Berg, a London-based design consultancy that has worked with Nokia, Twitter, and the BBC, among others, is today announcing the Berg Cloud Sandbox, a platform meant to make it easier for companies to experiment with connected devices and services by covering an entire campus to the Berg Cloud platform. Fabrica, an Italy-based communications research center, will be the first company to roll Sandbox out on its campus.
Sandbox allows prototype devices to connect to an Arduino — an open-source prototyping platform favored by hobbyists and professionals alike — and the Berg Cloud, an “operating system” for connected devices first demonstrated with Berg’s Twitter-enabled cuckoo clock and the Little Printer, a small device that bridges the physical and digital worlds by way of receipt tape.
But that is only part of Berg’s goal for Sandbox. The other part, which will be much trickier than connecting a large area to a cloud platform, is convincing companies that utilize Sandbox to “share their learnings,” as Berg CEO Matt Webb puts it. “That’s the thing we’re really kind of missing. Berg has spent a lot of time doing R&D with big companies, and what we find is that doing R&D needs to be more accessible and more lightweight,” Webb says. “When different organizations are doing research in the same areas we should really link those people up so they can learn from each other.”
Sandbox, then, is meant to further connected devices and the Internet of Things by encouraging companies to share their findings with one another. This is akin to software developers sharing code so that others don’t have to reinvent the metaphorical wheel, or hardware companies allowing others to use designs and technology deemed standards-essential.
Other organizations, such as the Internet of Things Consortium, have already attempted to convince connected device makers to communicate with each other — the difference with Sandbox, Webb says, is that Berg is supplying the infrastructure to develop these products as well as the place they may share information. It’s a bit like Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which is important not just because it often serves as a launchpad for new products and services, but because it encourages the people working in Apple’s ecosystem to communicate with Apple and their peers.
“Nobody really knows what connected products are going to do. We’ve kinda got some ideas,” Webb says, citing Amazon’s Kindle and GlowCap, which reminds people to take their medicines. But if someone wanted to make a connected dishwasher, he adds, most companies wouldn’t know quite what that product might look like. “Without a way to experiment, these companies just really don’t know what to do. So we made Berg Cloud to help them, and hopefully link them up with the people who are really good at experimenting.”
Connected devices are the most exciting when they communicate with one another, coordinating their signals and functions to evolve beyond something that is simply connected to the Internet and into a truly “smart” platform. Sandbox is Berg’s way of saying that the companies making these products would also benefit from sharing information instead of keeping it all to themselves. Connecting the connected device makers, if you will.