Stallman’s One Mistake

We all owe [Richard Stallman] a large debt for his contributions to computing. With a career that began in MIT’s AI lab, [Stallman] was there for the creation of some of the most cutting edge technology of the time. He was there for some of the earliest Lisp machines, the birth of the Internet, and was a necessary contributor for Emacs, GCC, and was foundational in the creation of GPL, the license that made a toy OS from a Finnish CS student the most popular operating system on the planet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without [Stallman], open source software wouldn’t exist.

Linux, Apache, PHP, Blender, Wikipedia and MySQL simply wouldn’t exist without open and permissive licenses, and we are all richer for [Stallman]’s insight that software should be free. Hardware, on the other hand, isn’t. Perhaps it was just a function of the time [Stallman] fomented his views, but until very recently open hardware has been a kludge of different licenses for different aspects of the design. Even in the most open devices, firmware uses GPLv3, hardware documentation uses the CERN license, and Creative Commons is sprinkled about various assets.

If [Stallman] made one mistake, it was his inability to anticipate everything would happen in hardware eventually. The first battle on this front was the Tivoization of hardware a decade ago, leading to the creation of GPLv3. Still, this license does not cover hardware, leading to an interesting thought experiment: what would it take to build a completely open source computer? Is it even possible?

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25 Years of Hardware Manufacturing in Plovdiv

Plovdiv, Bulgaria has a long history of design and innovation going back at least 6000 years to cultures like the Thracians, Celts, and Romans. In the last decade it is also an important center for open hardware innovation — reviving the lost glory of the computer hardware industry from the former “Soviet bloc countries”. One of the companies in the region that has thrived is a 5000 square-meter microelectronics factory which you may have heard of before: Olimex.

Olimex has over 25 years of experience in designing, prototyping, and manufacturing printed circuit boards, components, and complete electronic products. Over the last decade it has evolved into a shining example of an open hardware company. We recently had the chance to visited Olimex and to meet its CEO, Tsvetan Usunov.

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Open Source Hardware Certification Announced

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.

Now, the time has come for an Open Hardware Certification. At OHSummit this weekend, the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) announced the creation of a certification process for Open Source Hardware.

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Hackaday’s Interview with Arduino CEO [Massimo Banzi]

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!

An Interview With The CEO Of MakerBot

A few days ago, we posed a question to the Hackaday community. If you could ask the CEO of MakerBot a question, what would it be?

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.

Needless to say, the readers of Hackaday responded. Not with actual questions for the MakerBot CEO, mind you, but oh how you responded. This effort by MakerBot was likened to the hail Mary thrown by Radio Shack  a few years ago. We know how that turned out.

Nevertheless, questions were collected, The MakerBot CEO was interviewed by Lady Ada, and a summary compiled. You can check that interview, originally posted on the Adafruit blog, below.

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Is The Arduino Yun Open Hardware?

According to [Squonk42], nope. And we think he’s probably right.

The Yun is an Arduino Leonardo with an Atheros AR9331 WiFi SoC built in. It’s a great idea, pairing the Arduino with a tiny WiFi router that’s capable of running OpenWRT.  But how is this no longer Open Source Hardware? Try getting an editable board layout. You can’t.

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.

Now this dude’s no slouch. He’s responsible for the most complete reverse-engineering of the TP-Link TL-WR703N pocket router, which is, not coincidentally, an Atheros AR9331-based reference design. And this is where the Arduini ran into trouble, [Squonk42] contends.

[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.

So it looks like Arduino’s hands are tied. They, or their partner Dog Hunter, either signed the NDA or downloaded the PDF of the reference design that’s floating around on the Interwebs. Either way, it’s going to be tough to publish the design files under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

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.

CircuitHub Launches Group Buy Crowdsourcing Campaigns

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. 

Who needs Kickstarter; that’s hard to beat.