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Hardware Technology

A Critical Look At Open Licensing For Hardware 123

Posted by timothy
from the repeat-with-caution dept.
Glyn Moody writes "At a recent Open Hardware Camp in London, it became clear that one of the main obstacles to applying open source principles to hardware was licensing. For example, should competing big companies be allowed to use their economies of scale to make and sell cheaper products based on open hardware designs developed by small start-ups without payment? There's also the problem that hacking designs for physical objects like open source cars may have safety implications, which raises questions about liability. So what's the best way to address these issues?"
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A Critical Look At Open Licensing For Hardware

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  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:53PM (#30381564) Homepage Journal

    I don't understand why there would be security implications in having open designs for physical objects, unless those designs are pretty lousy and have faults that are only visible with the design.

    • The designs don't have to be lousy to have faults visible only in the design. The truly lousy designs have flaws visible whenever you try to use the things.
      That said, there are two ways security could be affected by open design:
      First, they said open design, not copylefted design. Someone could take an open design, change it just a little, and not list their changes. It could then be really tricky to determine whether the demonstrated flaw is in the open design or the hidden changes.
      Second, many of the
  • open design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:57PM (#30381624) Homepage

    It's an "open design" for a reason. Perhaps switch "open design" for "easy licensing options". Further, unless a big company forks the project, the originator usually has some control over the progress of the project, which means their smaller product becomes a "reference platform" with some added value even if the bigger company has a somewhat cheaper version.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Further, unless a big company forks the project

      Remember the Microsoft mantra: "Embrace, extend, extinguish."

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Doesn't work as well with hardware.

      You make a widget, and it costs you 20 bucks in material. GE likes it and it costs them 1 dollar in material.
      You wouldn't really make any money, and if it's so good people need a reference product, GE will get in house poeople to develop it.

      On the plus side, another large corporation could come along and make it to compete with GE; which drives the consumer cost down. Now it's even harder for you to compete.

      You are correct, that it's open and therefor it should be open to

      • by Hadlock (143607)

        GM doesnt make parts (except the actual chassis, and generally engines, maybe some other bits). The rest is bought from vendors, who purchase it from tier 2 suppliers. If someone came up with standard engine mount points and transmission mounting points. GM and ford have some basic "Standard" mounts, but there's no garuntee that they'll keep that standard for more than one generation. If you could standardize that sort of thing then you could buy replacement engine/transmissions for cars at cut rate costs a

  • by ground.zero.612 (1563557) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:03PM (#30381698)

    In the case of cars, I fail to see why it would create any more of a liability issue than the DIY kit cars currently available. I suspect if it can pass inspection, it can be insured. For cars at least liability lies with the drivers (barring some catastrophic equipment failure, which obviously the manufacturers would be liable for).

    So, I would assume that if there exists an appropriate ratings committee, standards, and inspectors to ensure safety (QA), liability would be a non-issue.

    • by westlake (615356)

      In the case of cars, I fail to see why it would create any more of a liability issue than the DIY kit cars currently available.

      What is a "kit car?"

      Ford was selling the engine, drive train and chassis of the Model T to custom body builders no later than 1910.

      But the dairy's new milk truck was still a "T" at heart.

      How easy is it to insure the "kit car?"

      Particularly when you are looking at the fundamentals: a natural gas or electric conversion, for example.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        What is a "kit car?"

        Refit kits (numerous VW-based examples come to mind) and complete-vehicle kits (GT40s and Shelby Cobras being the most popular I know of) both qualify. Either way, you're reusing everything but perhaps the body or chassis. Then again, some are assembled from bits and parts; the best GT40 kit I know of uses Corvette brakes.

        How easy is it to insure the "kit car?"

        Pretty easy for low mileage, occasional use. Otherwise, a PITA. In California, you get one custom auto per lifetime, which complicates the situation still further... And if the donor vehic

  • Licensing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:07PM (#30381756)

    For example, should competing big companies be allowed to use their economies of scale to make and sell cheaper products based on open hardware designs developed by small start-ups without payment?

