Why designers are the engineers of tomorrow

A tiny company called Tomorrow Lab offers a glimpse into the future of smart hardware in New York.

This article was originally published by Crain’s New York.

Mr. Ullrich, and partners Pepin Gelardi and Dean DiPietro, are part of a wave of New York area so-called smart hardware designers. The new firms and people working for them replace traditional cumbersome and expensive software coding and electrical system engineering with a lighter, more fluid design approach.

New, cheap prototyping tools, like 3D desktop printing from Brooklyn’s MakerBot, and open-source electronics development tools like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, are enabling the change. Both companies make circuit boards, some selling for less than $100, that are easy to program and insert into objects.

The advances in technology have enabled five-employee Tomorrow Lab, located in Koreatown, to build a wireless-connected pill dispenser called AdhereTech, an intelligent bike rental system dubbed Social Bicycles, and a traffic-counting appliance branded as WayCount, among other projects. The companies come to them with an initial, raw prototype, which they then turn into an object that consumers want to buy.

“What a new generation of low-cost hardware development technologies has done is force the product industry to reconsider its clichés,” says Mr. Gelardi, a Tomorrow Lab partner. “Smart thermostats, intelligent dishes, jackets that think, it’s all back on the table.”

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