OSHWA presents on Open Source Hardware, Washington DC Jan 2014

Some of the basics of Open Source Hardware, the landscape, history and implications are covered in the attached article, written as a collaboration between Alicia and myself.

PDF attached , text below.

(The the full journal touched on the landscape of OSHW in various sectors of tech innovation and how a shifting paradigm in entrepreneurship might affect corporations, innovators, and policy makers). Email me (gabriella.levine@gmail.com) if you’d like to read a copy.

And here are the slides from the presentation.

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“Broadening the Open Source Landscapes: Insights from OSHWA”

A. What is Open Source Hardware? Open Source Hardware is an alternative to the patent IP structure. As the communally written and accepted definition states, “Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or the hardware based on that design. The hardware’s source, ie. the design from which it is made, is available in the best format for making modifications to it. The formats can include CAD designs, electronic schematics, source code, technical drawings, and photo / video documentation. Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware. Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.” See this video for further explanation.

More fields in industry, design and technology are adopting the Open Hardware definition as part of their missions and values, broadening the landscape of source files available for use. Open-source hardware has been applied to electronics, fashion, furniture, musical instruments, bio-engineering and much more. A few specific examples follow, though there are many more open source projects and too many to list. See here for a growing list of Open Hardware projects. Arduino, a microcontroller and (Integrated Developer Environment) IDE software platform developed for hobbyists to make electronic prototypes, has expanded the world of hardware development from electrical engineers to artists, hobbyists, and even youth. Open Hardware projects range from industrial machines [open source ecology], 3d printers [RepRap], environmental disaster relief efforts [Protei, Open Relief], space programs [DIY Space Exploration, Mach30], and underwater robotics [openROV].

The Open Source Hardware Association, referred to as OSHWA, is a pending 501(c)3 non-profit to educate people about open-source hardware, collect data from the community, and voice community standards. OSHWA aims to represent the Open Hardware movement, globally.

B. INNOVATING BASED ON MODELS: Technology has always been innovated based on other people’s successes, from the discovery that the earth was round, to the invention of the telephone, steam engine, or airplane. Although patent laws were originally designed to protect inventors’ ideas and benefit the public good, today patents constrain further innovation. Open Source is founded upon the belief that the more designs and processes can be open and shared, the quicker that innovation can happen. Open source hardware generally benefits the consumer because it enables the consumer to test, alter, iterate upon the product, thereby allowing for competition within the free market.

There are many examples of successful businesses openly sharing software, such as Mozilla and Linux, but the rise of the Open Hardware trend is beginning. This growing trend is founded in the belief that sharing ideas, designs, and methodologies can bring technological innovation and manufacturing mainstream on local and global scales, making it easier to engineer new solutions to complex problems. Open Hardware projects that facilitate free sharing of documentation, source code, and CAD designs, are an approach to proliferate innovation.

C. HOW TO CREATE OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE: Open-source hardware depends on proliferating technology through sharing the documentation and source files needed to build and modify your hardware. As the open-source hardware definition explains, one must document the complete and preferable versions of the files for a design, rather than an intermediate or obfuscated version. For mechanical components and physical designs, it is the original CAD files. For circuit boards, it is the original schematic and board layout files.  The Open Hardware community has generated a list of Best Practices pertaining to documenting and sharing work related to a piece of hardware so that others can use and modify the work.

Unfortunately, a technology that attempts to be Open will often incorporate original design files for hardware that are in proprietary formats from expensive software tools because the open source equivalent software does not exist. In this case, it’s helpful and encouraged to offer versions of the design in alternative or intermediate formats that can be viewed or edited with common or free programs. For example, PDFs of circuit schematics, Gerbers for circuit board layouts, and IGES or STL files for mechanical objects. These allow people without access to expensive or proprietary software to make use of your design as best possible. However, releasing the original files as well defines the core of open-source hardware practice.

Many individuals and companies that produce open-source hardware publish their design files on their website when the product goes on sale (for example, Arduino). Others store their files in online version control systems (e.g. GitHub or Google Code), so that they are public throughout the design and development process. This is a choice that businesses or individuals make. Further, there are websites specifically designed for sharing hardware designs, like Thingiverse and Instructables.

If the inventor adheres to the open source hardware definition, then he / she may use the open hardware logo to denote to the community that their project is open and the source files are publicly available.

