Session:Research into open hardware ELCE 2012

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Session Details

ELC Europe 2012
Catarina Mota





Transcribed by
Jan Engelhardt
Verified by
1 -


Good Morning. Thank you so much to the Linux Foundatino for having me here today. I am an open source hardware developer, I am a member of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) and the coacher of this year's open source hardware summit, so, surprsiginly, I will be talking about open source hardware. So, open source hardware: all the plans that are needed to reproduce […inaudible…] device are published online and are licensed that allows anyone to study, copy, modify and reproduce it. So, the successability of hardware plans along with the communities that are growing around them is […] increasing number of people of all ages and walks of life to create, hack and use this hardware.


In the last few years, open source hardware went from an obscure hobby to a thriving community built on values derived from open source software, hacker culture and craft traditions. So I believe that, to understand where we are today and the challenges we are facing as a community, we must take a step back and understand where we came from.

So, I am going to tell you a little bit, very briefly, about how it all started and how we got to where we are today. So, as you know better than anyone else, by the late 1990s, Linux and open source software had become a huge success. At that point, a few […inaudible…] realized that having access to […inaudible…] would help them write better software. But also because this program has become accustomed to open source software, we found that, we realized that, sharing plans for hardware was just as natural as sharing plans for source code.


So, open source hardware began this way. No big declaration, […] so just something people did. But by the mid-1920s […] mid-2000s […] we began seeing the emergence of what would became the world's most defining open source hardware project. I am going to tell you about a few of these. So, one of the earliest ones is SparkFun. In 2003, Nathan Seidle, who was the CEO [..] SparkFun, was very frustrated about how hard it was for him to source […] his hardware projects. So, he decided […] side business based on […] sell the remaining to his college mates. […] So, after that, SparkFun kept on growing steadily and quickly moved on to designing […] on open source electronics […]. The company now has 135 employees who design, manufacture, and ship open source hardware from their headquarters based in Boulder, Colorado.


A year after that, […] in the UK, where he is a professor, began designing a small self-replicating and highly-affordable 3D printer. A machine capable of manufacturing all the sorts of classic objects, including […] parts. He named it "RepRap" and released it as open source as well. So, with the plans available online, hobbyists around the world began building soft-replicating devices in their basements, and using them produce parts to make more machines. By the end of the decade, the RepRap was still very much alive, but progress was really slowing; this was mostly due to the fact that it was very hard to source the right parts and assemble the machine itself. So, seconds [..] in different parts of the world, decided to roll up their sleeves, simplify the design, and sell it as kits.


So, making all the parts to build a 3D printer […] in form of a kit […] would further […] the technology as far and wide as possible. But it also represented a business opportunity. So, I began counting the number of RepRap derivatives in 2009, but now there are so many — the last exhibit I went to […] got 32 original models. Just in that one room, there I basically lost count.

In subsequent years, several other projects were launched to create open source digital fabricators — that is the case of laser solders and open source laser cutters. […] which is an open-source CNC mill and […] which is another open source 3D printer. But these are just a few examples that I picked; there are many, many more.

Another very important project was Arduino. So, in 2005, a team of educators and researchers at […] Design Institute in Italy was looking for a simple microcontrolled platform to teach electronics to all their design students.


[…] with any of the options available in the market, so they decided to design their down. They named it after […], the local pub, and also released it as open source. Since then, Arduino became the building block that powers the most of the other open source hardware projects. So, […] I am going to be talking today, including RepRap, […] for the machine. And, because of the low cost, ease of use, open hardware and software and online community, Arduino has spread further and faster than any other microcontroller projects before and after that. They have sold more 300,000 boards, not including clones that […].

So, more recently, the open source ecology would [..] something called the “Global Village Construction Set”. This is an open-source, low-cost high-performance tech platform that allows for the […] due to self-replication of the 15 […] to build a sustainable civilization.


So, this is like, it is called the “Civilization Survival Kit”.

So, the project basically, this is […] hardware like […] from the small devices like Arduino, to big machines that will allow you to basically build a city, and feed yourself and your family, etc. So, what this project does, it lowers the barriers to entering, defining and manufacturing. It works as sort of like a life-sized Lego® of modular tools that can create entire economies. So, all these tools are made from separate modules that are interchangeable.

One more, well, more than one […] recent open-source hardware projects include local modders and WikiSpeed, which make open-source cars. There is also the […] which makes aerial drones, and Protei [cf.] which makes sailing drones that can be used for oil spill cleaning.


