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What is Open Source Hardware? 143

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the everyone's-favorite-buzzword dept.
ptorrone writes "In their piece 'What is open source hardware?', MAKE magazine divides up electronic hardware into layers, each of which has different document types and licensing concerns: Hardware (mechanical) diagrams, schematics & circuit diagrams, layout diagrams, core/firmware, software/API — each layer has an example provided and links to many of the open source hardware projects currently being worked on."
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What is Open Source Hardware?

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  • by CoreTech (1084765) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:20PM (#18844037)
    OpenSPARC [opensparc.net] is available from Sun Microsystems. The SPARC architecture is still highly relevant. Open source hardware projects like this are worth noting.
    • Ok, I like Sun and all, and I don't disagree with any of the points you're raising, but how much is Sun paying you to be a Sun [slashdot.org] fanboy [slashdot.org]? Perhaps I could get in on this payola action..
    • by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot.kadinNO@SPAMxoxy.net> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:03PM (#18844551) Homepage Journal
      I admit I haven't really been paying attention to SPARC recently.

      Can anyone fill me in on what its performance is like compared to x86 these days, when running Linux or Unix (Solaris)? (I don't think MS even supports Windows on non-x86 anymore, except perhaps Itanium and it's probably near-EOL anyway.)

      There seemed to be a lot of buzz about the Niagara stuff a while back, and how amazing the performance/watt was going to be, and then it seemed to evaporate. Did something happen, or was that just the fanboys moving on to something else shiny? (And is Niagara open-source/open-architecture like the more basic SPARC processors?)

      I've always been a big fan of RISC, since back in the early 90s; I think it's sad that we're fast approaching a monoculture, although there's some solace, I suppose, in the fact that with decreasing process sizes, you can now tack the x86 instruction set onto almost any real processor you want. But it certainly seemed like there were more avenues for performance being investigated back when you had IBM with Power, DEC with Alpha, Sun with SPARC, SGI with MIPS, HP with PA-RISC, and probably a bunch more that I've forgotten.
      • by dfn_deux (535506) <datsun510@@@gmail...com> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:27PM (#18844867) Homepage
        Niagara is wicked fast. It works great for highly parallelized tasks, however it only has a single FPU which makes it pretty much worthless for a lot of the things that you'd want to use a high-end server for. 24 threads and only one FPU does not make for fast ops at all tasks....

        It does have 300% more blue LEDs than the last gen sun hardware though ;)

        • by rbanffy (584143)
          I really wish the industry would give up on blue LEDs.

          They were interesting once, but not anymore. It seems everything needs one or more blue LEDs just to appear modern - my notebook has 16 blue LEDs scattered on top of it, 14 of them are lit now. It hurts the eye to work in low light conditions.

          Are the white ones so much more expensive?
          • by ncc74656 (45571) *
            I bought a 4-disk USB storage box recently. The activity LEDs are an orangey-yellow color that isn't hard on the eyes, but the power indicator is an ultra-bright blue LED that would be more at home in a flashlight. With all of the room lights and the TV off, it lights up my living room so much that I can almost read a newspaper held several feet away from it. I'm on the fence with what to do about it: stick a resistor inline to dim it, or replace it with another color. As it is, it makes the blue LEDs t
      • by thommym (1059510)
        The Niagara has 8 cores each running 4 threads but have only one combined FPU. It's doing very well as web server etc.
        The Niagara 2 will have one FPU/core so it will also do general computing at rocking speed.
        The Rock will have 16 cores...

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_processor [wikipedia.org]

        The machines based on Niagara runs Solaris 10, OpenSolaris, and Ubuntu Feisty Fawn
    • Someone should give a cheap implementation of SPARC a shot. IIRC, SPARC is very fast running C code because the way its internal registers are organized - minimizing memory hits to move stuff to and from a stack.

      With the current critical mass of free and open-source software, there is little to no need to use x86 processors - a cheap, Solaris or Linux based notebook or desktop would solve a whole lot of problems people use those x86 abominations for.

      My 166 MHz Ultra 1 still starts Firefox 2.5 faster than m
  • by mo (2873) * on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:21PM (#18844047)
    One very interesting example of open-source hardware is the Free Telephony Project [rowetel.com].
    David Rowe, the author has almost single-handedly designed an embedded computer using a blackfin processor combined with FXO/FXS (PSTN lines) chips to produce an extremely low-cost PBX running uclinux and asterisk. Recent posts indicate he's also close to producing a T1 interface as well. The amazing thing about this project is how open it all is. The cirucuit design, and layout for all of the boards are open. Also, he's committed to using only open-source software to do the design (and contributed a number of enhancements back to these projects, such as pcb [sourceforge.net]). Not to mention also developing the uclinux based distribution, astfin, as well as a number of custom modifications to asterisk itself to use some of the Blackfin's special DSP capabilities.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by flydpnkrtn (114575)
      That's good stuff... last week I was in an "Advanced VOIP" class the Army put us in (I'm active duty unfotunately), and as different concepts were gone over I kept thinking about "how proprietary all this is." Open hardware is a great concept... I'd love to not be under the same lock-in as users of that OS are.

