Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Open Source Hardware Design

It occurred to me after my recent post

Radio Shack and the fading era of Electronic Hobbyist Geekdom

that my title for that article implied that the age of electronic tinkering was dead or dying. Actually nothing could be further from the truth. I was referring specifically to the phase of small scale electronics construction which revolved around finding a plan in Popular Electronics and wandering over to the radio shack parts list in hand. With the rise of the internet, computers, the free and open source software movements, and the availability of parts online, there is a thriving culture not only of DIY hobbyists and small scale inventors, but also of Open Source hardware design.

Open Source Hardware

Taking its inspiration from the Free Software movement and Open Source approach which brought the world the Linux operating system, the Firefox web browser, and much of the software which powers the internet, there is a growing Open Source hardware movement. Slashdot linked to an article at singularityhub.com about a presentation at Foo Camp East by Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried from Adafruit Industries. about 13 companies with over a million dollars in revenue doing open source hardware design (this may not seem impressive until you ponder how new this movement is, and how radical a departure it is from the existing research-develop-patent model).  Adafruit is one of the companies which provides plans, parts, and kits to the Open Source hardware community. The Open Source hardware community, which encourages the download, modification, and production of plans circulated under an open source hardware license  is a very exciting development in contemporary technology, and could remake the manner in which innovation in the marketplace unfolds.

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