Linux-Lego man trumpets OSH revolution
Open source hardware 'ten years away'
ETech The brain behind Bug Labs' Lego-like Linux building blocks says we're on the verge of open-source hardware revolution.
"[Open Source hardware] will happen. There's nothing stopping it," Bug Labs CEO and founder Peter Semmelhack told The Reg this morning after trumpeting the biz benefits of open-source hardware during a mini-speech at Silicon Valley's Emerging Technology Conference.
Well, nothing except entrenched patent law. And a complete lack of open-source licenses for hardware. And a world that can't even agree on what open-source hardware is.
But Semmelhack argues that OSH will significantly reduce the cost and time required to bring new gadgets to market, creating a whole new breed of hardware devices. And he's sure that although today's hardware makers guard their hardware IP like their own flesh and blood, the up-and-coming generation will see things differently.
"Today, it's a cultural thing. People are so worried about hardware patent rights and nailing [the IP] so no one can steal it," Semmelhack said. "But I think there's hope with the young people, the younger generation. If you talk to someone who's been at HP for thirty years, the idea of open-source hardware is heresy.
"But if you look at someone coming out of school, someone who has an idea for a new gadget and has seen what open-source software can do, they'll be a lot more willing to accept this notion of community-based hardware innovation. They'll say 'Yeah. Shit. I'll give back.'"
Even at mature hardware operations, Semmelhack argues, the roots of revolution are showing. He points to Texas Instrument's Beagle Board laptop motherboard as the prime example, saying there are good reasons for big names to set free their IP.
"When TI open-sourced the Beagle Board, they had no immediate commercial motivation," he told us. "It's a way of seeding the market, of getting people interested in what they're doing, in their processors. And because they've tipped their hat to open source, they've created enormous good will."
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Re: Is it really open?
I'm not sure about this open source hardware stuff but no doubt the people who are interested will do better than the mobile telephone makers who spent years trying to get a standard one charger fits all interface, I believe that they have tentatively agreed to implement something within the next few years.
As to the comment.
>Hardware development is very difficult to do at home. You need a whole host of speciliased software packages for design and simulation. Then there is an appreciable cost to making prototypes.
This used to be true. When I started making hardware projects the cheapest way was to make track layouts using etch resist transfers on a copper clad board then throw it in a tray of acid. A strain on the eyes and very laborious. Today, this is almost unheard of as the transfers are all but impossible to find (Mega-UK still do them) even from major electronic components suppliers. However, the advances made are huge, it's easily within reach of anybody to design a PCB using a multitude of free software, I currently use Eagle, then develop it with a UV light box, you still need the acid tray. Also, it's already been mentioned that you can get small quanitity PCBs professionally made for a very low price. Add to this that a single, under one pound, pic microcontroller can do what what before would have taken tens to hundreds of logic chips, counters and discrete components.
Schematics for PIC programmers are available free but the price of a ready built one by microchip and a debugger hardly makes the diy route worth the effort and their free IDE is more than adequate. So no need for "speciliased software packages for design and simulation".
I've not had experience of the ATmega range but no doubt they're just as capable and easy to use as the PIC microntrollers.
As such, hardware devleopment is easily within reach of the individual. The most expensive part of most DIY projects these days is the case. Personally I don't bother with the packaging until the rest of the stuff is working.
There is plenty open source hardware out there. Look at opencores etc. The hard bit is putting all this stuff together and testing.
Software is relatively easy to make into shareable components because the intereaction between software components is relatively easy to manage.
Hardware is a lot harder to mash up. Add a GPS or WiFi module to a circuit and suddenly you have all sorts of interesting RF interference etc that need other parts of the circuit to be redesigned.
But of course it is far easier to ignore reality and just spout a whole lot of buzzwords at some conference....
Depends what you mean by "Open source hardware"
Unless you're going to fabricate your own chips, what's the difference between OSH and a marketed chip with a published specification?
"I need a chip to link two bits of kit. Shall I buy the 89 cent chip from Maplin or make my own in my multi-million pound fabrication plant?"
There's lots of OSH out there - I needed a brass bolt 4mm by 20mm and Homebase had loads.
I'm amused by the way that the example hardware engineer of the future speaks pretty much like Jeremy from Peep Show.
If anything, that's the major problem with a lot of Open Source advocacy at the moment - that it switches interchangeably between the 'good for companies as lowers costs' argument to appeal to The Man, and counter-culture ideologies to appeal to The Kids.
(And indeed, the presumption of every counter-culture has been that it represents a permanent change).
Incidentally, I'd disagree with the assertion that commercial companies are generally less likely to contribute to Open Source projects - I'd wager that the majority of work on significant open source projects (i.e. Linux, Firefox, Apache, WebKit) is being done by commercial developers rather than volunteers.
Of course there are lots of projects out there which don't get any commercial funding at all - probably the majority of projects and majority of open source developers are run by volunteers.
Sorry, SoC design started in earnest 10 years ago. The standards for on chip communication are already there. It is a drag and drop approach to new chip design. There is nothing new here.
What he is basically advocating is lots of dev boards that you put together to make a product. Guess what, your competitor will put it all in a board or chip and half the production costs. Who wins?