      Anyways so basically: The proprietary Cisco CallManager talks to the Cisco router's proprietary T1 controller card, via a proprietary protocol (MGCP), and the VoIP calls to the POTS phone are done vi
    • by drowe67 (1093007)
      Hi, it's David here - I run the Free Telephony Project site.

      Thanks for the kind words mo. I would just like to clarify that it hasn't been just me alone - for example I am just a specator for the T1/E1 project & astfin projects, preferring to concentrate on the low level hardware/driver work. FYI I am also working on an open source line echo canceller (oslec) - something the telephony world really seems to need.

      Thanks,

      David
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:23PM (#18844069) Homepage Journal
    You have a fab that can crank out a motherboard to order. A web page lets you pick the features you want, and then it arrives via overnight shipping.
    If you care to sell your soul for rock 'n' roll, you can opt for the various DRM choices.
    Maybe it arrives as a bag of chips, and you solder it yourself.
    Interesting posibilities.
    • by gillbates (106458) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:45PM (#18844327) Homepage Journal

      No, you have that right now.

      Every hear of Pad2Pad.com? [pad2pad.com]

      If you can do the layout, they'll make your board for you. Yes, it is kind of expensive for hobby projects, but for a computer motherboard it's not *terribly* bad. A commercially made motherboard is still cheaper, but I guess if you want something without DRM, you're always welcome to implement it yourself.

      Now, the only problem is that implementing and debugging a computer from scratch could be a rather time consuming undertaking. But, if you've got the time, there are places who will build it for you, whatever *it* is.

      • by dfn_deux (535506)
        There are people who will build "it, whatever it is" however I think you are drastically understating the difficulty it is to get a board with the complexity that a modern motherboard requires actually made. Hobby type board manufacturers rely on the fact the most hobby electronics use 1or 2 sided boards, not 6-10 layer boards with exact specs on trace length and orientation that is needed to fit and support the huge number of very high speed components that is needed for even the most basic P4 or Athlon.
        O
      • Pad2Pad does less than they used to. The original idea of Pad2Pad was that they'd make the blank board, then assemble and solder all the parts, using anything in the Digi-Key catalog. That made it useful, especially since surface mount device soldering really needs to be done in a production environment with the right tooling.

        But they couldn't do it profitably. Now they're just another blank PC board maker, of which there are hundreds. It's been routine to send out your board design files and get boa

      • Now, the only problem is that implementing and debugging a computer from scratch could be a rather time consuming undertaking.

        But the parent was not talking about implementing and debugging a computer from scratch. He was talking about a Dell-style OEM store, but at the circuit level instead of the component level. When you visit Dell.com and customize a computer, choosing mobo, hard disk, cd burner, monitor, etc., all the troubleshooting has been done for you. You just choose options that are presented, and they assemble it for you.

        Now imagine that on a much finer-grain scale, allowing you to choose even the on-board options. Ch

        • Now imagine that on a much finer-grain scale, allowing you to choose even the on-board options. Choose a processor, a sound chipset, a wireless chipset, a video chipset, an IDE interface, and a LAN chipset. The OEM then literally builds a motherboard to exactly your specs and sends it to you.

          You can't really do this anymore because motherboard features are determined, solely, by the MCH and ICH chipsets. This is the first thing you should research when looking for a new board, once you know what can be co

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by josath (460165)
        Here are two places I've seen that have very good prices for low-quantity custom PCB's:

        http://pcbnet.com/ [pcbnet.com]
        http://www.goldphoenixpcb.biz/special_price.php [goldphoenixpcb.biz]

      • by rbanffy (584143)
        Pad2Pad is great. My only complaint is (really) that it doesn't run well under Wine.

        That's too bad. I would like to build a memory expansion for my trusty IBM z-50...
    • In a way, you can have custom hardware circuit boards made, very much in the manner that you describe, except that you have to design the circuit. Maybe not over night, but less than a week. You could probably have a reference board made. How computer board makers make their variations is by including or not including parts based on the order.

