Last weekend was the Open Hardware Summit in Philadelphia, and the attendees were nearly entirely people who build Open Source Hardware. The definition of Open Source Hardware has been around for a while, but without a certification process, the Open Hardware movement has lacked the social proof required of such a movement; there is no official process to go through that will certify hardware as open hardware, and there technically isn’t a logo you can slap on a silkscreen layer that says your project is open hardware.
I caught up with [Massimo Banzi] at the Shenzhen Maker Faire to talk about manufacturing in China, the current and future of Arduino, and how recent events may shape the Open Hardware landscape.
The big news from Arduino at SZMF is a new partnership with Seeed Studio to manufacture theGenuino. This is an official Arduino board manufactured in China for the Chinese market. Knowing that the board is official and connected to the founders is key point to get makers to adopt this hardware. [Massimo] makes a good point about the ideal of “Proudly Made in China” which I could see as a selling point for the burgeoning maker market there. This may be a growing principle in China, but in an ocean of clone boards it sounds like a tough path forward. On the other hand, their booth was mobbed with people putting in new orders.
[Massimo] belives the current Arduino strife has actually served to move the project forward. He cites the schism between arduino.cc and arduino.org for catalyzing manufacturing partnerships with both Adafruit Industries and Seeed Studios. This has resulted in official Arduino hardware that is not made only in Italy, but made in the region the hardware will be used; NYC for US orders, Shenzhen for China orders.
Our discussion wraps up with a plea from [Massimo] for the Hackaday community to be a little less fickle about projects using Arduino. That one makes me chuckle a bit!
It’s an interesting proposition; there is no company serving the maker community – and those of us who refuse to call ourselves part of the maker community – more hated than MakerBot. They’ve patented ideas uploaded to Thingiverse. They’ve turned their back on the open hardware community they grew out of, They’re undercutting their own resellers, and by all accounts, they don’t know how to make a working extruder. MakerBot was the company that would show the world Open Hardware could be successful, but turned into a company that seemed to reject Open Hardware and Open Source more than any other.
Or at least [Squonk42] couldn’t. In Sept. 2013, [Squonk42] posted up on the Arduino forums requesting the schematics and editable design files for the Arduino Yun, and he still hasn’t received them or even a response.
[Squonk42]’s hypothesis is that Arduino must have done what any “sane” engineer would do in this case when presented with a super-complex piece of hardware and a potentially tricky radio layout: just use the reference design (Atheros AP-121). That’s what everyone else in the industry did. And that’s smart, only the rest of the consumer electronics industry isn’t claiming to be Open Source Hardware while the reference design is protected by an NDA.
Is this a change of strategy for the Arduino folks or did they just make a mistake? We won’t know until they respond, and that answer’s a year and a half in coming. Let’s see what we can do about that. And who knows, maybe Arduino can lean on Atheros to open up their reference design? It’s already an open secret at best.
But before you go out lighting up your righteous Open Source Hardware pitchforks and sharpening up your torches, read through [Squonk42]’s case and then dig through the primary sources that he’s linked to make up your own mind. You’ll make your case more eloquently if you’re making it yourself.
Good luck, [Squonk42]! We hope you at least get your answer. Even if you already know it.
Kickstarter isn’t the solution to every manufacturing hurdle, you know? Crowdsourcing—everybody’s favorite cliché to invoke after sharing their less-than-half-baked merchandise idea—has expanded to include yet another variation, and is currently rocking [Max Thrun’s] BeagleBone GamingCape thanks to [Jason Kridner]. If the cape looks familiar, it’s because we featured it earlier this summer, when [Max] created it as part of TI’s Intern Design Challenge.
Here’s how it works. Rather than asking strangers to place pre-orders (let’s admit it, that’s ultimately how Kickstarter functions), CircuitHub campaigns work as a group-buy: upload your KiCad, Eagle or Altium design and a BOM, and you’re on your way to bulk-order savings. As [Kridner] explains in his blog post, you’ll have some finagling to do for your campaign to be successful, such as choosing between prices at different volumes, projecting how many people need to buy in as a group, etc. When he sourced the parts on his own, [Kridner] spent nearly $1000 for a single GamingCape. The CircuitHub campaign, if successful, would land everyone a board for under $100 each—and it’s assembled.
Once upon a time there was a store where you could find the most amazing Hackaday shirts and other swag. If you managed to get one of the rare Jolly Wrencher adorned shirts back then, it’s probably about worn out by now. Prepare to rejoice, Hackaday has a completely new store packed with T-shirts, tools, and stuff to help you fill up those waking hours with hardware hacking goodness.
We’ve had a little fun over the last couple of days with posts that hint (maybe a bit too subtly?) that this was coming. We always try to have a little bit of fun for those of you who are really paying attention. Now we’re wondering who will be the first to implement the one-time pad as a dedicated piece of hardware… project ideas need to come from somewhere, right?
Take a look around the general store and you’ll see this time we have more than just stuff you wear. Hackers need tools and we’ve selected a small but inspiring group of must-have’s. The kits and toys we’ve selected are surely a rabbit hole of personal challenges and evolving hacks for you. And the best part is that these choices are one more way for us to promote the virtue of Open Design (it is the way). The only question now is what other open hardware do you want to see added to those ranks?
