Open Design. It Is The Way.

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.

Nest thermostat rooted by [cj]
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.


55 thoughts on “Open Design. It Is The Way.

  1. There’s an important practical element to openness requirements just within the realm of the contest and the site: it’s hard to tell exactly how impressive something is if you’re legally limited in how closely you can look at it. HaD is all about sharing stories of cleverness with a group and engaging in a dialog about cleverness (what the community considers suitably clever is considered a hack, etc.); the higher the stakes, the more important it is that the community be able to adequately determine whether or not the thing in question is actually clever — otherwise, we might as well hand the prize to a professionally manufactured object making extensive use of materials and techniques only cost-effective at mass-market scales: if a light bulb company manufactures a flourescent swirl bulb it’s unimpressive, but if a guy in his basement manufactures a flourescent swirl bulb that looks and acts just like the professional one using some sand, bellows, and his toaster oven, then it’s a hack.

    1. but at the same time if the person making light bulb using a process that has commercial values *should* have his/her full rights to it whether he/she wants to patent it which opens it to public view, but protected by law or keep it as a trade secret. The problem of *uncontrolled* disclosure is that it invalidates a trade secret. In an ideal world if the judges had signed a NDA that respect a contestant’s right of ownership, that shouldn’t be an issue.

      It is only important if the rule explicitly say that all the process should be opened and documented right at the beginning as part of the condition of entering the contest. A judge that make a decision on a personal political agenda or belief outside of the written rules is biased.

  2. Thanks for your perspective. It is easy to get into the lottery mindset of ideas and products-that they either win big or are worthless. Open design is a great way to reuse something that isn’t an instant winner

  3. There should also be points in the contest for USE of open source software in the design process… because what’s an open design if it’s kept in a proprietary format? No matter how cheap the software license is, people still have to buy a new piece of software every time they want to contribute to a different project. It’s prohibitively expensive to use proprietary software for open projects, when there is capable open source software available.

    1. Hmm, I wonder about that. I noticed your comment because I was recently having a discussion on exactly this topic with someone, trying to convince me to use open-source software for designing things.

      Here’s how I look on it – I think it’s more about the actual idea and execution than the tools required to carry it out. And I’m going to use the best tools for the job, regardless of whether they themselves are open-source or not. For example, I do all my PCB design in Eagle. I’ve had people say I should switch to KiCad, but I really can’t see why. I’ve been using Eagle for over 10 years, I know ever nook and cranny of it, and it works perfectly for my purposes. I don’t see why I _should_ start using KiCad just because it’s open-source. I’m not knocking KiCad, it’s great, but it’s different and would require time to learn. I have lots of scripts which I use in Eagle and they wouldn’t work in KiCad.

      If I want to share whatever circuit I’ve designed, then I provide a schematic, BOM, and board layout (and Gerbers as well). That’s full disclosure, and would let anyone make the product. I admit that they would have to then re-draw it from scratch in order to make any modifications, but anyone who’s going to be modifying it is probably capable of that anyway.

      Similarly with CAD design. I use Rhino3D which I find absolutely fan-friggin-tastic. It’s expensive (fortunately I got a student license years ago and I’m still using it), but does the job very well. I’ve tried some open-source CAD programs and they just don’t compare – either because they lack features that Rhino has, or the functionality isn’t as clear-cut. Again, if I want to share anything from Rhino, then I’ll export as either a DXF or PDF which pretty much anything else can open and edit.

      I used to feel a little bad when I was writing about projects I’d made 3-4 years ago which involved the use of a laser cutter, and sometimes wondered how they could be made if you didn’t have a laser cutter. However I saw no reason to cut corners or compromise just because someone else might not have a laser cutter – point is, _I_ have one and I’m going to make best use of it. That argument isn’t so relevant now since laser cutters have become much more commonplace (if not personally, then at least in hacker/makerspaces).

      Just my $0.02. (Or £0.02, rather. Or even more precisely, £0.0117)

      1. I agree with you on this. While open source software has its place, it cannot fill every niche.
        That being said, when looking for a new piece of software to fulfill a specific need, I investigate open source offerings first before considering proprietary software.

      2. I use open-source software very single day… and I agree with you.
        KiCad is a nice example, it’s simply about double the work to do the same in KiCad compared with Eagle. And eagle is semi-free (you can open all designs in the free version)

        Generally, for 2D/3D CAD, provide DXF and STEP files next to your native format, that really helps. And seems to make a lot more people happy as they can be imported by a lot of tools.

    2. It is not big deal of transcribing a schematic or a CAD drawing. Don’t expect someone to go out of their way when they hand you a design for “free”. Now if you pay them for their time, you would have some say in the matter.