    This is called a non-commercial license. Non-commercial licenses have had a notoriously poor market reception in the past for software (no kidding). Only successful project I remember which uses such a license is MAME. People usually hate it for that, since you cannot easily port work to/from MAME and other open-source projects easily. If you do not allow people to manufacture hardware in a commercial basis, it will be even worse, since most people do not have the resources to manufacture hardware. It is nearly as bad as having a closed design.

    'Hacking' for unlawful purposes is a problem with any design.

  • You just need to offer a free license instead. This will allow you to keep rights and to control how it is freely distributed. Only problem... don't expect people to trust the dictator. Otherwise the question is counter to open design to begin with.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:09PM (#30381776) Homepage

    Cars have been "open" by default for the majority of their existence -- they may not hand you schematics, but all the workings of the car were out in the open for any mechanic to see and generally well understood. Mechanics could replace or rebuild just about any part of the car including replacing the engine with a from-scratch rebuild, and this behavior was not only generally tolerated but often encouraged by the auto makers. It's only in relatively recent times with the advent of computer control that the ability to hide the workings of the vehicle even became possible, and even more recently that these computers were used to try to create a "proprietary" environment where you couldn't have any random mechanic fix your car (and this attempt has largely failed).

    Safety and liability are no more an issue than it was with hot rods and such back in the day. It's simple: Your vehicle, modified or no, has to comply with state and federal laws regarding road worthiness, and pass any inspections your state might have. If your car fails because of the original manufacturer's design, then it's their fault. If it fails because of a 3rd party modification, that's their fault. If it fails because of your tinkering in your garage, that's your fault. Grey areas are hammered out in the courts, like they always have been.

    • Thanks for finding a way to get in a car analogy for this story. My faith in slashdot is renewed.
    • no, they havent. (Score:4, Informative)

      by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:39PM (#30382138) Homepage
      So i want to replace the cylinders in my honda accord, what is the exact nickel content in each cylinder? what are the heat treat specifications for that cylinder? this is important, and this is proprietary knowledge given only to safety organizations like the DOT.

      another example: my M5PVL drive gear, a component of my Acura transmission, has a certain chemical makeup. I know the makeup of the M5PVL for my honda pilot, but my Acura has turbochargers (its an RDX.) if you dont have the chemical makeup of the steel, you end up with a gear that explodes under stress.

      Lastly, id like to exploit the extra space in my TL drivetrain to add motors and make a hybrid, but im worried the recall information on the cold weather start and idle fluid transfer system for the transmission is insufficient. I know the fluid doesnt transfer properly and i need to return the transmission for a different one, but I need more information about the failures so i can determine how best to plan my motor layout...this information is proprietary.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        You're right, I understated the degree to which aspects of the vehicle design are proprietary (and not just proprietary but unknown), and this isn't just from the computers.

        However my main point is that "open" cars are not a new concept whatsoever, and the legal/safety/liability ramifications are already established. You might not be able to replace the cylinder in your recent Accord, but a buddy of mine is doing exactly what I talked about and rebuilding an Alpha Romeo engine from scratch.

        So yes vehicles

      • by QuasiEvil (74356)

        The thing is, you don't need the specifications on what Honda did. You need to calculate the limits at which the part needs to perform plus safety margin and work from there. Honda engineers obviously have the advantage of exact numbers and thousands of man-years of research and testing on their specific platform, and thus can get away with a much lower safety margin (because they know *exactly* what it must do), but that doesn't stop your a decent ME from figuring out roughly the same thing.

        Car modificat

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Being able to construct something that works vs. something that's compact, inexpensive to manufacture, and reliable over the long term is the difference many times between amateurs and professionals. Often times rather than working through the calculations, it's much easier for the amateur to just way overbuild something and learn through trial and error.