      Making custom versions of what's being mass produced in the millions is usually not advised unless you have a very good reason to do so, for high value, specialized
  • hmm... now about that open source laser lithography machine...
  • by matt me (850665) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:26PM (#18844117)

    the open source Roland 303 MIDI synth clone, the x0xb0x.
    :]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:27PM (#18844145)
    The preferred document formats don't make sense. Distributing a schematic diagram as an image (pdf, png, etc.) is like distributing a program as an object file. In both cases modifying the item is nearly impossible. Schematic diagrams should be distributed in a format which a schematic editor, such as geda, can read. This is the electronic equivalent of source code. The same thing goes for printed circuit board layouts: just the image is not sufficient.
    • Sure, you cannot edit a pdf, but what is important is the design itself rather than being able to modify it directly. An object file hides the source completely and would be the equivalent of getting a PCB.

      Still, using geda would definitely help. Shame so few people use it. Perhaps a something like a Protel to geda converter would be a GoodThing.

    • by ptorrone (638660) *
      it's a start, it's hard to really force people not to use PDFs, since it's a schematic that can be reproduced fairly easily since it's a picture with nothing "hidden" it's not the end of the world. for PCBs, .brd files are one of the formats used or images - not ideal yet (see the caveats in the article) but a start...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Unfortunately it is yet difficult to design hardware using only the GPL-ed software. Sometimes - even running of GPL-ed OS - until recently fro FPGA design I had to use Xilinx software on other OS - Linux version was much worse (I had frequently ssh to my computer after it stopped to respond to any keypresses). Now it is better, and I do not need that OS for this job anymore. But for PCB design I still need a combination of the proprietary OS with proprietary EDA software - even if I would pay at least twic
  • In theory ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    there's no limit to what you can open source. At some point, it ceases to be worthwhile. For instance, I could build the occasional part for my hot rod. In theory there's nothing to stop me from digging and smelting my own ore and really building a car from scratch. Obviously it isn't going to happen though. There are practical limits on what it's worthwhile to open source. Yes you can open source any design but if nobody builds that design then, what's the point?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I think the point is that maybe someday you might only be able to
      buy sophisticated electronic products which are full of DRM or any
      other crap (rootkits, etc) and if by that day there is no open
      source alternative (that meaning open documentation and the likes)
      with at least the most important features and no patent problems,
      nobody is going to be able to start from the scratch such a big project.
      And that would suck big time.
    • That really depends on how cheap fabrication gear is.

      If you could "design" a car out of open source CAD files, and then send the resulting file down to the local mechanic for component fabrication on a $100,000 fabricator (maybe it carves the pieces out of metal with a laser, whatever) - then building your own car would turn into a similarly complex project to building a nice RC car kit.

      The real problem is that actually having a new engine design built is damn expensive - fabrication requires a bunch of e

    • That's only true if the economic environment stays the same as it is today, especially with regards to cheap energy. The "peak oil" crowd claims that energy will get much more expensive in the future, in which case the existing economies of scale are lost and it becomes cost-effective to do more and more of the work yourself, or on a small, distributed, localized scale vs. huge and highly industrialized. Regardless of what you think of peak oil (I have serious doubts myself), it's just one of many possible
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:29PM (#18844169)
    http://www.opencores.org/ [opencores.org] has quite a few hardware designs (mostly RTL) ranging from cryptographic engines to complete processors. They were also instrumental in developing Wishbone, a completely open SOC bus architecture, akin to something like ARM's AMBA. IIRC you can also buy a pack of cd's which contain open-source or free-of-charge EDA software.

    I'm not sure if anybody's said it explicitly, but a hardware equivalent to SourceForge would be a great asset to the community, where people can share RTL, schematics, PCB and chip layouts, and so forth.
    • by hotchai (72816)
      Great site! I would love to work on some of those projects (I have the necessary HW knowledge), but the commercial tools are horrendously expensive (e.g. VCS from Synopsys) Sure, there are a few open source tools (Icarus Verilog, gEDA etc.), but they are nowhere close to the commercial tools in terms of capabilities.

      Besides, you need serious cash in order to get your chip fabricated! You have to have some big company pick up your design and fab them in volume. IIRC, some company is now selling chips (SoC

      • by mrand (147739)

        [...] Besides, you need serious cash in order to get your chip fabricated! You have to have some big company pick up your design and fab them in volume. IIRC, some company is now selling chips (SoC) based on the OR1K design ... but that is the only instance I know of a chip actually getting fabbed out of all the projects listed on OpenCores.

        Many of the opencores designs would work fine in the smallest ($10-$40) FPGA's... no ASIC required.

        Marc

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Exactly; in fact, most of the design on OpenCores are most often used on FPGAs for that reason (fabrication is expensive). For a solution to that, try http://www.mosis.com/ [mosis.com]. They combine many low-volume projecs onto MPWs (multi-project wafers) and lower the cost to the point where college VLSI design students can afford to fabricate a few of their class project. Granted, I'm not aware of a way to move from this very low-volume stage to something like production at a foundry like TMSC or UMC, there is a h
    • I'm not sure if anybody's said it explicitly, but a hardware equivalent to SourceForge would be a great asset to the community, where people can share RTL, schematics, PCB and chip layouts, and so forth.