      We have done that at work as our management was using our project as an experiment probably as a way to show that out sourcing would work). They specifically uses 2 groups with separated by a time zone with non-compatible CAD tools and design strategies. It was a mess to copy a 30 pages worth of non-searchable pdf schematic without cross-referenced off page nets, but that only delay us from our schedule by a few days. (We were working on 200+ pages of schematic and the CAD vendor had to extend their top end software for us.)

      Most of the “open sourced” schematics are of much lower complexity and some are drawn so badly that they need to be redraw anyways.

      If you choose to use a “free” tool, be prepare to pay for that freedom with some of your own elbow grease and you can brag about it when you release the transcribed version for everyone else. Isn’t that the DIY open source way?

      1. It’s hard enough to motivate people to contribute to open source projects. If someone has to go through the effort of translating their CAD files, 99.9% of the time, they’re going to throw the whole thing away and just design new parts themselves.

        I’m not saying that open hardware should “require” people to use open source software, but if you’re working on a project that aims toward community contribution – instead of just handing over files for people to duplicate – then you *should* be using open source software. In most circumstances, use of proprietary software will kill any contribution efforts. Even if the only costs $100, nobody is going to buy it strictly to contribute to your project.

        It’s perfectly acceptable to isolate yourself and your project with proprietary tools — but really, it loses a lot of value from an open source community perspective. My only point is that it is more *prudent* to use open source software when possible/available.

  4. It is like a cooking contest, what your personal belief (whether you are a vegan/vegetarian/meat eater etc) as a spectator or a staff really shouldn’t come into play what the contestants are doing if the rules don’t prohibit or dictate one way or the other. What is important from the cooking contest are presentation, innovation, taste, texture, techniques etc etc.

    There shouldn’t be any hidden rules for such kind of contest and it won’t be fair to contestants that are not aware of it. The judges *should* only enforce rules that are written out right at the beginning. Changing that half way is unfair.

    Now if you are running a restaurant, then how your chefs are cooking for is important, but that’s a different matter.

    1. What are you getting at? It was expressed from the very beginning of the contest that open-design projects would be preferred AND it also clearly stated that open-design would be given judging preference, not that it was a *rule* for entry

  5. I agree about having the terms of the competition as a Judging guideline rather than a hard rule.

    Perhaps instituting something aside from the skulls to give participants the opportunity to get feedback from the community about how open they are being would be helpful. I personally wish that the community would provide feedback on how open my project is, or request explanation of my design mentality as things can often be forgotten while working feverishly on a project. In my opinion open source is bi-directional, the community has every right to request specific information if it is not posted from the company. Asking for clarification on specifics of a project (From someone who is willing to be open and honest) can often be the break they need to have an honest discussion and evaluate their current decisions.

    Just my 2 cents

  6. Great article. I’ll add that openness, at least in the hardware world (and especially for folks like me that aren’t MechEs or EEs), helps inexperienced hackers get creative with highly complex designs without breaking the bank or quitting their job for a year to learn a new discipline. While a gifted software developer might be able to put together a compelling web app on their own from scratch, using microcontroller platforms to their full potential requires a fairly significant investment in that chip’s unique architecture. The fact that other people have (a) done a lot of the legwork to build drivers for various hardware subsystems (such as I2C libraries, LED pixel functions, etc) and (b) given the code away with minimal strings attached lets the basement tinkerer spend more time building wacky stuff.

    1. While that say a lot about what the beginners “developers” have to gain from open source, but it doesn’t ofter the author any benefits.

      The same *lazy* person that doesn’t bother a 20 pages section of a datasheet to understand a peripheral isn’t likely to contribute back any useful improvement to the author. It is only between developers who are willing to spend similar amount of efforts into a field would benefit each other. Everyone else just leech the design, not that there is an issue with that.

      1. That’s a good point, but I think a certain amount of the DIY community needs to be about paying it forward. When it gets down to it, every project you do won’t actually produce anything ‘new’ for the community; the best anyone can ask for is another well-documented data point suggesting that one methodology is better than another. In fact, successfully using someone’s design/code/interface/etc with minimal modifications (but plenty of attribution) helps develop standards–that helps everyone.

      2. For me I think the big benefit for the original author of an open source work is the good will that comes from that openness. I would be far more likely to buy from and trust a manufacturer that has opened their work than one that has not, purely from the point of view of security and knowledge of what is being done with my data.

