[Discuss] Misuse of "Open Hardware" term?

Matt Maier blueback09 at gmail.com
Tue Feb 24 16:06:47 UTC 2015

On Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 4:01 AM, Alex J V <alex at makeystreet.com> wrote:

> Hi,
> I am new to this group. Let me know if I am writing total nonsense.
> Here is my thoughts on this matter -
> The strongest attribute of OS software is its ability to let you
> contribute back to the project. To enable others to contribute back to a
> project, a potential contributor should have access to the source, should
> be able to edit it, modify it for their own requirement, and then
> contribute back to the project.
> Here is OSHW definition - "Open source hardware is hardware whose design
> is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute,
> make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design." To check
> whether a project is open source or not, I feel the litmus test for OSHW is
> to check if it is possible for a *subset of people outside of the company
> that owns the project* to contribute/give back to the project. The subset
> of people could be defined by people who have access to special hardware,
> access to proprietary software tools/file formats etc, that is fine. But
> someone outside the company should be able to add value to the project.

Agreed, but there seems to be a trend of companies letting outsiders "add
value" in the sense that they're allowed to report bugs. Very few hardware
companies which claim to be open source actually provide the design
documents they used to build the hardware. Even when they provide a lot,
they tend to leave out crucial details that make it impossible to
independently replicate the project. They're open to some new ideas from
outsiders, but they're not open competition. That's not really a problem
with the tools as much as a problem with the mindset.

> That is what I think OS software is really good at. Anyone can copy linux
> or firefox but more importantly anyone can contribute back to it.
> Contribution is the key word.
> Ability to contribute to HW has other problems:
> 1. Proprietary EDA/CAM tools such as Eagle, Autodesk etc.
> 2. Costly hardware requirements
> 3. Effective transfer of information - Difficulty of building on top of
> someone else's work
> Possible solutions for above problems are
> 1. Kicad/Freecad
> 2. Makerspaces acting as a location where hardware requirements are split
> between participants
> 3. Github + forums + mailing lists etc
> Please point out any mistake in the argument. I would love to be
> corrected.
> *Disclosure:*
> I am co-founder of this startup called Makeystreet (www.makeystreet.com).
> Makeystreet is basically Github for hardware. We just building a layer over
> Git that make it practical for hardware development. We are just 2 guys
> couple of years out of college who totally love hardware engineering. We
> have some software background too. We find it really bad that there is a
> ton of tools for software development and not so many for hardware
> development.

Awesome! I added makeystreet to the list here
I'm working on the same goal. I'd love to find out more about the backend;
how are you structuring your data and how are you processing it.

> What we are trying to do is "What kind of technology is required to make
> large scale remote collaboration in HW possible?" We totally love Git, but
> we think just versioning files in git does not cut it for hardware. To
> enable others to build on top of your work, you need to share not just your
> source files but also your design choices, testing data, prior art, failure
> analysis etc.

Yup, that definitely seems to be a key feature. Mach 30 created
https://opendesignengine.net/ specifically to enable the forking of an
entire project (documents, wiki, forum, etc) rather than just the design
documents. That way you'd not only have the documents, but you'd also have
the discussion that went into the decisions behind them.

> To test the above mentioned hypothesis, we are doing a large enough open
> source hardware project. Being engineers first, we also love to build a
> kickass community of hardware hackers in India. We are building an open
> source electric unicycle. Hopefully this project makes that happen. Here is
> a quick video that we created to promote the project -
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iw3yAz1FCU8 . Link to the OSHW project -
> www.fireflyunicycle.com

Are y'all located in India, then? One of the things I'm really curious
about is how to deal with translating project documentation into different

> Alex
> On Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 1:20 PM, Andrew Back <andrew at carrierdetect.com>
> wrote:
>> On 19 February 2015 at 20:36, Drew Fustini <pdp7pdp7 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> > Thanks for the great discussion in this thread.  I wanted to follow up
>> > on the Linaro 96boards.org "Open Hardware" issue.  I just watched this
>> > talk from LinaroConnect and
>> > I am frustrated by the comment of Linaro CEO George Grey that it
>> > depends on what one's definition of Open Source Hardware is:
>> > http://youtu.be/e8_MatJ_VR0?t=15m30s
>> > (seek to 15min 30sec)
>> Indeed, "depends on your definition of open source hardware" — and the
>> accompanying smirk adds insult to injury. I also suspect that there
>> would be many who might take offence at the suggestion of the limited
>> capabilities of the "hobbyist with the toaster oven", and he seems to
>> be willfully ignoring the fact that there are numerous more advanced
>> designs out there too, with many layer boards, reasonably powerful
>> 32-bit SoCs, FPGAs and RF etc.
>> That said, it's good to see that the 96boards homepage has been
>> updated, but the term open hardware is still used elsewhere.
>> Regards,
>> Andrew
>> --
>> Andrew Back
>> http://carrierdetect.com
>> _______________________________________________
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> --
> Alex J V
> @alexjv89
> www.makeystreet.com/maker/alex
> Find modular open source hardware for your project @ makeystreet.com
> in.linkedin.com/in/alexjv/
> +91- 886 105 3989(India)
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