In recent years, open-source hardware also began spreading to new areas such as fashion, industrial design, smart materials and […] fuels. We now have open-source heart rate monitors, open-source neuroscience, and what you see now here, is the […] of backyard grains who, amongst other things, design a board that can be strapped to a roach and allows you to remote-control the roach (Laughter) — whicih is really fun!

On a more serious side, open-source […] are also now being used to create sugar molds for […] in blood vessels, so this is a huge advance in terms of medicine. So, by 2010, the community had grown so much that many felt it was time to formalize things a little bit more, to become more organized. So, amidst the many discussions on how to build legal protections and […] for open-source hardware, it become for me clear that it was necessary to determine the practices […] for what would be probably the very long and painful legal battles.


So, a small group of […] open-source definition the hardware. Version 0.3 of the Open Source Hardware Definition, which released in the summer of 2010 in front of […] Version 1.0 was ratified in early 2011, and that is the one we currently have in place. So, now we have a set of principles that allows us to determine what a something is could be considered open-source hardware or not.

Also, in 2010, […] organized the first Open Hardware Summit in New York City. The summit became an annual event, […] increasing number of […] from all over the world. This year, we sold out one month in advance […] the longest wait list I have ever seen, which means that the next even will need a bigger venue.


And then, the next step was the creation of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), which […] this year, so we are a non-profit organization with the goal of educating the general public about open-source hardware, including best practices. So, the result of all this is that, over the last years, open-source hardware went being this obscure practice, something that few people did, to solid […] by software developers to a bunch of […] community comprised of thousands of developers, numerous of projects and dozens of companies. So, you now have a definition, a few hardware-specific open-source licenses, such as the case of the certain OHL (Open Hardware License), which is represented here today I am sure. We have an annual summit to discuss the practice and an organization to […]. So, we are growing up, we have grown[…].


So, how does open-source hardware work? Source code is initially can be freely reproduced and distributed, so that is a no-brainer, but hardware is material. The thing is, most hardware starts at software. So, for example, electronics are distributed, are described as schematics. So, this is a digital file. Physical and mechanical properties are described as CAD designs. The components are listed in builds of materials and linked to […]. The final layers provided by step-by-step instructions and how to fabricate and assemble all the parts necessary to have a finished piece of hardware.

So, at the end of the day, this is what enables open-source hardware. The fact that it its source is [..] can be distributed and duplicated just like software. There are some norms for the production used to build these parts, for example, board layouts should be preferably distributed in a […] format which is […] standard. 3D designs are typically shared as .stl files and 2D designs as .dxf files.


So, the goal here is to use readily-available […] lower the barrier to entry, standard processes, so everyone can understand them. […] infrastructure, unrestricted content, and of course open-course design tools to maximize the ability for everyone to design […] hardware.

So, this is a work in progress. On the software side, the community is still […] on creating the equivalent of a GitHub for hardware, and are mostly looking for open-source software tools that are trivial for everyone, in every case. So, this is a debate almost as heated as the choice of text editor is for programmers, right.

So, another challenge lies in the design of […] components and materials, of course. How can you design and easily replicate anywhere in the world? How can you make materials and components […] interchangeable and flexible? These are questions we all like to address right now, and try to find solutions for. There is quite a bit of research going into that.


But naturally, the plans to make something would be meaningless if you could not materialize that design. So, this is why accessible open-source tools to make things and more tools, such as laser cutter — you can see represented [on the slide] “The Laser Saw”, which is an open-source laser cutter — and CNC […] 3D printers play such an important role in making open-source hardware possible and viable.

So, it is this combination of, on the one hand, digitalf iles with the recent accessibility of production machinery that now allows hardware […] to be shared with you as much as software does.

So, despite the similarities between open-source software and hardware in terms of how they are distributed, there are significant differences in how they are developed. Unlike many open-source software products, which are often developed by hundred, even thousands, of programmers working concurrently towards a single release, open-source hardware works […] iterations, a very different process.


So, the initial designs are typically designed by either one person or a very small group. Once released, these designs are modified and improved and others, who then release the revised files. These alterations get in turn incorporated to the original creator's design. So, each new version of the device is actually released as a stand-alone product as a derivative. So, while open-source software is collaborative, open-source hardware is iterative and derivative. But this […] can be chaotic, and, you know, it is indeed chaotic, but, open-source hardware should […] rely on this sort of natural selection process. So, the most practical and cost-efficient devices or branches of a certain device draw the most developers and users […]. You know, some [devices] are lost along the way and only the strongest survive.