        As I see it the big wins for authors, in order of effectiveness, are 1) Fostering trust and community around your company, 2) Opportunity for serendipity – you never know what will happen to your design when its out there, someone might come up with a use for your hardware that’s completely unexpected. 3) Contributions from the community in terms of bug fixes and workarounds. 4) Protection from copying, not directly, but the indirect support of your community and the trust you have fostered can be a big win against low quality clones of your hardware.

  7. I see openness as a double edged sword for hardware companies (which is what I own and operate). Some (mostly software) companies open source everything, like Red Hat.

    It works pretty well. But the cost to replicate software is almost zero.

    The cost to replicate hardware is not zero. Labor rates vary widely and sunk costs are much higher, especially if tooling or design is involved.

    The reality is that unless your company is setup to make 1 of something affordably, making 1 of something costs a lot of money due to sunk costs and the cost difference of specialized vs generalized production methods. Bugs need to be worked out, materials sourced and tested, etc. Costs are especially high if it is not being made using cheap processes like stamping or die cutting. But setting it up to be mass produced means the cost per unit will substantially drop. If a small manufacturing company spends time and money working out all the bugs and a mass manufacturer simply takes the design and optimizes it for mass production, then how does the small manufacturer compete? The mass producer can simply deliver a cheaper product by bypassing R&D and development costs because the small company already bared them.

    That said, as an innovation accelerator, I like the idea of open hardware a lot. But how do we balance the needs of small innovators, users and mass manufacturers?

    “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.”

    Like the Chinaduinos? It’s not just cheap electronics that are knocked off.

    I guess I see the advantages of open hardware but how do you make it compelling for small manufacturers? The perception (rightly or wrongly) is that when you put real effort into hardware development, the last thing you want is for it to be simply appropriated and copied and used to compete against you. Bunnie has spoken about this before and it’s worth a read.

      1. Oh, believe me, I am strongly in favor of it as well. I just need to figure out how to balance simply giving away all of my designs against the hope that people will “do the right thing” and support a community vs simply take them and compete against me on an easier for them and more expensive for me playing field. It is hard to say what I expect really but we still intend to make some inroads into the open source hardware community.

        The other complication is that unlike a compiler or unlike common computer software environments, much of our products are only able to be made on very specific machines and equipment. Some cost six figures. So your average person at home in their spare time, though their designs and ideas might be meaningful and helpful, are unlikely to be able to reproduce those designs themselves. You can’t just compile a 4000 watt laser cutter and output parts at zero cost or make design changes “for free” in hardware (although you can create virtual designs and virtually test said designs).

        One of the biggest struggles is figuring out exactly how to create an open source community that is engaged with and works with open hardware. It’s a distinct problem from open source software because of the vastly different barriers to entry and some subtle and some not so subtle differences between open source software and open source hardware.

        Surely there has to be a way to make it work though. The only example I have personally come across is the DIY drones type of arrangement. There have to be others that are working?

        1. The linkpin seems to be the cost of manufacturing which is what holds you up from open sourcing. “Its such a huge risk to my investment.”
          But to evaluate how open source could help you, hurt you, or be indifferent to you, you have to put it all together:
          1: First and foremost, is your product one that, if the price were significantly lower, a significantly higher number of people would want? Cheap China laser cutters hitting the market at 800 dollars shipped anywhere in the world is not significantly impacting the established players, because a: they have quality product and support on their side, and b: despite how awesome we hackers think a desktop laser cutter is, the vast majority of people don’t want one.
          If your product fits in such a category, then copy cats will simply not show up, or will not significantly impact your sales, since you will only loose a few ‘cheap customers’ which were likely being more trouble than they were worth to you anyway.

          2: If the cost of machinery is significantly high and they are specialized, you have little to worry about from copycats, since they too would have to invest just as much as you did in order to get up and running, and that is before they have a chance to start undercutting your prices. Stealing customers away from trusted and established suppliers is actually a hard business sell. Most businesses/people that routinely buy thousand dollar parts from known brands think very carefully about buying that half priced off brand (at least, when image is not the only thing that matters to them).
          So, you’ll have to evaluate who you think has the cajones to pony up the funds to compete with you. Are there other manufacturers with similar enough production lines that retooling to compete would be a smaller investment?

          3: I think the REAL risk for companies such as yours appears to be, is the possibility that someone will come along and copycat you, not because they have the machines in place and can steal your customers, but because they found a better / faster / significantly cheaper way to do the same thing, possibly without the expensive machinery you have. In other words, they DID innovate. They DID improve upon something. Just not the product itself.
          Solar panel manufacturing is a prime hot topic example. Its a wide open field for creative chemists and material scientists. Nearly every R&D startup has a unique spin on it. THAT is a really bad place to be as a manufacturer.

