Bug Labs' BUGswarm and Verizon BUGbundle hands-on

Remember Bug Labs, the guys building open-source hardware modules that make it easy (and relatively inexpensive) to prototype new gadgets of your own creation? The last time we visited with these guys at the spring CTIA show last year, the company's upgraded BUGbase 2.0 was still in mockup form -- and carrier deals were little more than a gleam in CEO Peter Semmelhack's eye. Nearly a year has passed since then, and Bug's ecosystem has grown considerably to encompass a bunch of third-party modules, prototyped products, and carrier-specific packs for Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon that let your meticulously hacked-together hardware communicate over the network of your choice.

Of course, this all necessitated a follow-up meeting, which we were delighted to have at CES a couple days ago. Read on!

Bug Labs was set up in Verizon's booth with its BUGbundle Starter and Pro (pictured) sets, priced at $850 and $1,500, respectively -- not cheap by any stretch, but you get the base plus a bunch of modules that'll help kickstart the development of the frankendevice of your dreams. The bundles include 3G Verizon dongles that connect via a USB module, though dedicated 3G modules are also available that don't necessitate the dongle -- it hangs out a bit beyond the end of the base, so it'd probably tend to get banged up if you carried it around much. Semmelhack pointed out that Verizon doesn't currently offer an LTE MiFi (though that's about to change), so he crafted one of his own in just hours using a BUGbase, a USB module, and one of the carrier's existing LTE dongles -- and he was using it at his kiosk. Awesome.

Semmelhack also previewed a new service for us -- BUGswarm -- that aggregates information about all the networked BUGbases you have in your possession. Turns out that every base and module has web services that can be queried to report information -- a camera module can be queried to report back a live picture, for example -- and BUGswarm lists out every base you've got along with every module that's attached to it; just click one of them to get the data out of it. If you're using some assembled BUGbases as a network of air quality sensors, for example, the service makes it easy to get a birds'-eye view of the whole shebang from one URL. Check out the video up there for the whole setup in action!

Additional reporting by Myriam Joire and Ross Miller