Playground Global, an effort to make it easier for Silicon Valley hardware startups to make their ideas real, came on the scene in 2015. A group of investors including Hewlett-Packard, Google, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, Seagate, and others—and led by Andy Rubin of Danger and Android fame—backed the effort with at least US $48 million. The mission: create a hardware “studio.” It’s something more than an incubator or an accelerator, in that it allows inventors to focus on their gadgets and takes away as many of the barriers to doing that as possible .
I got my first peek inside Playground’s spacious headquarters last week. And it sure seems to have everything a Silicon Valley engineer could want, and then some. The setup includes: two tricked out engineering labs, a prototype-building area with multiple 3-D printers, various cutters, a laser-sintering machine, a testing lab, an optical lab, lots and lots of bench space, and 50 engineers available to help the startups. (Though it has room for 30 startups, only about a dozen seemed to be in residence during my visit.)
Playground has the ambience of a Google or Facebook, not a shoestring startup. That means free gourmet meals, a well-stocked snack bar, and an espresso machine that requires a training session to operate, along with the most stylish “quiet room” space I’ve seen (think giant modernized London phone booths). And, of course, Playground has a playground, in addition to a slide—which is a pretty common way to get from the second floor to the first at tech companies these days—there’s also a swingset.
All this is spread out inside a former apricot cannery, a Palo Alto building that I must have passed thousands of times but never noticed. It’s tucked behind Fry’s Electronics, long a mecca for hardware engineers needing a random component immediately, if not sooner.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.