          But #3 is one area open source can be beneficial too, if you have built a community, rather than a manufacturing operation. As you say, the consumer end of your product do not have the machinery required to manufacture it, and thus are unlikely to copy it. But to suggest they cant improve upon it, your process, or the innovate upon it is limiting your prospects. Who better to know more about your products good and bad points than your everyday users? Building fanboy brand love is all about providing the basic building blocks upon which your customers improve upon the design for you, when you listen to them and encourage them to hack, mess with, break, modify and otherwise void any and all warrantees. When a customer ships back a product snapped in two, you don’t say “you must have misused it. We cant replace it.” You should say “Wholly shit I never seen that happen before! You must be awesome. Lemme get you a new one.. and here is a sticker to put on your car. By the way, how’d this happen do you think? any way we can improve it so it wont happen again? Your car has too much horsepower you say.. send me some pictures for our website of fail”

        2. I pretty much agree. Openness is a good thing, and you should strive for it wherever possible, but at the same time I think that talking about it as some sort of universal moral imperative (as many self-proclaimed evangelists seem wont to do) is premised in a significant number of tacit assumptions about others’ lives. Not everyone can afford to spend time and money doing for free and for the good of the world what would otherwise be putting food on their table. Ultimately, contributing to the open source and open hardware community falls into the top spot of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

          Sidenote: any time I come across a True Believer, a real fanatic who demands the death of proprietary hardware or software (or both) I wonder what clothes they wear and what shoes they buy. I wonder what medicine they take when they get sick, and who provides their internet service. There’s a point where “why am I responsible for the decisions of my fore-bearers” no longer cuts it.

    1. I also agree that if you put up a lot of effort into something, and you expect some return on your investment, then open design might not seem to be the best solution at least on the shorter term.
      However where I see that the open design is really a no-brainer is for a product that you build up incrementally over other open design examples that you might find out there.
      Where open design really shines is for a community as a whole to develop a better product, where each individual contributor does not end up investing too much of his time and effort, and everyone benefits from the final design. It’s really taking advantage of the power of the numbers…
      Of course the big challenge is organizing a lot of people around a big project, but Linux seems to have gotten this right (so it is not without precedent)!

    2. I do see your point, if you put a lot of work into R&D on the hardware side, how do you protect that investment?

      However, I think this overlooks one thing, how on earth do you keep your design work secret?

      I mean, these days if you produce something and start selling it, chances are a copy will pop up sooner rather than later. It doesn’t take much to reverse engineer and copy a design, so by staying closed with all your work you’re really not gaining anything. A Chinese mass market manufacturer will copy your work anyway, so why not get the bonus points, the good will, and all the other potential upsides by going open from the get go? Chances are your community will even help battle the copies if you do.

      1. I think the rule of thumb here is to assume EVERY product ever made will be copied. I mean.. all it takes is the will and a screw driver.
        If you work from the very beginning with the assumption that your products will get knocked off, then you have a much more realistic plan moving forward. Anyone who thinks they can protect their IP is fooling themselves. Even the big companies with lots of lawyer money can’t really manage it.

        ASSUME that if enough people like your product, it will be copied, and strategize around the copycats.

    3. Large companies, and small companies both have their strengths, and weaknesses. Each is successful by leveraging their strengths, and compensating for their weaknesses. Can a big corporation know all of their customers personally? Can a big company give the impression that they care about their individual customers? Perhaps not as convincingly as a smaller one can. If a small company offers a level of service that a large company cannot then a customer can justify the increased unit costs of doing business with the smaller company.

      In the end we’ll all pay whatever it costs in order to be happy.

      “The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory.” – Aldo Gucci

    4. I run some group buy stuff for light controler and related stuff and this is not an issue… Despite having the gerber files people just wont make there own run of board they would rather pay you 4-6x the cost to do it for them.

      1. Yes. There is always the money saved versus the effort spent equation to consider. Its why most electronics hobbyists still buy kits from other hobbyists rather than just thinking “there’s everything I need to DIY this thing up myself..”

