Open Design. It is The Way.

there-is-power-in-open-design2It 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?

home-automation-from-1985To 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.

open-hardware-is-goodThe 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.

So yeah, we’re giving away a trip to space and hundreds of other prizes. But these are really just a carrot to entice hackers, designers, and engineers to feed the hungry world of Open Hardware and Open Source Software.

 

Bunnie Talks to Us About Novena Open Hardware Laptop

 

We made a point to stop by the Freescale booth at Maker Faire where [Bunnie Huang] was showing off the Novena laptop. His past accolades (Wikipedia page) and the rabid success of the crowd funding round — which nearly tripled its goal — meant we had to make multiple attempts to speak with him. But the third time’s a charm and it was worth the wait!

Several things struck me about seeing the hardware in person. First off, I like that there’s a little bit of room inside but the case is still reasonably small. This really is a laptop aimed at hardware hacking; I would anticipate that the majority of backers intend to roll their own hardware for it. Second, [Bunnie] showed off several expansion boards as examples which use a standard 80-pin header to get at the onboard components. The example of a man-in-the-middle attack for the flash chip on a thumb drive was extremely tasty. But it was also interesting to hear about an SDR board which will ship to original backers since the campaign made its stretch goals.

If you don’t know much about this project, you can get some background from our post when the crowd funding went live. Open design info is available from the Novena page.

The Hackaday Prize: You Build Open Hardware, We Send You to Space

 

For weeks we’ve been teasing you that something BIG was coming. This is it. Six months from now one hardware hacker will claim The Hackaday Prize and in doing so, secure the grand prize of a trip into space.

You have the skills, the technology, and the tenacity to win this. Even if you don’t take the top spot there’s loot in it for more than one winner. To further entice you, there are eyebrow-raising prizes for all five of the top finishers, and hundreds of other rewards for those that build something impressive. You can win this… you just need to take the leap and give it your all.

[Read more...]

Sci-Fi Contest Prize Acquisition Issues — Oh Noes!

sci-fi-contest-prize-woes

We spent quite a bit of time picking out prizes for the Sci-Fi contest. But wouldn’t you know it, literally the day after announcing the contest we cued up The Amp Hour and heard about a worldwide stock shortage (34:00) of BeagleBone Black boards. About a week later Adafruit ran an explanation of the issues. It became clear why we were having issues sources a quintet of boards so that we could deliver on our prize offer.

To further compound problems we a somewhat smaller issue sourcing Spark Core boards. We put in an order for a quintet of them when we posted the contest; at the time they were supposed to be shipping in late March, but now shipping estimates have been delayed to mid-April. Assuming no more delays these should be available by the time the contest ends at the end of April so keep your fingers crossed.

We have a good relationship with the folks over at Spark Core and can probably ask them to help us out if we do get in a bind. But we don’t think anyone is going to be able to deliver the BeagleBone Black boards (which we have on backorder) in time for the end of the contest. So here’s the deal: if you win and really want these exact boards in the prize package you select, we’re going to do what needs to be done to get it for you, eventually. If you don’t want to wait and there is a suitable alternative we’ll make that happen.

We wondered what people are doing if they don’t want to wait out these shortages. Are there any other open-hardware projects that are similar in price and functionality? Our gut says no (that’s why they’re in such high demand). But we’d love to hear about some alternatives. Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Your Weekend Plans: Hardware Freedom Day

hfd-banner2

Hardware Freedom Day is tomorrow: Saturday, March 15th 2014. This is the third year for the event, which seeks to raise awareness about what Open Hardware is, and to encourage hackers and makers to share their own work with the world.

This is a concept that we believe in strongly here at Hackaday. There are a multitude of reasons to support open hardware. We usually look at it from two angles: education and user freedom. If the design for your projects are available, others can learn from your successes and produce even cooler things that in turn should be made open. At the same time, if you have a device that’s nearly-awesome, a skilled hacker will have a much easier time getting it there if the original design can be used as a reference.

If you want to see what’s going on near you there are events on every continent (except Antarctica… lame!). If continental adjacency isn’t close enough consider pulling together an adhoc event, or just going through that project you finished last year and publishing the files for others to use.

 

Oculus Releases Open Source Hardware

Latency

Oculus VR, makers of the very cool Oculus Rift VR display, are making their first steps towards open hardware. Their first project is a latency tester, meant to precisely measure the latency of a VR setup or application. This is true open hardware with everything – the firmware, schematics, and mechanical parts all available on GitHub

Inside this neat bit of hardware is a STM32F102 microcontroller and a TCS3414 color sensor. The firmware is designed to measure changes in color and send that data back to a computer with a timestamp.

Not only are the schematics and board files available, there are also a few links to buy the PCBs at OSH Park: for about $24, you can get three copies of the main PCB and sensor board delivered to your door. If you have a 3D printer, Oculus has provided the .STL files to print out the enclosure for this device.

While this is a fairly niche product, we’re amazed at how well the Oculus folk have put together this open source hardware project. Everything you need to replicate this product, from board files, mechanical design, firmware, and instructions on how to build everything is just right there, sitting it a GitHub. Wonderful work.

Open Hardware Summit 2013 – Part 1: Demos

Open Hardware Summit 2013

The 2013 Open Hardware Summit took place on September 6th at MIT. There was a wide array of demos and talks covering Open Hardware methodologies and projects. After the break I’ll be covering the demo area of the conference, and sharing some of my favorite demos.

[Read more...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 92,339 other followers