Open source hardware inspires innovation

Technology Review turns the spotlight on the open source hardware movement. Open source hardware is hardly a new concept, but lately it’s been getting a lot more attention, with the help of magazines like MAKE and websites like Instructables. Chumby, a company that sells a modifiable cube with a screen, embedded computer, and a Wi-Fi connection, designed their product to be easily hackable. The openness of the product caused a community heavily invested in the product’s development to be created. The growth of such communities has also sparked interest from corporations such as Nokia, which is collaborating with MIT on open source video decoders. They recognized that opening up would cause development time to be reduced and provide greater flexibility, allowing them to allocate resources to other areas, including marketing and brand development. [Jamey Hicks], director of the Nokia Research Center in Cambridge, believes that the open source movement can even complement closed designs, as long as it’s handled appropriately. With greater access to sophisticated software tools and resources, the barriers to entry keep falling away, and it’s much easier for the world to discover the joys of tinkering and hacking.

[photo: Andreas Pizsa]

32 thoughts on “Open source hardware inspires innovation

  1. OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE ROUNDUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i want to know whats out there

  2. @biozz, the article had a lot about adafruit, so that’s a start (http://www.adafruit.com). it’s one of the few open source hardware companies.

    as far as others, i have a sorta-list – last year’s open source hardware gift guide which is a good start…

    http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2007/12/open_source_hardware_gift.html

    and the open source hardware category on MAKE…

    http://blog.makezine.com/archive/open_source_hardware/

    not everything is 100% open source in the lists there are a varying levels of “open” and this is all still pretty new…

    http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2007/04/open_source_hardware_what.html

    there are also open source sections / resources about open source hardware at nokia and MIT but the links in the post go to mahalo only and there isn’t an open source hardware entry on mahalo.

    the link to MAKE here goes to the mahalo page and it has the “MAKE” myspace page which isn’t a page that has anything to do with MAKE magazine.

    it’s probably good for the health of the web to have the open source hardware links and resources go to the proper places, but if there is some type of requirement on the authors to only link to mahalo since hack-a-day is part of mahalo then a trip to a search engine might be in your future.

  3. i thought the fun in hacking was making things do the unintended…wtf is all this silliness for? put yr legoidz away doodz

  4. In the ‘Open Instrumentation Project’ (www.syscompdesign.com) we support open-source software with close-source hardware, which seems to work as a business model. The code can be hacked and the hardware programming interfaces are documented.

    In our experience, most people do not mod the software, they use it as is. But they like the idea that the *could* mod code if they had to.

  5. @biozz, my comment is still in moderation… so here it is without links. the article had a lot about adafruit, so that’s a start search for adafruit. it’s one of the few open source hardware companies.

    as far as others, i have a sorta-list – last year’s open source hardware gift guide which is a good start… visit the MAKE site and search for “open source hardware gift guide”

    and the open source hardware category on MAKE… it’s on the right side of the site but searching online will likely find many of the projects.

    not everything is 100% open source in the lists there are a varying levels of “open” and this is all still pretty new…

    search for “what is open source hardware”.

    there are also open source sections / resources about open source hardware at nokia and MIT but the links in the post go to mahalo only and there isn’t an open source hardware entry on mahalo.

    the link to MAKE here goes to the mahalo page and it has the “MAKE” myspace page which isn’t a page that has anything to do with MAKE magazine.

    it’s probably good for the health of the web to have the open source hardware links and resources go to the proper places, but if there is some type of requirement on the authors to only link to mahalo since hack-a-day is part of mahalo then a trip to a search engine might be in your future.

  6. cough, beagleboard, cough.

    OpenPandora cough, cough.

    There is a lot of sweet stuff out there, and don’t forget the Uzebox :)

  7. @ #1, forget the cell phone manufacturers, when do we get SD cards on video game consoles (kudos to the Wii) and in MP3 Players? (even creative “needs” WMP 11 and XP SP2 for crying out loud.)

    Personally I want a cellphone with no display and a simple connection to the PC for network. Use the spare money for an antenna (Am I the only one who misses a cell with an actual antenna?), and add some more battery life. I don’t need an OLED, cellphones work by talking and listening, lose the display (or switch to an e-ink display :) like in UltraViolet ).

  8. nubie, check out the Motorola F3, it uses a similar technology to e-ink for its screen. I’ve had mine for a little over a year and it’s an amazing phone. At 9mm thick and 68g, it doesn’t require huge pockets to carry it.
    Battery life on mine is still over a week, which is good going considering how long phones typically last in this day and age.
    My only gripe is with using it for SMS, typically there’s only 1 word on the screen at a time so it’s difficult to read them, and the buttons don’t respond fast enough for my fingers when I’m sending one.