    5. I have hard this argument before, and it is certainly a concern. In fact, I think it is the small to medium scale developers/manufacturers that are most affected by open source.
      But the solution lays in their very position in the ecosystem, and the nature and desireability of products they develop. Lets simplify it somewhat into three stages; products a few/some people want, products many people want, and products all people want. How does open source work in each stage and what are the pros and cons?
      I’ll start with micro, and small businesses, and business to business.
      lets say you make products for hobbyists. Development boards, or model kits, or whatever. Unlike the free cost incentive to copy software, there is very little incentive for your end customer to duplicate your hardware. It rarely costs less, and often costs more. Likewise, there is not a whole lot of incentive for someone to move in and manufacture your product at a lower cost, since your customer base is not large enough to sustain a knockoff, and they may not even be aware of your customer base. Innovate? possibly. direct knock off? unlikely.
      Case in point: There are thousands of people designing and selling their own electronics kits. Rarely do we see direct imitation without at least some alteration or attributation. I’ll bring up Mitch Altman and his TVBgone / BrainMachine products. In fact, he has the manufactured product, as well as HIS OWN KNOCKOFF of his own product, which is open sourced. These two versions directly compete with each other! Why would he do such a thing? The truth is he sells many more times the commercial product over the kits. The kits are there simply to get people interested in electronics. His commercial versions sell to an entirely different audience. But the critical point here is that in both cases, his audience is not so large that any other company feels they can jump in and make a profit.
      Your only real concern here is that you continue to invent and innovate and be ready to let go of and move on from a product once it becomes commonplace enough that there is profit in copying it.
      Now, in case you are thinking “arduino” here.. hold on….

      Lets say you move up to medium scale manufacturing. You have a product that a LOT of people want. Open source is starting to look like a liability. Arduino is actually playing in this landscape. Half the world wants them. They ship globally, are distributed by countless resellers and are cloned out the wazoo. How could you possibly survive the attack of the clones? They have the lower costs, the fly by night manufacturing.. lalala.
      Look at how Arduino did it: Arduino the company is NOT a hardware manufacturer, although that is their only billable and shippable product. In fact, they are a community builder and an ecosystem. Arduino is to the electronics prototyping market as “PC” is to the desktop computer market. Atmel is their Intel. Even if Arduino the company ceases to exist, Arduino the ecosystem will continue. Their legacy is open, supportable, expandable, and community powered from the very start.
      As a medium scale manufacturer, open sourcing should not be about shipping 1 million widgets. It is about building a community fanbase and ecosystem around using your 1 million widgets. With a demand for so many more that you can always survive charging a higher price for being ‘the original and true’ brand. Just because we can get 10 clones from china for the price of one original, does not stop us from buying originals. More likely we buy some of each.
      I would say comparing Arduino and RaspberryPi, that RPi as at a disadvantage here and is not really open source at all. While both are ‘single source’ chip suppliers, you have to ask what your prospects are for ease of assembly or even sourcing the CPU from Broadcom.

      The case for a fanbased ecosystem only increases as demand for the product increases. Compare and contrast iPhone and Android. Apple is a manufacturer of a product. Google manages an ecosystem. To be fair, Google did not come into the cell phone market as a manufacturer, so it is not entirely the same case.

      All in all, the idea of needing to protect your right to exclusive manufacturing of a product through various forms IP control/patenting is a very short sighted goal with narrow profitability in the modern market place. Think about it; the cloners are really only doing it to earn a quick buck. But they have less long term prospects in your industry than you. You improve, innovate, reinvent, and create new products. Each of which will net you new untapped gains. They can only ride your shirttails.

  8. ” I’m not saying we should keep 30-year-old hardware in use indefinitely.”

    In the context of home automation, one should keep in mind that the lifespan of the home is at least 30 years, up to 100-200 years if built correctly, so a design that becomes functionally and techically obsolete in 10 is really no-go.

    That’s the main reason why full home automation systems never caught on. When they inevitably break, it doesn’t matter if it’s open or closed source, it would still cost you exorbitantly to fix it because nobody is manufacturing the parts anymore and any custom fix will necessarily be one-off and won’t benefit from the economies of scale. You can spend months, years, and hundreds of dollars tinkering away at some hack to keep the old system going, or you could just rip the whole thing out and install regular dumb thermostats and timers for your appliances for $10 each.

    You don’t even need to go that far in time. In consumer electronics, if you buy this year’s best point & shoot camera for $250 or so, fixing it after the warranty runs out for any reasonable amount of money is practically impossible because there are no spare parts, because the whole thing was manufactured only for a year. The company only made a few spare units to cover the expected number of warranty returns and that’s that. I know I’ve tried – your best luck is to find someone with a similiar camera with some other part that is broken.

    1. That’s the main reason why full home automation systems never caught on. When they inevitably break, it doesn’t matter if it’s open or closed source, it would still cost you exorbitantly to fix it because nobody is manufacturing the parts anymore and any custom fix will necessarily be one-off and won’t benefit from the economies of scale.