          Unfortunately, overbuilding is exactly what makes things more reliable, and why "professional" stuff frequently isn't that great. Look at how rock-solid r

      • by IAR80 (598046)
        A mass spectrometer will give you the exact alloy composition of your car's cylinder or gearbox. If someone does this and makes the information publicly available then you don't even have to do it yourself.
    • I understand in the UK that there's a specific inspection routine that custom vehicles can go through. This guy made a supermarket ride for children into a road-legal car and had it approved via that process IIRC: http://www.egmcartech.com/2009/05/14/man-builds-worlds-smallest-street-legal-car-gets-70-mpg/ [egmcartech.com]

      That's the normal way of getting road legality for an unusual vehicle. There might be a less conventional method: I once read that there is a nuclear-powered car somewhere in the UK which, for some bizar

      • I remember a TV series called "scrappy races", it was a scrapheap challenge offshoot. The teams had to each produce a base rig on a fairly low budget (couple of thousand pounds IIRC) then they had to take the base rig to various scrapheaps and modify it for varionsu challanges.

        Anyway the base rigs had to be road legal ;). Different teams took different approaches to this. Some bit the bullet and went through the SVA (not an easy test to pass). Some kept the modifications to the original vehicles small enoug

    • It's only in relatively recent times with the advent of computer control that the ability to hide the workings of the vehicle even became possible, and even more recently that these computers were used to try to create a "proprietary" environment where you couldn't have any random mechanic fix your car (and this attempt has largely failed).

      With the likes of OBD / OBD-II [wikipedia.org] Any old back yard mechanic can see what ails the car (in the electronic control system). I mean, yes, usually you can only get the computer from the OEM, but you can still rebuild the engine, transmission, alternator, lower control arm, etc. And if it tells you an Oxygen sensor is faulting, you can test and replace the sensor on your own.

      With some companies, like Chrysler, you don't even need to buy a scan tool to get the codes, you can just cycle the key ON-OFF-ON-OFF-ON real

  • wrong question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:10PM (#30381790) Journal

    For example, should competing big companies be allowed to use their economies of scale to make and sell cheaper products based on open hardware designs developed by small start-ups without payment?

    Hardware isn't special in requiring money/time to develop so why is it that this question only really gets asked when an open philosophy is applied to physical objects?

    There's also the problem that hacking designs for physical objects like open source cars may have safety implications

    No not really, any liability would presumably be on the one that took the blueprints and actually build the device. After all, it is an open deisgn that can be modified by the manufacturer of choice.

    • by odin84gk (1162545)

      Hardware isn't special in requiring money/time to develop so why is it that this question only really gets asked when an open philosophy is applied to physical objects?

      It really is a different beast. If I'm a dirt-poor college student, I can create as much open-source software as I can produce. However, I CANNOT make open source hardware.

      Let me put down some numbers. If I want to make a custom circuit board in the US on par with the Arduino, it will cost me around $100 for one board. ($60 if I use a Chinese vendor and a group purchase system such as BatchPCB). Now I have to add in the programmer for a specific chip so I can program it. That is another $50, if you are luck

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Rophuine (946411)

        I designed a bit of control hardware which I sold to a national coin machine manufacturer a few years back. I spent months wiring prototypes up, and I even had a working model running across several breadboards. I re-used the breadboards and most of the components building other bits (half the components are now in a vero-board car alarm in my mazda.) The total cost for link wire, breadboards, a good stock of components (hint: $2 'random bags' from your local component store), a multimeter, and a DIY progra

    • "Hardware isn't special in requiring money/time to develop so why is it that this question only really gets asked when an open philosophy is applied to physical objects?"

      Because it takes money to produce copies of hardware, far more than the small utility costs (power etc.) needed to copy software.
      • I can understand the GP's point, and yours too, but...

        In software, the entire saleable asset is the "blueprint". It's perfectly awesome to say "I didn't work hard enough on this to make money off of it, so here you guys go, have fun with what I tossed off in my spare time."

        In hardware, the saleable asset is the actual item. While it takes resources to produce it, the actual production is only a service. If your company turned an open source car design into a product and made off like a bandit on the prof

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      For example, should competing big companies be allowed to use their economies of scale to make and sell cheaper products based on open hardware designs developed by small start-ups without payment?

      Hardware isn't special in requiring money/time to develop so why is it that this question only really gets asked when an open philosophy is applied to physical objects?

      There's also the problem that hacking designs for physical objects like open source cars may have safety implications

      No not really, any liability would presumably be on the one that took the blueprints and actually build the device. After all, it is an open deisgn that can be modified by the manufacturer of choice.

