Tag: source

Economics of Open Source Hardware

Open Source Software vs Open Source Hardware

In the field of open source software, a community develops new program or makes addition to an existing program. Similarly, this type of approach is also used in open source hardware. But the difference between the open source software and hardware is that the development of software is free of cost, while in case of hardware, the physical developments are not easy and require some sort of investment.

Economic Advantages

  • Open way of Product Development without Market Research: Open source hardware approach also helps to know about the customer’s needs and preferences without any market research. Consumers of specific product show their interest in a product and also indicate that what type of new product they want. For example their demands is 10 mega pixel cameras with zoom in and zoom out functions similarly Wi-Fi connectivity in a mobile etc. provides information about consumers demands and expectation about mobile devices. We have seen different innovative ideas through this channel. This type information and ideas enables companies in providing of best marketable products. This is also playing a vital role in products development. (continue reading…)

When Open Source Hardware is a Bad Idea

One of my previous post was about the advantages of open source hardware and its possible model. However, there are situations where open source hardware is not a very good idea.

  • Small companies which can not produce something in big quantities hence can not compete in price
  • You need money to run your business and do not have extra cash to put into open source hardware and have no time to wait for the community to come and help you run your business
  • The design is for a specific customer who does not want to disclose his IP (intellectual property)
  • The situation where the open source hardware can clearly be used for wrong-doing. Anything which is clearly going to hurt somebody must be discouraged
  • You have tough competition and opening up the IP will drag you out of competition

Though it is possible to keep some designs open while the other closed, companies tagged with open source usually keep all of their designs open. However, striking right balance between open and close is necessary to serve techno-society as well as keeping the customers satisfied.


Open Source Hardware Model

Open source hardware model

Open source hardware model

The open source hardware initiative is very interesting because open source, in most of the cases, means something for free as free lunch without any royalty or earning. This is especially interesting because unlike software, where one usually needs to donate time and effort only, here you need to spend considerable money to bring-up a working prototype. There are several things, however, which make this logic practical:

  • Today there is bundle of CAD tools which help to simulate hardware before going to fab. Tools like Altium have everything built-in from PCB design to FPGA design to firmware development. There are also some cheap alternatives available like Diptrace or Eagle, though with a subset of functionality. This reduces risk of repetitive prototyping and saves time and money.
  • It is possible that initial effort of design be shared to open source community and let somebody else develop the actual hardware. Like some of the designs on this website which have not been tested by building a working prototype but at least they provide a very good ground for starting a product development from something which is valuable and can save lots of time, especially, for the beginners like young electronic engineers.
  • The people who use the open source hardware design to build their gadget are very important because they are the ones who actually debug the hardware. These are typically called application engineers who design for service providers. Their feedback is extremely important. Feedback plays very important role which open source community uses in the improvement of a design. The feedback also helps to get new ideas popped up and hence new designs and expansion in open source base.
  • Though the hardware may be free, the components like ICs, capacitors, inductors are never free. The people who manufacture these parts must support the open source hardware initiatives. Infact many companies like Coocox, Adafruit, Sparkfun and alike work on the very same idea. Look at the success of Beagle board; it could not have been possible without the support of TI and Digikey. After all who spent probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring down the price of Beagle board with so many hefty features? Coocox site tries to depict the actual open source cycle which is a win-win situation for everyone, the chip manufactures, the open source hardware developer, the hobbyist or application engineer, the solution provider company that hires this application engineer and, not to forget, the consumer or end-user.

Why not the application engineer designs directly from the reference design of chip manufacturer? Basically this is what widely happens and it is happening right from the beginning. But open source hardware has some advantages which this conventional model does not offer. Like the product standardization is lot easier and natural as lots of people use the same design or the derived ones from the same hardware. The end product is more likely to bug free as larger number of people build and test and report the bugs. The end product design life-cycle drastically reduces as the application engineer utilizes pre-tested open source hardware components. The hobbyists and young engineers just entering this field greatly benefit by having lots of free stuff available to play with. And sky is the limit.


PIC32MX1 Breakout Board

PIC32MX1 Breakout Board

PIC32MX1 and PIC32MX2 are the families of microcontrollers recently introduced by Microchip. These are the cropped down members of PIC32MX3/4/5/6/7 MCUs with lesser power (40MIPS) and lower number of pins. The chips host the same M4K core but with smaller program and data memories.
This all free, open source, very small (1.5″x2.0″) and simple board is an attempt to introduce a ready to use board for easy prototyping. It has a small SOIC-28 PIC32MX1 MCU. SOIC-28 is chosen because it’s easier to solder. The breakout pins can be soldered with standard 0.1″ male/female header to be easily used with veroboard or breadboard. Diptrace source files, a schematic in PDF format and Gerbers are there to download.

PIC32MX1 Breakout Board          PIC32MX1 Breakout Board

Download Files:



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