      What about programmable thermostats? These are easily replaceable because the connections to the furnace/ac are predictable. If home automation used an open standard (and mfgs stuck to it) you would be able to replace nodes in a home automation system at a conceivably affordable rate.

      1. “Home automation” does fundamentally use an open standard. It’s called “AC power”. These systems basically work by turning a magnet valve (relay) or switching an electric heater on and off (another relay). There’s no fancy data transmission going on at the business end of things and that is not the issue.

        The incompatibilities come between the central computer and the sensors network, where you may have to replace one part, and given enough time you’ll probably need to replace all the parts whenever one goes because of compatibility issues. It’s like trying to keep upgrading a PC forever – it’s not that you couldn’t, but at some point you start to have to really frankenstein the thing in order to get new parts to fit, and it just isn’t worth the effort.

        So the easier option is to simply ditch the central computer and have regular thermostats in each room, and separate timers in the lawn sprinkler and the curtain puller, or AC unit etc. that don’t depend on interoperability with a network. Sure, you might have to walk up to each one to set it or check the temperature, but you can replace any unit at any time without overhauling the entire thing.

        And in the end you’re not really that interested in changing the temperature every few minutes anyways. You just set the thermostat once, and the only time you check it again is if it stops working and it gets too hot or too cold.

      2. In fact the best home “automation” systems work in a decentralized way anyhow. Heater valves open and close depending on how hot the water coming from the boiler is, and the boiler turns the burner on and off and adjusts the pump depending on how hot the return water is. The intelligence is built into the system in each and every part, and whenever you replace a part it just does what it does and the rest of the system adapts to that.

        With the centralized automation, they’re kinda trying to re-invent the wheel by shifting the control from the system to the central computer, but the computer isn’t robust in the same timescales as a building’s central heating system is. It goes for 10-20-30 years and then gives out the magic smoke or corrupts its memory, whereas the “dumb” system works for 50 years and only stops because the pipes rust.

        1. you miss the difference between a house and an apartment.

          in a house the boiler is yours the radiator is yours, and generally you’ll have a thermostat installed in a convenient location communicating wireless (or wired with older systems) that it’s cold enough to turn on the heat, or warm enough to turn off the heat.

          then individual rooms are fine tunes with thermostatic valves.

          Obviously in a complex, where the boilers and pipes aren’t yours, you rely only on thermostatic valves and the assumption that the buildings administrators will not attempt to heat the building in the summer, and remember to turn things back on in the winter.

  9. This is not related to the article but layout. Is it possible to get these posts by the editors be in the same format (i.e. 4 paragraph and then read more) as the rest of the posts? It may be the case that I am alone in this opinion but to have the rest of the page in the 4 short and then have one giant article really messes with my scrolling flow. I am not opposed to reading these posts, I am just a lot more interested in scanning what all the new posts are.

  10. There is a fundamental problem with licensing of Open Hardware. In most (almost all?) countries copyright does not apply to a physical design. It may apply to the design files itself (untested), but not to their contents. So as long as you want BSD style licensing you are fine, but copyleft will most likely not protect you against someone making a closed knock-off. You are supposed to patent it if you want protection for a design, but that is out of reach for most small countries.

    1. Can you expand on this comment? What’s your motivation to keep your best designs private? Do you ultimately commercialize them and use the revenue to support yourself/your family?

        1. I agree with you, who wants to design something, share it, and then see *unnamed hobbyist electronics companies* who reproduce open source designs start producing it in mass quantities for cheaper than you could ever hope to, make a good profit and if you’re lucky they might even credit you for designing it in agreement with the license term. You need to make a living BEFORE becoming a philanthropist, if you believe that means hoarding your designs and ideas, go for it. Share them later when you’re done with them.

  11. Wow, openness – the hornests nest that just won’t die.

    The hacker, DIY guy side of me loves the idea of open hardware and software, the thought of getting to look under the hood and see how everything works, maybe add my own tweaks and improvements, allowing others to learn from my path and expand upon it.

    The realist in me sees a bunch of fat lazy slobs who just want to ride my coat tails and let me do all the hard R&D work and take all the risks, and once I’m up and running, they swoop in, take muh baby, and sell her out for bargin bin prices and destroy my lifes work. Even if THEY improve on it, it’s MY idea!!! If they don’t its MY name!!! I have friends like that, who’ll show up just as I’m turning off the grill, eat my food, drink my drink, and then have to suddenly go when its time to do the dishes. It’s freeloading. It sucks.

    If humans were better, humans, this would all work nicely, but humans aren’t very nice. No matter what they tell you in kindergarten. Only some of us play by the rules.

