to want in on this trend.

What is exactly is the solid movement?

Well, it’s already around us. We wear FitBits and Nike Fuelbands to tell us we don’t move our bodies enough; we control our houses with Nest thermostats and network-connected deadbolts; our plants tweet when they need water and our lightbulbs automatically change color when our favorite team wins.

Time was you had to have a dedicated team of engineers with decades of hardware experience and multimillion dollar manufacturing agreements with factories in Asian to join this game.

But the barrier to entry is so much lower today. Thus why the game has gotten so much more exciting in the past few years.

Now all you need is a vision, a relatively cheap prototyping machine (usually a 3D printer) and a Kickstarter campaign. Hell, you can even fund your idea for a prototyping machine on Kickstarter.

What it all means for people of my ilk is a cohort of software thinkers starting to think about hardware.

Developers have long been accustomed tapping into APIs, abstractions of more complex systems, to mix and match the data they need, be that a box score from ESPN’s API, a bus location from Metro Transit’s API, or a book summary from HarperCollins’ API.

Instead of just read and writing from databases, APIs are now enabling our software to interact in the physical world.

With on-demand manufacturing your car could automatically have your mechanic 3D print a replacement part as soon as it knows it has a problem.

Network-connected sensors in your clothes could beckon the dry cleaner before you neglect to.

Your wallet could text you the location where you left it. Or at least it could text your phone, which you surely left somewhere else.

The possibilities are endless in this solid world.