      Try this [electronics-lab.com]

  • by Bobfrankly1 (1043848) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:34PM (#18844213)
    The schematics for the paper clip are widely available, and easily cloned, and it runs the open source uBendTo OS!
    -
    Apoligies for bad joke in advance, apoligies for bad spelling come later.
  • by Prysorra (1040518) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:39PM (#18844257)
    It will be harder to impose policeware [wikipedia.org]. Trusting your computer not to spy on you for someone else (be it criminal or not), is an equation of control. Open source hardware + open source software = nearly zero government leverage. Expect legislation concerning this if this technology takes off.
    • by sumdumass (711423)
      There is still a common layer of communications you will have to use. The police ware could be just as effective there.

      But, Open source means open access and if they have developers willing to make this for common hardware and common software, then there is someone available to make it for your open platform.

      The only ways to truly stop this is to have a private platform with both private hardware and software and not release anything to anyone. This is hardly open. But it does take the sleazy programmer out
      • The only ways to truly stop this is to have a private platform with both private hardware and software and not release anything to anyone.
        You mean like on Xbox 360? Introducing free software to some widely available computing platforms is forbidden by DMCA or foreign counterparts. The driver signing requirements in 64-bit Windows Vista OS appear to represent Microsoft's desire to take the PC platform squarely in the direction of being as closed as an Xbox.
        • by sumdumass (711423)
          Well, the Xbox360 is a console and not a general purpose computer which means when you buy it, your buying a device not a computer. But this isn't relevant to our discussion.

          I was replying to the idea of being free from policeware like what was linked to in the parent post. Legal or not, If you do open some software to go onto the Xbox360, or place the device into the public to be availible in any ways, you won't be free from police ware because the cops could just get a copy of it, adapt their software and
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Im looking for a bento box, it cant be pinku (thats japanese for pink) or any girl color. It has to be
    of 2 or more kotoba (thats japanese for 2 compartments) and has be be chibi (small) sized. And
    has to be really kawaii (cute). Also It has to be about 10-20 bux. And you have to post pics of it
    first (i want to make shure it's kawaii [cute]). And it would be nice if it came with matching
    chopstick holder (WITH chopsticks). OH! and it CANNOT have any cartoon pictures, or be made
    out of plastic. It has to be made
  • Sure, you can open source hardware, but only in a BSD-style way. Chumby is trying to share-alike their hardware design, but that doesn't work as well as GPL for software or CC Share Alike for something like a work of fiction because while a schematic or PCB can be copyrighted, the netlist implied therin cannot be protected. With dense ASICs/SoCs where most of the design complexity is on-die rather than in the connections on the PCB and the registers in the chip are freely documeted [freescale.com], reverse-engineering is
  • A good example (Score:4, Informative)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:52PM (#18844451) Journal
    Ronja [twibright.com]

    The schematics for electronics and mechanical design are available, including in enditable source form.
    • www.dashpc.com [dashwerks.com] is another example. It's a commercial product but I'm releasing the schematics, board layout files, Gerber files, etc. to the open source community.

      I may lose a couple of sales to DIYers, but I think it's good karma to give back to the community that has given me so much.

  • by gillbates (106458) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:02PM (#18844543) Homepage Journal

    I'm surrounded by engineers with the capability to produce open source computers, but...

    Nobody has the time or interest.

    Yes, I (among many) could design and implement a computer complete from the gate-level design all the way up to the compiler and operating system.

    Ironically, now that I have the knowledge, I don't have the time to work on it. It gets worse:

    • I could split it up into small projects and split the workload among several people, but none of my colleagues are interested in doing *anything* outside of work.
    • Prototyping a single board is prohibitively expensive. I could bring the cost down if I had a few people to share the cost (quantity discount), but without others interested in the project, I'm stuck footing the entire bill for the prototype.
    • It is actually cheaper to buy a computer than it is to build a new one from scratch. The BOM for a new computer at retail prices is more expensive than the finished product (which was built from wholesale-priced parts).

    If I did build my own computer, friends and family would inevitably ask, "So why did you spend $(Multiple thousands) for a computer slower than the $299 Sam's club special?", and "Isn't that just an expensive hobby? - you don't really expect people to buy a 1 GHz ARM machine, do you?" etc..

    I would like to work on open source hardware. I do have experience porting Linux to new architectures. But sadly, I think something about corporate america just takes away the passion from the discipline. Since I started programming more than 10 years ago, I have met only one person who was passionate enough about it to do it outside of work. And you know what he did? - mods for a game. Nothing really serious or interesting.

    It's not that there is a lack of talent. Rather, apathy is fatal to open source. And we need to come to terms with the fact that the overwhelming majority of those with the knowledge to do something disruptive, to use their skill to change their world for the better, choose just to go home at night and watch tv.