    Young people love to wax on about how things SHOULD be, not how they really are, and thats where this all falls on its face.

    The economy, the U.S., the world, whatever, where ever, was never designed to share OPENLY, the ideas that make money. It’s all just a gianormous game of poker. If you show your cards, you lose. Simple as that. Pretty much everything ever invented was protected by laws, patents, trademarks, copyrights, lawyers, pitbulls, etc… because they have to be to keep the other guys from stealing your idea and putting you out of business.

    If you can change that, you are truly a god. I call B.S. however.

    We get all spirited when we look at our made in china laser cutter or our made in china 3D printer. But really, what are you making? are you mass producing anything life changing? are you making the next iphone? Honestly?

    It’s a sham, it’s a dream. You think because YOU DIY, so should the world? General Motors, Ford, Apple, etc etc etc, didn’t become who they are by sharing…. And while they might toss you dreamers a bone by doing something that seems “human” every now and then, they are just feeding a “trend”. Yes, what you are engaged in is a trend, its nothing new, you are not breaking ground, you are not doing naything new or “wordly”…

    You are riding on the coat tails of the likes of all these HUGE companies that put your family to work, gave and GIVE you – your disposible income that you spend to give yourself this feeling of “openess” and oneness with the world.

    But for a second do you consider that everything you use, everything, is made in china for cents a day by slave labor?

    We innvovate, they make it for nothing. We consume, rinse repeat.

    Thats where the open tech ravings end. You cannot compete.

    Even people you think started small in some incubator or college dorm SOLD OUT to some big money. And how open are they now?

    I love the idea, It will just never work in this world.

    1. Ah, you thought of something and now you, and only you, should get filthy rich because of it. The American Dream right? As far as i know the company behind Arduino never sold out, neither did Mitch Altman with his TV-B-gone and yet, despite countless clones and variations, they manage to survive. They may not be the next Apple, Microsoft or Google but they make a decent living and they are happy about sharing their ideas with the rest of the world.

      If you manage to create a product that is so fucking awesome that the rest of the world wants it then there will be poachers, freeloaders and all that but there will also be those that respect you and buy your product nevertheless. You are the one that knows your product, make use of that knowledge and you will be able to earn your living, others have done so.

      1. Others have chosen the Intellectual Property path and became filthy rich for doing it too. They sold their ideas to the rest of the world, which is a form of sharing too I suppose.

    2. So..
      Why are you reading HAD?
      Hope you aren’t leaching other peoples ideas, code or circuits!

      I’m being a little cheeky here.. but we all stand on the shoulders of others. A good bit of open source is about providing free learning materials, common knowledge base and reference work for others to get going quickly.

      We all started somewhere and learned from someone.. including those who repay that generous fountain of knowledge by refusing to pass it on.

      1. Well, it’s not to steal anyone elses idea. I’ve been reading for quite a long time and I’ve honestly never wanted to take a crack at making anything anyone has posted. It’s mainly for amusement for me to see how people approach problems, and mostly how the general internet public are gobsmacked and amazed at stuff I see often times as trite. Evil, I know…

        I can’t stand the posts about people hacking 1950’s era memory modules from saturn V rockets because I see that as a complete and total waste of time and brain power that could be spent on problems relevent to the current issues of the world, that obviously haven’t already been done. It’s just studying something that has already been so used and done it’s now obsolete. So what is the freaking point? I just skip those posts.

        I hate ardunio projects because its never anything new or mind blowing, if you’ve been areound mircocontrollers long enough, you’ll understand. People have been using OTHER microcontrollers to do the same exact shit for years. Oftentimes better, better scaling chip to project, better use of resources, cleaner code that they wrote from the ground up, rather than libraries that are oftentimes fraught with bugs, etc. etc. etc. I skip those too.

        Fails are good, because it’s funny seeing people do often times boneheaded things and expecting it to actually work. I can relate because we are all guilty of that. Or the “black magic” side of electronics creeps in. What I know now is A LOT different than what I thought I knew then…

        I do really like posts from people like oona and balint becasue that’s what I think the spirit of “hacking” is and I love sigint stuff.

        So being “Open” on HaD is fine, pointless to me, cause I could care less, but it’s kind of expected on here.

        In the real world however, it’s just not going to happen on a large enough scale to make a dent any time soon.

    3. you’re not alone here. Open hardware sounds like a great idea until you’re living off profits of your work, and some chinese cloner swoops in. Big dose of reality there.

      The chinese don’t give a damn about licenses, they aren’t going to submit changes, they will just grab the files and disappear, changing all branding to their own.

      There are benefits to opening parts of the designs. Like publishing schematics for parts of the product where someone might want to do some hacking.