  9. I’ve been lent a Chumby for a while now, to see what I think of it and what I can do with it, but because I’m not some “l33t linux h4x0r” the only things I’ve been able to do with it is play with the bank of widgets available for it, none of them are inspiring or make me think I want to permanently own a Chumby.
    I feel it’s still at a toy level, there doesn’t seem to be any real killer app for it, especially since it’s permanently tethered to the mains, no built-in battery to give it true portability (though there is a PP3 9v battery connector in it’s base, I’ve read it’s all but useless because it just keeps the unit ‘hibernated’ so when you move it somewhere it won’t have to reboot)

  10. @haku – there doesn’t seem to be any real killer app for it.

    Umm, are you expecting a word processor or “Metal Gear Solid: Chumby Fights Back”? :)

    Chumby is excellent for getting dynamic information to the user. Monitor a webcam, weather, server up time (with reboot ability!), “Now Playing” type info in a commercial music setting, eBay auctions, flight times, etc.

    What are you thinking that you’d like to see on it? There are plenty of Flash folks out there that could write it (if practical for the platform). Or, learn Flash – that’s what I did for a couple of corporate applications.

  11. @nubie: the PSP has a flash card (granted, not SD sadly, but MSPD isn’t *that* much more expensive), and both of the other major home consoles have USB Mass Storage support in one form or another. Wii is actually the most “closed” system — Microsoft has XNA and Sony lets you install a guest OS, even if they don’t grant access to all the processing units. Want to develop for Wii? Buy a devkit, or learn Flash 7.

    As for Chumby — I see nothing that this does that a Nokia “internet tablet” doesn’t do twice as well, and cheaper. Wake me up when it’s 40 bucks at Sears.

  12. @coderer, Sorry, SD is the only flash I recognize, and Sony memsticks are usually much more expensive (I guess the general drop in flash prices is making this less important, but are there 32GB Memsticks for a reasonable price?)

    I don’t know about SMS, it seems to have been abused into a means of creating a generation of socially inept, obsessive compulsive, near autistic young people. Argue it any way you like, but I think it is a feature that should go away. It is becoming the only means of communication for millions of young people. (sure I agree it is up to parents to regulate this, but they don’t seem to be able to.) As far as sms/chat goes I think that cellphones and “mobile” PDA’s need to get a standard “communication” module and then we don’t pay $500 over and over again for less functionality than a 4 year old laptop.

    @Peter, the Openpandora is not “open hardware”, this is true. But the developer (Micheal Weston, a Canadian), is active in the user forums and has stated his desire to document all connections and has brought out as many of the unused BGA connections on traces as he can.

    As for “open” hardware, I think that is pretty much all you can hope for, it is mostly just a Ti OMAP, power/buffering circuitry, and a Wifi/BT chip anyway, not much to document.

    They even have it designed to boot off of SD cards if the flash fails (anybody else doing that in their handhelds?)

    @Chumby, your control scheme is weird, you cost too much (honestly people, buy a beagleboard and any HDMI/DVI/S-video/Composite screen, it can decode 720p for crying out loud, and has USB for interfacing with controls/sensors/video capture devices/etc.).

    I guess it might be interesting to hack, but I can’t stand the way it looks, if it is for hackers all they need is a bare PCB, they don’t pay for fabric and glue wrapped around their hardware.

    I may be confusing hardware hacking with the software hacking that chumbo here is designed for, but who cares, it isn’t really a great platform anyway.

  13. @pt

    When I clicked their link, the Mahalo site had a “Mahalo Top 7″. The official site is 1 (with links also pointing to the magazine, the projects, CRAFT, and subscription info).

    I don’t understand your issue.

  14. @Coderer

    Wii is now the most open of the consoles, homebrew SDK’s have full hardware access, unlike xna or the PS3’s alternate OS.

  15. @hooooooooorj – the link to make here goes to mahalo instead of MAKE, and the MAKE magazine page at mahalo has a “myspace page” that goes to some company/person that has nothing to do with MAKE.

    most of the links in the post about open source hardware here go to mahalo which isn’t really helpful, for example why link to chumby, but send people to mahalo and not the open source information on chumby on their site?

    a commenter here asked for a list of projects and my post was never published (maybe it had too many links).

    i think most would agree that it’s probably good for the health of the web and specifically this example to have the open source hardware links and resources go to the proper places, but if there is some type of requirement on the authors to only link to mahalo since hack-a-day is part of mahalo, if that’s true it’s fine but a little disclosure would be nice (my disclosure, i founded hackaday, i’m senior editor at make and we are also going to do an advertising campaign with hackaday soon). i’d like to see the site be the best possible resource and support it.

  16. @pt are you talking about the 4th comment above that’s yours or was there another link list you put together? Akismet holds multi-URL comments for approval and I approve them as soon as I see them. Is there a missing comment?

  17. What I meant by “killer app” for the Chumby was that I didn’t see any one or two widgets that would give that “I must have a Chumby so I can use that/those widget(s)”, the kind of widget that would draw users in and then they discover a bunch of other widgets they like immensely. Maybe I’m not the target audience for a Chumby *shrug*

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