      I agree on the 2nd point. There wont be liability for a *design*. Its the people that build it that are responsible.

      • by Rophuine (946411)

        I agree on the 2nd point. There wont be liability for a *design*. Its the people that build it that are responsible.

        And maybe not even then. Working in finance, I had it drummed into me to do two things with every decision:

        • Risk Analysis
        • MORE Risk Analysis

        As it was explained to me, if I (representing my employer, not personally) chose to buy a linux 'widget' that we dropped into our product, off a company which specialized in selling linux widgets, and it failed, costing our customers millions, the liability would pretty much go like this:

        Did the vendor specifically warrant the widget to be suitable for processing millio

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Hardware isn't special in requiring money/time to develop so why is it that this question only really gets asked when an open philosophy is applied to physical objects?

      The cost to compile software is near zero. The cost to compile hardware can be billions. If the source code for the hardware is free, that won't change the much larger compile cost. And, if you can make the source code, but not afford to compile it, then you can *never* get any value back from the final product. With a near-zero cost of
    • Hardware isn't special in requiring money/time to develop so why is it that this question only really gets asked when an open philosophy is applied to physical objects?
      The difference is in the barrier to entry.

      I can download a linux distribution which is an OS easilly comparable and some would say better than it's closed source competition. Using nothing other than my standard desktop PC and my time I can fix things that piss me off and submit patches for those to the upstream projects. Even if I don't sub

  • There's a reason they don't use homebrew Linux* with the cool-patch-of-the-day in medical and other high-risk-if-something-goes-wrong devices: liability.

    *Nothing wrong with Linux or any other open OS in medical devices, as long as the entire system has gone through all the regulatory and industry-standard quality checks first. Notice how the Microsoft Windows license says "don't use this in your nuclear reactor, if you do don't sue us if it melts down" or words to that effect. At least with Linux you cou

    • by sowth (748135) *

      Yet, in the dialysis center I go to, they use terminals running MS Windows (XP, I think), and from what I understand, the database server is MS SQL Server. I have heard plenty of conversations between techs and nurses which indicate those terminals (used for entering BP, weight, etc) constantly lose information.

      Luckily the machines probably run something embedded. Otherwise, I and many other patients would probably be dead if they used any MS software on the actual machines. Crazy.

  • by w4rl5ck (531459) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:13PM (#30381818) Homepage

    ... and hardware, here.

    1. liability - so, you say, software does not lead to "liability"? No coder is liable for the code he writes? I don't think so. Just have a look at all those "no liability" clauses. And: yes, software - even OSS - can kill people. I'm pretty sure a lot of OSS software is responsibly for deaths in many wars taking place right now. So there really is no difference between an open licensed car and some OSS software - maybe operating IN that car.

    2. cost - so, just because it's hardware, it is assumed that developing the hardware - with a big company "prospering" on it afterwords - is somehow different from software. I don't get why that is. It was never meant as "free as in beer" - there seems to be some misconception in this, yes.

    Just because you can't touch the software, the implications for the programmer writing and open-licensing an OSS program are absolutely the same for a hardware developer.

    Of course, building/prototyping hardware CAN be more expensive, but thinking of software development as "cheap" just because you can get a PC for ~$200 - yeah, well, no... not really.

    • by Klivian (850755)

      Of course, building/prototyping hardware CAN be more expensive, but thinking of software development as "cheap" just because you can get a PC for ~$200 - yeah, well, no... not really.

      You got it, building and prototyping hardware is more expensive period. Software development will always be cheaper on matching complexity levels. Even disregarding the ~$200 PC, going for a ~$1000 and adding a ~$50000 for development tools, you will still always come out ahead with SW development. Decent tools for hardware d

      • by Rophuine (946411)

        Cisco does prototype rounds. Backyard electronics uses breadboards. The applypower-debug-applypower cycle is pretty fast too, and debugging involves probing with a multimeter (try your local electronics store: crappy ones which are good enough for most projects are <$30) and moving some connections around.

        Manufactured prototypes are the equivalent of doing a full installer-build, burning to CD, and installing on a fresh machine, not compile-debug-compile.

