Longtime PopSci contributing editor Phil Torrone would like to give your gadget a tattoo. Torrone, who also runs the Make blog, and his pal Limor Fried just announced their new NYC-based laser-etching business, Adafruit.
What the heck is laser etching? Basically, it's a way of using a very fine-point laser to literally vaporize away a superthin layer of material from a surface, such as the back of your Powerbook ($100) or iPod ($30). Like your grandpa's Navy tat, it's permanent and monochrome, but because the laser is so precise, you can get finely detailed images and even simulate shading and gradients. Bring in your own image file, and they'll load it up and burn away.
The coolest part about Torrone's business is that it's all open source: following the belief that nothing is as innovative as a large, cooperative community of active participants, he and Fried will make available every bit of their business plan, from finances to operations, in order to help others start their own businesses. When you come to their store (etchings are by appointment only in New York), they'll explain to you how the etching is done and how you could do it yourself. They even let you push the "go" button.
In the years I've known Phil, he's consistently told me about the next hot thing (podcasts, online video sharing, Second Life, Roomba cockfighting) a year or more before anyone else. I'm not sure if laser etching is going to sweep the malls of middle America, but I'd bet the cost of an etched Zune that this isn't the last open-source business we see. --Mike Haney