    They have no geek passion. They are irrelevant to the discipline. And they are exactly what Corporate America wants them to be.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hackerjoe (159094)

      They have no geek passion. They are irrelevant to the discipline. And they are exactly what Corporate America wants them to be.

      Whatever, I have geek passion, I just don't have all-consuming geek passion. My job is a perfect outlet for the geek passion -- I get to be a geek all day. Then in my off-time I can hang out with friends, listen to music, dance, cook, whatever other hobbies I'm currently pursuing.

      I'm pretty sure that if I worked in sales or management I'd have to work on electronics or write code wh

      • To complete an open-source hardware project (say, design a complete computer) yourself, you would need an all-consuming geek passion.

        But, if you work as part of a team with others, your contribution can be quite small, and the project can still have a large impact.

        The idea is that you break up a project into small enough chunks that even those who don't have much time - say, only an hour a week - can contribute to a larger, exciting project.

        For example, consider designing a computer motherboard.

    • The fact that hardware costs money to design even if you have free labor and free software is a big hurdle.

      Free software is based on the principles of freedom to change the design and the fact that it doesn't cost much money to develop or to use. Free hardware allows you to change the design, but there's still the issue of the cost of development, and even using the designs means spending money to have circuits made.

      I think designing "open" computers is silly, you cannot compete against makers that punch o
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Maybe I'm just lucky, but I'm sure it is possible to make living of the hobby not just for me.

      My little secret is that the market demand for open (and modifiable) hardware is higher than the offer. And that keeps us busy.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      Since I started programming more than 10 years ago, I have met only one person who was passionate enough about it to do it outside of work.

      Look at it from a different angle - how many people do you know who do what they do at work in their spare time? If you've been doing something for eight hours at work, it's completely natural to be sick and tired of it. I'm a consultant, and depending on the phase we're in it can be a lot of talk (workshops, meetings, design and documention) or a lot of implementation (
    • Wait until your friends retire. They'll have plenty of time for this sort of thing then.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "It's not that there is a lack of talent. Rather, apathy is fatal to open source. And we need to come to terms with the fact that the overwhelming majority of those with the knowledge to do something disruptive, to use their skill to change their world for the better, choose just to go home at night and watch tv."

      Well I have the skill and talent however my education wasn't "open-source" and therefore I spend a lot of time at work paying for it, and when I get home the last thing I want to be bothered with i
    • sparkfun [sparkfun.com] will crank out custom pcb's [batchpcb.com] for $10 setup plus $2.50 per square inch. I design and contract out PCB's for a living and can't find anyone that can beat that price. I use circuit express [circuitexpress.com] for my boards, but they cost a *lot* more (although their quality is superb.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iplayfast (166447)
      The lack of people who do this stuff for fun is frustrating. I program for a living and for fun, http://code.google.com/p/crylib/wiki/CryLib [google.com] The problem is that in order for people to be excited about working after hours as a hobby, they have to have a motive or project that really excites them. Programming for most people is a means to an end. If the end is exciting or liberating in some way (an OS kernel is a good example) then more people will join in.

      In my case I'm interested in A.I. and decided that I
  • by GuruBuckaroo (833982) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:07PM (#18844615) Homepage
    Years ago, when I was single and could afford toys, I bought a Blaupunkt Tuscon head unit - at the time (1987), it was the absolute best car stereo AM/FM/Cassette head unit you could buy. Could even receive AM Stereo from the one station in town that broadcast it. Set me back $750, and I still had to get an amp for it, since it only had line-level outputs.

    But...

    It came with a COMPLETE set of schematics, including not just block diagrams, but actual component values and chip numbers. Given that schematic, I could have build a complete new unit. I was floored. I almost wanted to try it, just to see if I could - but couldn't imagine trying to build the whole thing on breadboard with my trusty Radio-Shack soldering iron. Would have been the size of an old console record player - the kind that doubles as furniture.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sarathmenon (751376)
      I can say the same thing about my Dad's Nakamichi 600 II player, which was released in the 80s. It was amazing, expensive as hell, and had the entire circuit diagram etched in the inside case. It actually make me take electronics seriously as a kid!
    • by LaRoach (968977)
      I suspect that was less about being open and more about providing a repair shop the needed info to carry out said repairs. Companies have learned that it's better to get you to buy a new one instead of getting it repaired. If you do actually want to repair it they want you to send it back to them instead of having an independent do the work. They also discovered that they can *sell* you the schematics rather than sticking it inside the chassis. Again, more profit! That and the costs have dropped so muc
  • by Simonetta (207550) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:11PM (#18844677)
    Open source medical equipment is where the electronic designs, software, and diagnostic skills are completely and freely available to anyone who wants to build this piece of equipment for their own use. It will probably happen first in the developing world where this kind of equipment is not quite as illegal as it is sure to be in the West.