        Working with prototypes is 'nicer', but there are

        • This works for low speed and simple devices.
          For high speed, low noise, or wide busses, breadboards don't cut it.

          And high speed in this instance is something like >20MHz, and wide busses >8 bits or so.

          You essentially can't - say - make a device that runs linux at a speed comparable to a newish mobile phone - without manufacturing a PCB, and soldering on surface mount components, often with several hundred terminals spaced at fractions of a milimeter.

          That isn't to say that you can'd do useful stuff with

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Rophuine (946411)

            Which is why open-source should work well. Test it slow-and-crappy, polish, and get to the point your risk is much lower in getting something printed. I'm not saying you can do anything on a breadboard, just that you can do lots of interesting stuff on them, and you can definitely do a lot of your preliminary debugging for all sorts of projects. This massively reduces the risk that you'll end up shelling out $100 bucks a few times over for buggy PCBs. Iteratively design and 'release'-early-and-often, iron o

          • by Zerth (26112)

            Have you never heard of FPGA? I just saw an ad on /., unfortunately the brand escapes me, for one that came with a license to a pentium class 86 compatible design and had enough gates left over for network, io and a LED controller for less than $300.

            Do your revs on that, then print to copper when you're done.

            • prototyping in FPGA is sort-of-like 'write your program in visual basic, and test it, and it will work just fine when you recode it in highly optimised assembler'

              Yes, it can tell you that there are no fundamental logic bombs in your implementation concept, but it often doesn't really help.

              FPGA design is basically a completely seperate field from 'normal' design - many of the issues with normal design don't actually apply to FPGA, and vice versa.

              The FPGA chip designers and compiler writers have done much of

    • Regarding 1:
      who gets sued when a design flaw is found, or a component referenced in the design doesn't hold up over the lifetime and a person dies. I don't have a feeling for how much OSS software is currently in that situation, but both would fall under this same issue, but it is something that hasn't really been explored. Is the project creator, the manufacturer, the guy who made a tweak that was accepted to the project the one at fault?

      Regarding 2:
      Cost - the issue is in production (not development).
    • by ihavnoid (749312)

      I agree that liability isn't a problem (you use it, you are responsible), but cost certainly is a problem.

      The bare minimum to develop open-source hardware (assuming you want something with flashing LEDs, not simulation) is 1) a cheap FPGA board, and 2) a FPGA development tool. To do anything decent, you need to spend a couple of hundred of dollars for the board, but fortunately the tool comes free ('web edition'). This may be enough for developing something moderately complex - say a digital audio player.

  • Popular Mechanics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by argent (18001) <peter@NOsPam.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:16PM (#30381862) Homepage Journal

    I don't think "open source hardware" is really that much like "open source software" unless you've got matter duplicators (like in Ralph Williams' story "Business as Usual, During Alterations"). It's more like publishing plans in Popular Mechanics or Howto books.

    • Gratuitous self link time! Oh boy!

      Over at http://reprap.org/ [reprap.org] we're up to version 2 (Mendel) on our diy matter duplicator-like things, and we've had Mendel make plastic parts for daughter Mendels. Not stepper machines or microcontrollers, dontchayaknow, but 'matter duplicator' is what we're aiming for.

      3D printers require a little less expertise to operate than lathes or mills, which what Popular Mechanics readers used to use to make the things in the plans, back in the day.

  • Uh... yah? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Blakey Rat (99501) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:23PM (#30381934)

    For example, should competing big companies be allowed to use their economies of scale to make and sell cheaper products based on open hardware designs developed by small start-ups without payment?

    Unless you define "open" as "not open", then the answer to this is obviously yes.

    If you want to work out some other kind of deal, then please don't call it "open-" anything, it'll just confuse matters.

    • Yup. I know that everyone around here believes that open is a perfect word that means something is perfect, but in this case it just means that the biggest and the richest can really take advantage of the littlest.
    • Exactly. If your start-up's only advantage is in the IP, don't open it up. If you open it up to help create an ecosystem for your product, then a large company getting involved should help.

