Last week, the New York Hall of Science played host to the Open Hardware Summit, a gathering that drew a diverse mix of people from academia, the art community, and companies ranging from startups to Texas Instruments. Open Hardware may not have had the success of its software cousin when it comes to acceptance and recognition, but there was a lot more going on in the community than I would have expected going in to the meeting, and a lot of different reasons the people present chose to go the Open Hardware route.
Over the course of the day, two basic rationales for going open became apparent. For the larger businesses, open hardware creates a business opportunity, as an open design can drive sales of their main products—even if a competitor takes a board design and runs with it, the company can still come out ahead if it means sales of related products. For smaller companies, the openness of hardware can mean sales to a community of hobbyists and hackers that’s much larger than most people realize.
Limor Fried of adafruit added two additional reasons that open hardware worked for her company despite the competition. The first was that, as a small shop, it’s been unable to keep some of its more popular products in stock at times—with the plans available, they end up with a few less dissatisfied customers. When the company’s documents help a hobbyist put something together themselves, it often creates a loyal customer.
But her closing thought was that imitation really was a form of flattery. They fact that someone felt a design was worth using really told her that her work was on the right track. “You know,” she said, “there are no Zune knockoffs for sale on Canal Street.”
This is another talk from the Center Stage @ MakerFaire New York 2010. I loved this presentation because it was clear that the guys are really passionate about their project, and because I think it’s great when technology can help improve someone’s quality of life. From the project page:
Steven lives in NYC and has duchenne muscular dystrophy. I met him through a friend and colleague in New York. Steven can move his index finger to trigger a switch that controls driving his wheelchair and other assistive technology devices. For computer access he has a reflective sticker on his baseball cap that is tracked by a infrared capturing webcam and moves the mouse cursor around the screen, his index finger ‘clicks’ the cursor. He asked Holly if there were any options for him to play the PS3 again, unfortunately at the time there were hacks but nothing for a single switch access.
In the Designing for One class Steven participated as a client, his project extended over the semester and was finished late in Spring 2009.
A shaky video (my bad) but a solid presentation. Great work John & Steven!
Let me start this off by introducing an acronym: NUSPI. It stands for No User Servicable Parts Inside.
To a large extent, Open Hardware is a reaction against NUSPI. Its ideals include the ability to open, inspect, reimplement, and modify hardware whenever, however, and for whatever reason the user wants.
Let’s spin out an extreme example of NUSPI for reference: The device is completely enclosed, and built in a way that makes opening it not only difficult, but dangerous and expensive. Opening the package will almost certainly destroy the device, and even if you can get to the functional parts inside, they’re built in a way that makes them essentially impossible to change.
You might be able to guess where I’m heading with all this…
Marcus Erlandsson has been in the semiconductor business since 1998. He started as a field programmable gate array (FPGA) and application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design consultant, a job which gave him a lot of insight into the methodologies that product companies used. “It was during this period that I realised that most of the times we try to ‘reinvent the wheel’.” His interest in open source hardware was kindled.
In 2000, he moved into the ASIC development business, and one of the key focus areas of the company he worked for was FPGA-to-ASIC and ASIC-to-ASIC conversion. “I met a lot of companies that had difficulties keeping their products alive in the market due to end-of-life issues with components. And, since component lifecycles were constantly becoming shorter, I knew that open-source hardware was a necessity to enable smooth redesign into newer hardware.” It was during this period that he identified and began to participate deeply in OpenCores, a Web community which hosts a repository of free, open source intellectual property (IP) cores including chip designs, system-on-a-chip and supplemental boards. Erlandsson’s involvement in OpenCores became so deep that it eventually became a part of ORSoC (OpenRISC System-on-Chip), an FPGA/ASIC design house that he founded with two other colleagues in 2004.