        A lot of what passes for 'advanced' medical equipment in the US is actually kludged ancient technology. It sells for absurd amounts of money because of the bizarre 'cost-is-no-object' state of the American Health Care industry. And a lot of people are beginning to be denied basic medical care because they don't have the money to pay for it.

        But a lot of medical tests could be done with inexpensive high-tech equipment that has been modified for home medical use. There may come an underground movement to build very high-tech medical equipment cheaply. Equipment that surpasses the quality of what is found in ordinary hospitals, but costs one tenth of the price. It would have no FDA certification, and would be quite illegal. No accredited doctor would use it.

          The difference between open source software and open source medical equipment would be that the medical equipment would be illegal. And the people doing the test and interpreting the results would be subject to arrest for practicing medicine without a license.

            But in many cases, the test results are just electronic data and can be analyzed by computer to give same level of professionalism as found in the hospital. An example of this would be having to pay $150 for a blood pressure test in a hospital that is identical to the test that you would get from the machine next to the door of your local grocery store.

            The US electronic medical equipment industry is in about the same place as the US automobile industry was in early 1970's. Overly restricted by trivial regulations, smug in their belief in their omnipresent power, and completely unaware that they are about to get totally blindsided by people overseas who can do the job much cheaper and much better.

          The USA lost the machine tools industry, the consumer electronics industry, most of the automobile industry, and many other industries by not paying attention to what the global consumers of these products actual need and want to buy. The US medical electronics industry is most likely being targetted now because it is showing all the same characteristics as those other industries that were dominated by American companies after World War Two.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by fcc3 (970783)
      Welcome to the OpenEEG project http://openeeg.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

      Many people are interested in what is called neurofeedback or EEG biofeedback training, a generic mental training method which makes the trainee consciously aware of the general activity in the brain. This method shows great potential for improving many mental capabilities and exploring consciousness. Other people want to do experiments with brain-computer interfaces or just want to have a look at their brain at work.

      Unfortunately, commercial EEG
      • by jd (1658)
        I've not seen much development there in the past - is it starting to pick up momentum?

        EEG seems like a good candidate for improvement - typical EEG equipment in actual use seems to me to be somewhere around the 7-bit to 8-bit mark. Accurate analog-to-digital converters (as in: good enough for multi-billion-dollar nuclear experiments, where a mistake won't kill - at least, not until the customer has run out of torture techniques to play with) run up to 24-bit. The number of supported channels is generally

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by fcc3 (970783)
          Yes, there is some development. Smd version of hardware being tested, small enough to fit on a headband and communicate to PC via bluetooth. Help is always welcome. More channels are a popular request and not far fetched, the question is whether they are needed for biofeedback. 8 bits resolution seem fine for biofeedback.
    • Yes, I'd like to see open source ultrasound. The tech ain't really all that tough, and in fact probes routinely go up for sale on eBay, which you might be able to get even if you aren't authorized. For hobbyist use only, of course. Or perhaps science fair entries-- ultrasound brain imaging of hamsters or something...
  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:31PM (#18844927)
    Check out:

    http://www.openhardwarefoundation.org/ [openhardwa...dation.org]
    http://www.opengraphics.org/ [opengraphics.org]

    A lot of people are really taking this idea of open hardware designs very seriously, especially in graphics, where we have a really hard time getting docs out of GPU vendors to write Free Software drivers. One of the commenters on this article said something about how he and his colleagues who know how to do this stuff have no interest in doing it outside of work. This isn't true for everyone. The founder and leader of the Open Graphics Project is an experienced graphics chip designer.
  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:40PM (#18845007) Homepage Journal
    Rank the following tasks in order of complexity:

    - gate-level design of a modern CPU
    - gate-level design of a modern GPU
    - gate-level design of a modern northbridge
    - gate-level design of a modern southbridge
    - gate-level design of a modern audio controller
    - gate-level design of a modern ethernet controller
    - gate-level design of a modern wifi chip
    - gate-level design of a modern usb controller
    - the linux kernel

    my understanding is that there is a lot of really, really badly made hardware out there. the software people are clever enough to reverse engineer the hardware and write drivers. Why not put a few of them to work forward engineering the hardware?

    Which peices of a modern computing system cannot run acceptably off of re-flashable firmware, or better yet, re-flashable FPGAs?

    At this point, are (some) resources better spent trying to create F/OSS reference designs for every essential component to build a fully open computer platform?

    I like the idea of being able to have a 100% open computer, where each of the components is well understood and discussed out in the open, and people aren't wasting a lot of time supporting badly made hardware. Some de-facto standardization around reference open source implementations of the hardware could be a pretty good thing.

