At 21, Basheer Tome has a rather well-defined notion of what he thinks the world needs: clever, useful, beautiful objects that elevate our homes well and truly into the 21st century.
Tome studies industrial design at the Georgia Institute of Technology. As part of his coursework, he has knocked out one intriguing product idea after another. There’s the Hue toaster that uses color sensors to make sure toast comes out a perfect, golden brown. And the Chroma kitchen timer, which marries a digital display with an analog, twist-to-start base. Other projects include fresh takes on floor lamps, photo albums, and even flash cards.
But don’t get your hopes up for Platonic toast just yet. Most of the items on Tome’s website remain in the prototype stage. Tome has mocked up idealized sketches of how the products should look and started work on their electrical innards. With the Hue toaster, for example, he’s run into issues with the heating element melting some of the electronic sensors. That said, Tome has indeed managed to stick a piece of bread into the Hue and have it determine the color as hoped. Getting some hardened electronics down the road should be easy enough.
As cool as the Hue looks, Tome is not sure he wants to be the one responsible for bringing it to market. “I keep thinking about the logistics behind turning a hardware project into a real, physical product,” he says. “It really is daunting. As much as I’m passionate about making a better toaster, I don’t know if I want to make that the entirety of my life for the next three years.”
Mr. Coffee (JAH), as I understand it, suffered from similar anxiety.
And so, Tome has decided to apply to the MIT Media Lab, while also considering the prospect of taking his talents to a company that will let him think up the ideas and then have other people do the hard work of finishing them off. He’s also going to spend a third consecutive summer interning at Google (GOOG), where he’ll be working on the company’s augmented-reality glasses known as Google Goggles.
Tome’s work shows what an undergraduate with a bit of imagination and focus can do. And there’s a chance we may see more people like him arriving in the coming years. A budding generation of fresh-thinking hardware enthusiasts have come to the fore in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and obviously places such as Georgia. This appears to be a function of better, cheaper electronics becoming readily available, as well as easy access to powerful software.
It’s sort of fun to think how these youngsters may retool our everyday objects and go well beyond the vision of Internet-ready refrigerators peddled by the last crew of technologists.