We caught up with Erlandsson on the significance of open hardware, the OpenCores journey, the business case behind it, how it is benefiting engineers worldwide, and more business and technical doubts that commonly crop up…
The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is a series of conferences designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. Presenters are leaders in their respective fields, representing industrial, academic and government communities. Leading researchers present their current work, while special sessions focus on the role of women in today’s technology fields, including computer science, information technology, research and engineering.
Case in point: ThinkGeek’s manufacturer in China is having trouble grasping the latest toy design—an “action” figure based on the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Chinese have written several times to insist that there must be some mistake with the specs—it’s simply a rectangular slab of black plastic. “We had the same problem with the USB pet rock,” Liotta says. True visionaries are rarely understood in their own time.
Please pass along my sincere thanks to Ms. Fried for her excellent keynote at the Open Hardware Summit, ironically watched on my closed as a tick’s butt Tivo.
For those of us with limited engineering talents, putting together the kits on adafruit and other places is about as close to participating as we can get but for me it’s very therapeutic – sort of like knitting. I’ve already done a couple of MintyBoosts, MiniPOV, TV-B-Gone and the MonoChron clock
I usually give them away which is my contribution to the open hardware community.
The ground is overgrown, the pavement cracked, the windows boarded up and the doors are all locked. It’s one of the most toxic sites in Suffolk County—a blighted brownfield along 25A in Shoreham—yet once held out the promise of something so revolutionary it could have changed the course of civilization. The place is not much to look at today. But it was here in 1901 that Nikola Tesla, one of the most visionary scientists the world has ever known—whose gifts to humankind include AC current, robotics, fluorescent lighting and the bladeless turbine (to name a view)—undertook what was going to be his greatest ambition, and ultimately became his greatest failure: the wireless transmission of electric power to anywhere on Earth. Power he was going to give away, literally. For free.
Here, Tesla’s creation and its secrets rot, neglected, in an abandoned lot behind a barbed-wire fence obscured by weeds, right here on Long Island. Soon, however, they may be gone forever.
“This is his last standing lab in the world,” says Assemb. Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham). “It’s not just a Long Island landmark or even a national landmark. This is a world-wide historic site because this man has contributed so much to the progress of mankind.”
By the end of this month more than a dozen soil samples will be taken from a Superfund site in Shoreham and given to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Once the tests are completed and no further signs of contamination are found, the DEC can finally clear the 16 acres for sale. The former industrial property, where photo products were manufactured from 1939 until 1987, is now zoned for 2-acre housing. The Agfa Corporation’s current asking price is $1.65 million, but it’s negotiable, the company says. What’s not negotiable is that it must be sold. Donating it to a not-for-profit group is out of the question.
For lifelong admirers of Tesla like myself, this is some very sad news. Wardenclyffe was always a sort of mythical electric temple, complete with obelisk. The prospect of using it for “housing” — such a humorless word — is discouraging. The museum idea is certainly better, but I’d prefer to see it turned into a living hacker space.
Leaf-carving is one of those art-forms that looks like something cool the wacky kids at Adafruit Industries decided to try on their laser-cutter, but is actually painstakingly hand-crafted with clever little knives. Unfortunately, most of the subject matter seems to be somewhere on the kitsch scale between sheet-cake inkjet printing and airbrush van-art.
A for Ampere – preview of the open source electronics coloring book, Ladyada’s E is for electronics! We’ll post more images and information soon, we’re exciting that this project is moving along again! We hope to have it out by the holidays.
a – amperes
b – battery / breadboard
c – capacitor
d – diode
e – electronics
f – fpga/frequency/fet
g – ground
h – hertz
i – current/infrared/inductor
j – joule
k – kelvin
l – led
m – motor/microcontroller/multimeter/mos/mosfet the cat
n – noise/npn
o – ohm/oscilloscope/opamp
p – potentiometer/pcb
q – quartz / quantum field effect transistor
r – resistor/relay
s – switch/silcon/soldering iron
t – transistor
u – ultraviolet/usb/uart
v – voltage
w – wire/watt
x – xtal
y – yagi antenna
z – zener