    It's actually not stuff like the CPU that i care about.. its more like.. all of the other things that make it onto a motherboard. There's no reason to put up with noisy audio, non-functional s/pdif outputs, buggy "hardware" raid, crappy bios, etc. The only value-add in these components is when they manage to live up to their as-advertised specs reliably.
    • by Rakishi (759894)

      It's actually not stuff like the CPU that i care about.. its more like.. all of the other things that make it onto a motherboard.

      They invented this great thing called expansion cards a few decades ago, you may wish to look into them (aka: pci cards).

      It's actually not stuff like the CPU that i care about.. its more like.. all of the other things that make it onto a motherboard. There's no reason to put up with noisy audio, non-functional s/pdif outputs, buggy "hardware" raid, crappy bios, etc. The only value-add in these components is when they manage to live up to their as-advertised specs reliably.

      Then don't buy cheap components or replace the built in cheap components with pci cards. If you want quality then you need to pay for it.

      • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Monday April 23, 2007 @06:15PM (#18846501) Homepage Journal
        What was the point of your message? Do you actually think I don't know about pci cards?

        I don't think there is an issue of "cheap" or "not cheap" here.. irrespective of how much or how little you pay for a peice of PC hardware, it will tend to have some fault when used in combination with some other peice of hardware.. or it will have some quirk that makes it irritating for your particular scenario. Want your machine to S3 sleep? Hope all of your expansion cards work properly with S3. The fan on my VGA card doesn't power down in sleep modes.. only in hibernate... so I effectively can't use sleep. Now, if i scour high resolution board photos of any part i buy before buying it, i MIGHT get to learn things like that.. but whenever you do a new machine build there is always some discovery / quirkyness to uncover.. no matter how much time you spend reading reviews of hardware from other people, or how carefully you research components.

        One answer to this is "buy a mac", where the whole stack from silicon to software is owned and tested as a cohesive unit. There are some advantages to that model, and I don't see why the same model can't work, or even be better, with a mostly or completely open system.

        • by Rakishi (759894)
          So you're advocating a horribly expensive and convoluted alternative to an online hardware quirks database.

          One answer to this is "buy a mac", where the whole stack from silicon to software is owned and tested as a cohesive unit. There are some advantages to that model, and I don't see why the same model can't work, or even be better, with a mostly or completely open system.

          If you want a tested and mass produced computer then yes you can go buy a Dell, IBM, Mac and so on. You can also find what builds other people have, ask them questions and then use the one which doesn't seem to have problems (for them). You can't have the freedom (and arguably greater performance) of picking any part and the security of a cohesive "pre-built"/"tested as a whole" machine.

          It's not like

    • by evilviper (135110) on Monday April 23, 2007 @09:09PM (#18848367) Journal

      there is a lot of really, really badly made hardware out there. the software people are clever enough to reverse engineer the hardware and write drivers. Why not put a few of them to work forward engineering the hardware?

      I don't believe I can reasonably even count all the reasons why not, let alone explain them all here...

      First, I'd say economies of scale... The fewer people buy it, the more you'll have to charge, and the more you charge, the fewer people will buy one...

      Another is the pace of technology... Every time hardware changes, you have to update the design, and start building new hardware... eg. DDR to DDR2 RAM, Socket 939 to AM2, etc., etc.

      To be a real option, you're going to have to have different form factors for hardware. With motherboards that means ATX, microATX, nanoATX, and whatever else. For graphics that means PCI, AGP 2/4/8X, etc., as well as PCIe, and integrated chipsets for the purpose as well.

      Additionally, while creating drivers for undocumented hardware is quite difficult, it's still at least an order of magnitude easier to send bytes to a device and see what they do, than it is designing an efficient chip, even for something simple like sound.

      But the point that I think cuts directly to the heart of the issue is: If people were willing to standardize on a single reference platform, as dictated by an open source guru, you could just start doing that tomorrow... Name the CPU, name the motherboard, name the sound card, graphics, etc., etc. Then everyone's efforts are focused on a single set of hardware, with working drivers for that small set of hardware, etc.

      That would be using normal economic forces to your advantage, instead of trying to fight market forces, and enter the market yourself. It could make open source a valuable bloc of customers for any company who can offer reliable and documented products. The problem is, of course, that nobody is going to accept those terms. People want to use the hardware they have, and don't want to be restricted to the lowest common denominator hardware, lacking the features, specs, or the form factor they want.