It seems like I’m constantly having the same discussions with different people about the Open Design aspect of The Hackaday Prize. I get arguments from both sides; some attest that there should be no “openness” requirement, and others think we didn’t set the bar nearly high enough. Time to climb onto my soap box and throe down some sense on this argument.
Open Design is Important
When you talk about hardware there is almost always some software that goes into making a finished product work. Making the information about how a product works and how it is manufactured available to everyone is called Open Design; it encompasses both Open Hardware and Open Source Software. Open Design matters!
First of all, sharing how something is designed and built goes much further than just allowing others to build their own. It becomes an educational tool and an innovation accelerator (others don’t need to solve the same problems over and over again). When using a new chip, protocol, or mechanical part you can learn a lot by seeing how someone else already did it. This means faster prototyping, and improvements on the design that weren’t apparent to the original creator. And if it breaks, you have a far easier time trying to diagnose and repair the darn thing! We all benefit from this whether we’re creating something or just using an end product because it will work better, last longer, and has the potential to be less buggy or to have the bugs squashed after the fact.
There is also peace-of-mind that comes with using Open Design products. The entries in The Hackaday Prize need to be “connected devices”. With open design you can look at the code and see what is being done with your information. Can you say that about Nest? They won’t even allow you to use the thermostat in a country that hasn’t been pre-approved by decree from on high (we saw it hacked to work in Europe a few years back). Now it has been rooted so that you can do with it what you please.
But I contest that it would have been better to have shipped with options like this in the first place. Don’t want to use Nest’s online platform? Fine, let the consumer own the hardware they pay for! My wager since the day they announced Google’s acquisition of Nest is that this will become the “router” for all the connected devices in your home. I don’t want the data from my appliances, entertainment devices, exercise equipment, etc., being harvested, aggregated, and broadcast without having the ability to look at how the data is collected, packaged, and where it is being sent. Open Design would allow for this and still leave plenty of room for the big G’s business model.
I find it ironic that I rant about Google yet it would be pretty hard to deny that I’m a fanboy.
Decentralize the Gatekeeper
I’m going to beat up on Google/Nest a bit more. This is just an easy example since the hardware has the highest profile in the field right now.
If Nest controls the interface and they retain the power to decide whose devices can participate the users lose. Imagine if every WiFi device had to be blessed by a single company before it would be allowed to connect to any access points? I’m not talking about licensing technology or registering a MAC address for a chip. I’m talking about the power, whether abused or not, to shut any item out of the ecosystem based on one entity’s decisions.
If connected devices use a known standard that isn’t property of one corporation it unlocks so many good things. The barrier for new companies to put hardware in the hands of users is very low.
Let’s consider one altruistic part of this; Open Design would make small run and single unit design a possibility. Think about connected devices specialized for the physically challenged; the controller project makes specialized controls for your Xbox, what about the same for your oven, dishwasher, the clock on your wall, or your smart thermostat?
The benefits really show themselves when a “gatekeeper” goes out of business or decides to discontinue the product line. This happened when the Boxee servers were shut down. If the source code and schematics are available, you can alter the code to use a different service, build up your own procotol-compliant home server, or even manufacture new devices that work with the system for years to come. There are already pleas for belly-up manufacturers to open-source as the last death throw. Hacking this stuff back into existence is fun, but isn’t it ridiculous that you have to go to those lengths to make sure equipment you purchased isn’t turned into a doorstop when they shut the company lights off?
To drive the point home, consider this Home Automation System from 1985 [via Reddit]. It’s awesome, outdated, and totally impossible to maintain into the future. I’m not saying we should keep 30-year-old hardware in use indefinitely. But your choices with this are to source equally old components when it breaks, or trash everything for a new system. Open Design could allow you to develop new interfaces to replace the most used parts of the system while still allowing the rest of the hardware to remain.
Why not disqualify entries that aren’t Open Hardware and Open Source Software?
Openness isn’t a digital value
Judging preferences are much better than disqualifying requirements. This is because ‘openness’ isn’t really a digital value. If you publish your schematic but not your board artwork is that open? What if you’re using parts from a manufacturer that requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement to view the datasheet and other pertinent info about the hardware?
In addition to deciding exactly where the threshold of Open or Not-Open lies, we want to encourage hackers and companies to try Open Design if they never have before. I believe that 1% open is better than 0% open, and I believe that there is a “try it, you’ll like it” experience with openness. If this is the case, The Hackaday Prize can help pollinate the virtue of Open Hardware far and wide. But only if we act inclusively and let people work their way toward open at their own pace.
There are more benefits to Open than there are drawbacks.
The biggest worry I hear about open sourcing a product is that it’ll get picked up, manufactured, and sold at a cut-throat rate.
If you build something worth using this is going to happen either way. The goal should be to make a connection with your target users and to act ethically. Open Design allows the user to see how your product works, and to add their own features to it. Most of the time these features will appeal to a very small subset of users, but once in a while the community will develop an awesome addition to your original idea. You can always work out a way to include that in the next revision. That right there is community; the true power of open.