What is open source hardware you may ask?
Well, hardware design and development traditionally have been shrouded in secrecy, with companies desperate to keep their designs for internal use only.
Well, hardware design and development traditionally have been shrouded in secrecy, with companies desperate to keep their designs for internal use only. But in a world where sharing and transparency have become the norm and global collaborative development is no longer just a phrase used by marketers – at least in software engineering –it’s time for things to change. So, hardware engineering is taking the same open source path as software (open-source software is one of the biggest success stories in technology and business of the 20th and 21st centuries) to enable rapid innovation and progress – thus creating a new movement: open-source hardware.
Since the late 1990s, engineers have sought ways to apply open-source concepts to computer and electronic hardware. The main stumbling block, of course, is that software is easy to duplicate and can be copied free of charge, while hardware is made up of actual matter — “atoms instead of bits,” as Chris Anderson said. Plus, hardware is generally patented rather than copyrighted and patents are expensive to both obtain and defend. How can hardware be “open-sourced” to take advantage of the huge benefits open source has to offer?
Hardware can never be “free as in beer” because duplication always costs something and even the best-intentioned advocates can’t afford to offer physical products free of charge indefinitely. However, a physical product is simply an implementation of a design and the designs of hardware, along with permission to create a physical product from those designs, can indeed be made available free of charge with an open license, whether copyrighted or patented. The licensing is up to the owner.
In fact, open hardware itself is still being formally defined. A workgroup of contributors has been honing a definition since 2009, following Bruce Perens’ Open Source Definition. The new Open Source Hardware (OSHW) definition is currently at V0.4 and is under discussion in the forum on the Open Hardware Summit web site.
For the past two years, I’ve been working on a project involving open-source hardware engineering
Closely following this intense movement, we’ve identified a big problem – the open hardware world needs better documentation tools, mainly because of these factors:
Documenting a hardware project is tedious and complicated – when you build something, you don’t always have an idea of where you’re going. Steps are not easy to identify. Pictures and videos require technical knowledge (how many instruction videos are out there where you can’t really see anything because of the light, a finger or a bad reflection). Also, documenting can be extremely boring. The fun is usually in building the prototype, not listing the versions.
Publishing the documentation online takes time – once you studiously gathered all your documentation, it’s time to publish it online. Another problem shows up: you have to make a choice between the multiple online documentation platforms available (GitHub, Instructables, MAKE, wikis, Solderpad, CubeHero, Knowable, your own website). Each one of them requires to sign up and adapt your content: resizing images, adding videos, hyperlinks, details etc. All of this takes time.
Versions, versions, versions – versions are the last big deal with hardware documentation. There is already versioning habits for open source software, which can’t always be applied to open hardware projects. Hardware versions can include new materials, new ways of building, new tools as well as new circuit designs. Keeping track of these physical changes is tricky because they are made manually most of the time. When the community of users gives feedback, it’s hard to evaluate and merge the changes.
We came with a solution for the existing problem
We came up with a solution for this problem – a single web based platform, where you can start sharing your own open-source hardware project or web hunted open-source hardware project as simple as uploading a picture or writing a tweet and even more, comment on projects using text, picture and video notes. In a few words, we’re trying to build the humanity’s engineering brain!