      As has already been said by others, a hardware review site, which extensively tested equipment for 100% correctness, all-around quality, and open source compatibility, would be extremely valuable, and much more helpful than an over-priced reference platform.
      • by bmajik (96670)
        I understand the points you're making, but i think one thing you are overlooking can be described the following way:

        the things that would make people standardize on an open source hardware platform are the same things that would make them standardize on an open source software / app stack: absolute and complete freedom

        Linux generally isn't the technical winner at any particular task, IMO. But anyone is free to make it arbitrarily good or arbitrarily suit their purpose, and the mainstream, non-tinkering lin
        • by evilviper (135110)

          Linux generally isn't the technical winner at any particular task, IMO. But anyone is free to make it arbitrarily good or arbitrarily suit their purpose, and the mainstream, non-tinkering linux user gets something pretty good as a result.

          Why not the same for hardware?

          Because hardware isn't, and can't be made, at zero cost. Making changes is expensive. Making copies is expensive. Modifying existing designs may be more expensive than starting from scratch, anyhow.

          If Linux required a $1,000 license, how pop

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rbanffy (584143)
      If we are considering open-source hardware added to open-source software, do we really need this complexity? Most of it exists to give the newest Intel Core 2 Duo or Opteron the illusion they are really 8088s inside an old IBM PC 5150 from the time they power-up to the time they reset themselves into more civilized modes. I find it very interesting my notebook still thinks it has an ISA bus somewhere within its guts.

      The fact that an x86 computer is an ugly hack should not dissuade those who want to design e
      • by bmajik (96670)
        You are exactly right. Given the relative lack of binary compatability in linux x86, there's no reason to stick with any part of the hardware that is problematic. LinuxBIOS is a great example of how elegant and performant something can be when you curtail some of its compatabiliy requirements.

        I'd welcome the sort of hardware one might see if one were to build a dedicated linux workstation.

        I'm not talking about ditching the x86 processor (necessarily). Keeping CPUs fast requires real, heavy lifting. But
        • by rbanffy (584143)
          I got your point, but I was not even talking bout this.

          I was wondering why the hell we still have a PC inside an AT inside a 386 inside a lot of other things up to a recent x86 processor.

          Do we really still need to boot PC DOS 1.0 and run Wordstar?
          • I would never buy a computer which can't disable the A20 address line through the keyboard controller! :-)
            • by rbanffy (584143)
              Argh! Thanks for reminding me what it really means to be PC compatible...

              Does a MacBook have an 8042/8742 built into them somewhere?
  • I want a computer that I can trust, and one day I might not
    be able to buy that from any of the major manufacturers.

    As long as there are designs available, and places that can
    make them, we will at least have options should the industry
    giants do something stupid.
    • by zzo38 (1092117)
      Can't you just purchase any computer and replace the operating system and BIOS with your own? (If you can't, I guess some minor companies that don't exist yet will then sell proper computer that actually works)
  • I can't wait until not just these, but also the production lines become opensource. I wait until we have open source models of mobile phones, cars, computers, airplanes, and their production lines open source as well!
  • To those of you saying "I have the skills, but why bother?" or "Why would some company bother?", I can give a halfway decent example of why "closed" hardware can kind of stink. Of course, its also an example of why "closed" hardware can kind of be nice, for the manufacturer, especially if they are also sell content for that hardware.

    I ported uClinux to the Sony PSP (check it out at http://df38.dot5hosting.com/~remember/chris/ [dot5hosting.com]. It wasn't on slashdot because they had more important stories to run, like wh [slashdot.org]
  • "dont use it to make weapons, bla bla bla"

    1 - Pansy ass. If it wasn't for those 'evil' weapons you wouldn't have the freedom to do your expirements.
    2 - You released the 'specs', so you no longer get to choose how its used. So get over yourself.

    Ya, mod me down, but that sort of 'clueless holier then now' attitude really pisses me off.
  • Okay, so the term "Open Source" gets stretched a lot these days, from "Open Source" religion [integrativ...uality.org] to "Open Source" politics [bostoncitycouncil.org]. In some places, it applies better than others. But IMHO, it is actually possible to share the "source code" by abstracting the hardware and sharing the info on-line. Think of it as a free and open inventory of hardware that anyone could access. Maybe "co-op hardware" is a better term for it. But still, the idea is that if we want to see a wider adoption of FOSS, we are going to have h
  • It was about 1981 or 82 and my friend Stephen Hayes, then IIRC a Junior at Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey, showed me assembler code he had written for the Apple ][. I had pored over Steve Wozniak's code which was distributed with my Apple ][ as well. Hayes' assembler didn't look like dot matrix printouts, he wrote and debugged it in pencil, a function to a sheet of paper. What he built that I remember:

    A Robotron arcade game clone. Was just like the real thing. I think I worked on the splash scree
  • I am building a business based on Open Source Hardware: http://www.rowetel.com/blog/?p=14 [rowetel.com]. Open hardware also has potential to help the developing world: http://www.nextbillion.net/blogs/2006/09/05/is-ope n-source-hardware-an-answer [nextbillion.net]

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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