      A company using open hardware or software needs to do some sort of review of the IP anyways, since they are ultimately responsible to their end customers. For open software you can fudge this a bit and fix it up later if you miss something. If a large hardware company builds millions of something blindly based on open IP

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have a related question that still boggles my mind: Why does a hardware project from a university garner so much more attention than a completely open commercial solution?
    For example, Atmel, Microchip, Cypress, and Parallax all have free compilers, cheap programers (sometimes embedded), free schematics and free layout files. However, they are not as popular as the Arduino. Why?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Grishnakh (216268)

      The Arduino uses Atmel microcontrollers. The free compilers, schematics, etc. are probably what helped Arduino get made in the first place. Arduino is just basically a prettily-packaged Atmel with everything a beginner needs to get started making stuff. Never underestimate the power of pretty packaging and hype.

      For an experienced engineer, the Arduino makes no sense at all; it's not optimized to your task (as it's a general-purpose solution) and costs too much per unit. An experienced engineer has no tr

    • by ckaminski (82854)
      No friggin' clue... considering Atmel is pretty friendly to the open source crowd...
  • The critical moment is when something is offered for sale. If I build an open design car for my own use, and it fails miserably, it's my own dumb fault. However, as soon as I sell that car to someone else, I am warranting it to be a saleable product, which carries a number of legal implications. To a greater or lesser degree, I am liable for its performance.

    The underlying problem isn't "open" or "closed" design, it's that when you sell something you're liable for it. To be willing to sell something, compani

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gujo-odori (473191)

      Not necessarily. Let's say I write a program that lets you modify parameters of your car's engine computer and go racing and release it as-is and under the GPL. Or, for even greater "as-as"-ness, give it the sort of disclaimers that would accompany proprietary software sold for the same purpose.

      So, you use my software to re-tune your engine and because of a bug it causes your mixture to go really lean at high RPMS and you burn your pistons the first time you go racing. Good luck suing me. You might try, but

  • The first "open source" hardware designs must be for the technology required to remove the necessity for money from our economy. Automated farming equipment & food processing equipment, automated machine maintenance systems, automated construction devices & construction supply manufacture, or, simply enough, replicator technology. Without concerns over the monetary aspects, licensing becomes irrelevant.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gujo-odori (473191)

      I don't think it's quite that simple. Let's assume, for instance, that all farming can be done completely by machine, better than humans can do it and with no human intervention except when the machine breaks (oops, there's a labor cost; machines are not very good at fixing other machines). There is still a company that makes those machines, and that company employs people. There's some more cost.

      Let's cut all the way to the replicator level and say we have a machine that can scan an IH combine and spit out

  • You know, generally speaking, if a big company wants to take a piece of "open source" hardware and make it cheaper, that would be a big win. If you are making open source hardware to make money making hardware, this will be bad for you. If you are making open source hardware to scratch an itch, this will be good for you. Just make sure you get the license right--you don't want them to start making the hardware, and then close it up and use their revenue stream to pay lawyers to shut you out.

    • by sowth (748135) *

      More accurately, if you are designing open source hardware because you need or want the hardware, a big company making it cheaper is a big win for you.

  • economies of scale... safety... liability... So what's the best way to address these issues?

    A Slashdot comment thread, I should think.

  • by labnet (457441) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:35PM (#30383356)

    This is a good example of where a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.
    Developing electronics used to be easy. It still can be except for one big area. Compliance.
    For us to release a product (ie distribute outside the lab), there are a raft of conformance tests a device must pass to be legally sold/used.

    EMC is one of the hardest and there are a myriad of traps for the inexperienced. eg
      - Innerlayer pre peg spacing changes on your PCB
      - Subtle changes in track layout
      - Dielectric of capacitors
      - Die shrink (ie your unit passes, but then a functionally equivilent die shunk part will make you fail because of faster switching)
      - Chassis interaction with PCB
      - Changes in cable harness layout
      - Change in brand of resonators
      - etc etc

    Depending on the product you may need to comply for
      - Emissions (all cases)
      - Susceptibility (EU, all cases)
      - Intended Emissions (for radio devices)
      - Safety (for non SELV device)
      - Mains tests (surge, dips, spikes etc)
      - ESD testing (high voltage discharges)
    Those are the main ones, but there are many more depending on end use.