So, despite the fact that this actually works, compatibility is still an issue that developers are trying to address, and there is actually a classical story that I am going to tell you that is a good example of this. So, on the original Arduino board — the original Arduino board which was released 7 years ago (2012-7=2006) — the designers made a small mistake on the spacing between two of its pins. Like that [cf. slide], there is a space there that is not supposed to be there.

So, this was caught quite soon enough, but by then, it was too late. Because, hundreds of Arduino-compatible devices had already been designed, shipped and acquired. So, correcting this small mistake would actually render all this other hardware based on it useless. So, what this means is that, this uneven space survives until now, […] on Arduino boards, even though everybody knows that it is not supposed to be there.

Another thing is that since the output of open-source hardware is a physical product, we also face challenges at optimizing open-source software, namely, when it comes to medium-to-large scale manufacturing.


We do not have ideal solutions for this yet, but already […] interesting ones in place. For example, […] fabricators we still fabricate this […] small-scale production. What you see here are all the plastic parts to make a 3D printer, which will produce just another 3D printer. So, you get the first one from a neighbor, then you make another one for yourself, and then […] on the other side. Traditional factories have all been used for large-scale manufacturing, just like in any other manufacturing business and this is even true of the factory that Arduino is produced. And then, group orders are used for medium-scale productions. And the way this works is for example how […], this is the surface.

So, what happens is, during the prototyping phase, developers usually only want two or three boards produced, because they are not yet sure it is going to work. It is just so, you see it and test it


But, traditional PCB services tend to require much larger than the […] production line. So services like […], what they do is they aggregate designs from several developers, so they put them on a single sheet, so the manufacturer accepts that, and […] 40 copies of the same board, there are 40 of— developers can get one copy of each design, so, they are four boards there, but they are not all the same board. And this is how like crowdsourcing for designs.

So, […] the community is looking for solutions to local manufacturing while still keeping production costs competetive enough. One of the world's […] solutions for this, which has not really been put to the test in a meaningful way, is distributed manufacturing, also known as crowdsource manufacturing.

So, the idea here is to take advantage of all the manufacturing options […] available, and to get boards produced in a distributed way.


Another challenge lies in the fact that open-source hardware is almost always made up of small proprietary parts, like ICs and other electronic components. So, finding ways to interface with proprietary systems is one of the big topics at the […] right now. USB, for example, which is the most common communication protocol used by open-source hardware projects is becoming particularly problematic and something that we are working on addressing right now.

So, despite […], it is already possible to see the impact of open-source hardware across the board. For example, it is being increasingly adopted by the educational institutions as a means to encourage an interest in science and technology amongst the youngest. It is very much used in academic art and design departments. It is also fueling a growing community of hardware DIY-ers, an encouraging, a […]. So, these values are all coming back, and we are getting ready for a strong leaders community.


But, it is also a […] business practice, with a few companies recording revenues of over $20 million, and many more on the $1-$5 million range. So, for the open-source hardware business models […] simply can be described as: give away the bits, and sell the atoms. So, companies published all the plans needed to reproduce their products online, and, you know, under a license that anyone can copy, use, etc., but they sell that hardware itself. And, either as a kit, or a finished product, as a finished device.

And, of course, the advantages of open-source […] to manufacturers are pretty much the same as with open-source software. Hacking customers who can customize their products […] such a development from customers, free markets which […] that customers will they you what they want, without you having to invest on studies. […] for products which expand the market, so once in the hands of the consumers, if it is open-sourced, they can just a new product that you did not think of.


[…] and then of course savings are not only on […] but also on legal expenses to defend them. […] open-source hardware companies are not selling practically selling more or even more than the propietary ones, and that is because it is still more […] for customers to buy their products than to source the parts and make it for themselves.

So, this model of “give away the bits and sell the atoms” has worked very well so far. But as the […] devices grow, you are also looking more and more towards the open-source software community in search for additional business models […].

So, we are reaching the stage where […] to change very quickly and we are looking around to more established communities for solutions for […]. So, open-source hardware is not as critical […] in its history. Maybe, open-source hardware companies expanded into consumer device markets, which, as you know, has one of the most complicated things to be done, and at the same time, with more established and traditional hardware companies starting to adopt open source.


So, the next year is going, 2013 is going to be the final year for us as we try to scale this even further. So, these are really exiciting times for us, there are uncertain times and […] very grateful to be here to day to tell about these developments, but mostly to try and learn from the Linux community how we can continue to grow and face all these challenges. Thank you very much for […]