The state of open hardware

We recently reported on the dutch open source car which is expected to be produced in 2011, as was confirmed by our associate George Dafermos, who talked to the designers.

Such open hardware might have the same effect on economics as open source had on software. Instead of price setting based on monopolistic rents, with the production costs only setting a minimum, we might expect a price-setting based on cost plus markup, and more and more models of built-only capitalism, many examples of which are already described in Erik von Hippel’s Democratization of Innovation, available from our bookstore.

Yet the open hardware movement is not nearly as developed as the open source software movement, and can be compared to the situation of the software field in the eighties.

However, we have updated our various entries, thanks to a marvelous summary by Make magazine, which distinguishes several layers in open source hardware.

Check out our entries on Open Hardware and Open Design, as well as the new developments in specific open hardware licenses

Here are a few examples of projects that are close to “pure” open source hardware projects:

Compiled by Makezine at
http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2007/04/open_source_hardware_what.html

Arduino – physical computing platform at
http://www.arduino.cc/

Chumby – information device at
http://www.chumby.com/

Daisy MP3 player – An open source MP3 player, at
http://www.makezine.com/daisy/

RepRap / [email protected] – Open source 3D printer, at
http://www.reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome

OpenEEG – an EEG design that is OS & available as a kit, at
http://openeeg.sourceforge.net/doc/

x0xb0x – Roland 303 clone MIDI synth at,
http://www.ladyada.net/make/x0xb0x/

Here’s how Make magazine summarizes the state of the art:

“At MAKE & CRAFT we’re trying to foster this nascent hardware movement by encouraging our kit makers to consider open source hardware and a license that makes sense when developing kits with us. So far it’s worked out, and we’re looking forward to providing not only more open source hardware kits, but electronics that are more “open” than what’s out there now.

Why is this a good thing? The most obvious one for MAKE & CRAFT is the educational benefits, an open source hardware project or kit allows makers to build something completely from scratch (etching boards, etc) or assembling a kit almost IKEA style – but unlike assembling furniture new skills and understanding of how things actually work can be learned. One could say the building of the electronics is the “compiling” portion of the project, similar to software. Events like dorkbot and our Maker Faire is are places for participation – and online, Instructables.

What else? Fixes – new features and the “peer production” of the electronics projects / kits usually lends itself to better kits, communities and for some makers – real businesses selling kits

All this being said, the pace is slow and steady – hardware moves slower than software now: fabbing, which may decrease but is unlikely to fully go away. And – hardware’s seems to be in the same state software was in the 1980s: lots of commercial developers, very few open source developers (or like 1970’s when only a few had computers at all). We’d like to see the world of hardware when there are millions of developers.”

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