      In a world where competitors are playing dirty you really don’t need to give them any more ammo to shoot yoursef in the foot with.

      1. I don’t get what you’re saying here..

        Two ways to interporate:

        1, I won’t share until the rest of the works shared my ideology. (I.e I’ll never share)

        2, I won’t share because [insert slightly darker race] might benefit more than the benefits given to my [slightly whiter] race. (I.e I’ll never share)

        Certainly, open source is a double edged sword but nobody [inclusiive of my project] is really truly changing the world or ripe for cloning! In the infant stages that this competition is incubating.

  12. being devils advocate, there is more to the part about your design being copied at cut throat that can affect you, the right patents are currently worth money so if you end up selling to another corp, that’s usually what they care about, user base is also important, but those loyalties can shift quickly (myspace/facebook/google/orcut/etc), most investors want to see some sort of patent as well.

    I’ve never been a fan of most open source things, since it created a whole branch of internet lawyering and arguing, i preferred the just give it away /share and enjoy models. Release ownership on it entirely, doesn’t matter where it goes. I get the whole argument about free vs pd osi. But mostly its about control and often ego. Just hack stuff and let it go, sure some people don’t want to see it used against humanity or something, but in general they’ll figure out a way around it or bury you in courtrooms.

    Makerbot seem like one of the prime candidates here, they lambasted others openly about it, then did it. time and time again we see the companies that are making money off the current hardware trends being the ones most outspoken about not ripping them off, but then they’re hard on those that don’t give it away so they can use it.

    If someone can take an open design and make it cheaper, i believe that is good. Build something newer/different that is better, innovate to keep ahead, not by restricting the gravy trains.

  13. “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.”

    For you perhaps. From a business perspective this is perhaps the biggest attempt yet to “buy” the hacker community. Supply Frame now have one of the biggest Hacker websites, and they want the biggest hacker respository. What good it will do them? it’s hard to know (quite possibly for them too), but as an advertising company, they can offer a very focused and usually difficult audiance to anyone wanting to sell to it.

    Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so, it’s in Supply Frame’s interest to grow the hacker community. But I think it should be remembered why Supply Frame is sending someone off to be an early space tourist, especially considering that the entries posted in become a commodity to be traded.

  14. This is why I am a big fan of crowdsourcing – a developer can bring their one hardware dream to reality without the need to consider future development with proprietary protocols. The more flexible and useful they make their product, the more funding they get and the suits don’t need to get involved.

  15. > I get arguments from both sides; some attest that there should be no “openness” requirement,
    I’d say that I completely disagree, it’s a competition designed to encourage open source hardware, so there MUST be a requirement else it fails to encourage it!

    >and others think we didn’t set the bar nearly high enough
    hmmm, I can sort of see where this is comping from, but… even though I’m entered I don’t want “my” work to make someone else rich…

    > I believe that 1% open is better than 0% open,
    I completely disagree, and everything you said before that sentence just backs up the point.
    to put it another way, what if Nest just released designs for their case/enclosure.

    by that measure they’d be more than 1% open, but at the same time it’d still be useless and destined for a life of landfill.

    in order to be useful to a community the open parts must be useful parts,
    example the raspberry pi isn’t 100% open (Broadcom stop that) but it’s open enough in available pin outs from the device to be useful for implementation.

    >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.

    I don’t worry about the product being sold at a cut throat rate, in fact the main drive of a project I’m working on is that existing commercial models are seemingly artificially high, so if creating an open source design that someone could distribute to people who can’t be bothered to make their own at or near cost price then I’d be happy.

    on the other hand me doing all the design work so that someone can undercut the competition by a few bucks and get rich off my work would leave me feeling sick as I continue to get up to go to my 9-5 each day.

    Essentially the most challenging part of the project I’m working on is a budgetary constraint, making something for 1/4 of a commercial list price. so if someone takes that idea and sells at 1/3rd commercial list price I’m happy, more likely it’d be sold at 3/4 or 7/8th commercial list price, which essentially means that the project goal of putting a cheap device into people’s hands fails. and someone else gets rich from my work.

    For this reason it’s tempting to find licenses that allow for “personal, nonprofit, education use. but not commercial use” but these are essentially impossible to enforce without patents. -and I don’t mind people distributing commercially.

    so instead I decided that I’d state my “aims and goals” and hope that people respect them…

    it’d be similar to having an open source medical product designed to help the 3rd world, then having Pfizer take it, rebadge it and sell it for millions to hospitals in the US as the latest greatest thing, -that your health insurance won’t cover the use of!

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