D. WHO PRODUCES OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE AND WHY COLLABORATION IS VITAL: The open source hardware community is made up of a diverse set of people and backgrounds. People from the open source hardware community categorize themselves as: DIY-ers, engineers, makers, hackers, artists, and activists, and often a combination of several of the previously listed items. Communities of these people participate in the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) movement, the rise of makerspaces/hackerspaces (places where like-minded people get together and invent things usually based in science, tech, and art), the Maker movement, and the open source hardware movement. Similar to the sharing ethos that occurs in makerspaces and the maker and DIY culture, the Open Source Hardware movement began as a way for people to share information and documentation for fabricating hardware. Through the proliferation of information, building up other’s code and designs, several companies and open source hardware projects have branched from other open source hardware projects, thus being the result of knowledge and skillshare that happens in collaborative work facilities.

In 2012 a survey was conducted by OSHWA to collect data about the community. The full results can be found on our website. Another survey is currently ongoing for 2013. The 2012 survey had 2000 participants, although this is not representative of all the people in the open source hardware community. The 2012 survey found that 44% of the participants were using open source hardware for their jobs/careers. Only 14% of participants reported that none of their income comes from building open source hardware, while 86% of participants make some or all of their income from open source hardware. 52% reported living in the USA, though this number could be high as the survey was in English, and US-centric despite our best efforts to outreach beyond USA.

E. WHY GO OPEN? Patents were created to incentivize inventors and spur innovation in exchange for 20 years of exclusive rights in the form of a monopoly. The patentee has to disclose how their innovation was created to the public. In today’s patent system, money made from patents is going to lawyers rather than the inventor, and a twenty year monopoly is not a realistic timeframe for the pace of technology innovation in the digital era. The barriers and frustrations that the patent system has created is veering inventors to adopt a new alternative to patents: open source hardware. It is vastly easier to innovate on a technology which is open and the source files are publicly available, at no cost. Open source hardware creates products not driven by building monopolies but driven by capitalistic pursuits and technological innovation in an open environment. This type of sharing information leads to powerful opportunities for companies and individuals to learn from each other.

To further illustrate these ideals, Nathan Seidle, former board member of OSHWA and open hardware business owner of SparkFun Electronics, was invited to testify to the House Subcommittee on the IP Reform happening in congress6. He uses open source hardware rather than patents because his products are innovated within weeks, rather than years. His products also get copied and reproduced by consumers and users. Patented works also get copied, but Seidle reports that is more lucrative to out-innovate a copied product rather than litigate.

Rather than esteeming the value of intellectual property, open source hardware companies value a large community using, sharing and making daughter products or derivative products, working towards a common goal of bettering the world of electronics and prototyping tools.

 Individuals and companies value open source hardware to make it more accessible and attainable by a broader audience. Additionally, open source hardware piggybacks off the DIY movement by valuing giving others the design files to “build it themselves and fix it when it is broken”.  A third reason people find it beneficial to open source hardware aligns with the DIY &  maker ethics, valuing the ability to control, alter and personalize the items which one owns. As products swing back to personalization from mass market goods, open source hardware makes personalization of goods possible. Not only does personalization benefit the consumer, but the fact that companies can build off of, curate, and improve other open source hardware products also means the consumer is getting a better product. Inventors are creating the marketplace and alternate IP system that they want to be part of.

F. Future of Open Source Hardware: OSHWA hosts the annual Open Hardware Summit. Each year this event continues to grow by a few hundred people, and the people attending and sponsoring come from bigger and bigger businesses. Open source hardware tools are now making it to mainstream market, such as an open source laser cutter (such as LaserSaur) and an open source jigsaw14. This is a new advancement in the open source hardware landscape. Along with these new advancements and growth within our community, we recognize that people want more options for their hardware, even in the niche of open source hardware. OSHWA is looking to develop a laundry label type of labeling system that would graphically represent which parts of a project were open source (for example, the mechanicals, the electronics, the process, etc.), which parts can be easily fixed if broken, which parts can be recycled, which parts have instructions for troubleshooting, etc. As Open Hardware increases the options that inventors have when releasing their technologies, we hope to grow the number innovations using open source hardware as well as continue to relay the benefits of open source hardware to the general public.

FURTHER READING:

1. http://www.oshwa.org/definition/

2. the history of oshw organizations and definitions

3. http://www.oshwa.org/sharing-best-practices/

5. Adafruit The many layers of open source hardware: definitions, licenses, challenges, and debates http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2009/03/28/open-source-hardware-overview-slides/

6.Testimony of Nathan Seidle, Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet U.S. House of Representatives: http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/113th/08012013/080113%20Testimony%20-%20Seidle.pdf

Creative Commons License
This blog post by Gabriella Levine prepared for OSHWA.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

So feel free to use any of the following info for describing or writing on Open Source Hardware. 

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