    So you may have a schematic, but the implementation of that schematic into hardware requires lots of expensive testing before it can be used in the real world.

    • by zlite (199781) *

      None of this is true for non mains-powered, non-RF-emitting devices. We make open source hardware (Arduino-based autopilots--diydrones.com) in the US, and there are no such restrictions for us. Please don't generalize about electronics. Small battery-powered devices are easy to make and sell.

      • by labnet (457441)

        I'm sorry, but you are totally WRONG.
        We manufacture battery only powered devices which require mandatory testing for CE (europe) and FCC Part15 (USA) Ctick(Australia) etal.
        In fact I remember a story many years ago of a very anal person in the military insisting a light bulb circuit be tested for EMC. The design engineer said no way, what a waste of time, but the anal person inisted it be tested for emissions. Well suprise, suprise, it failed. It turned out the light bulb indeed resonated in the cavity of th

  • by queazocotal (915608) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:16PM (#30383758)

    Let's take for example the OpenMoko Freerunner.
    It's a mobile phone, with open schematics.

    How much would it cost to make one?

    It sells for $500 or so, so you might guess $250.

    But - that's somewhat different to the question of what it would take to make one.

    http://www.pcbcart.com/ [pcbcart.com] - as a reasonable priced chinese PCB service I've looked at - though not used - in the past.
    For one 50*100mm 8 layer PCB (what you need if you're going to put dense chips on both sides) - they charge $40 for 1-5 PCBs.
    But - with a $200 setup cost.

    So - $250 for the first PCB.
    Parts cost for ten thousand phones may be $150 or so.
    But - buying ones of everything, all the parts will cost you $400 very optimistically.

    Assembling and soldering this together - there are well over a hundred parts - say $100.

    So, that's $750 to get your first prototype.

    It doesn't boot.
    After a couple of weeks and several dead-ends, you find you forgot to connect a pin with a slightly ambiguous name on the datasheet that turns out not to be as unimportant as you thought.

    So, if you can't work round it - and it turns out that it's a buried high-speed node under several layers of PCB that is completely inacessible, you need a new PCB made.

    Another $750 for the whole lot again. Oh - you may try to reuse some of the parts - but all of these parts do not warranty more than one use, and with a 1% failure rate on removed parts, and the fact that a failed part may stall you for weeks - do you want to do that?

    So, you get your new PCB, populate it, and it boots and prints 'loading the lin' and crashes.

    After another weeks work, you work out that your routing of the RAM tracks has been slightly out of spec, and that unless you clock the system at under 12MHz, it doesn't work at all.

    So, you test all you can at 12MHz, and get another board done.

    After a week of wondering why this board doesn't work, you find that one component was installed backwards. Fixing that reveals...

    For example, the freerunner release candidate boards had over 7 revisions - and there are still issues with it, and this was a professionally made board made by an actual factory that does these sorts of things all the time.

    This hasn't even touched on the sourcing of parts.
    For many parts this isn't an issue.
    You can get most chips just fine from many sources online.

    Some parts and modules however - in the mass produced and phone sector - are simply unavailable unless you are willing to order 100000. You can't even get docs unless the companies think you will order. And any docs you do get will be under NDA.

    Some of these have no easy alternative. You simply can't buy a mobile phone radio chipset for example. You can buy modules - which may have a 200% price, 200% volume penalty.

    • Actually the free-runner is currently selling for $250 [openmoko.com]. So my guess would be it costs even less to make.
      • Regrettably, the software is only now getting into a sane state, and the hardware is somewhat old.
        It would not surprise me if they are dumping below production price even.

  • to let the small start ups and big companies use the old technology and see who can make a better system with it.

    The old MOS 6502 and 65816 series CPUs should be open sourced hardware so that companies can make cheap 8 bit computers based on them, or even design new computers using them in a creative way. Commodore should open source the VIC-20, Commodore 64/128, Commodore 16/Plus4. Atari should open source the 400/800/800XL.1200XL, Apple should open source the Apple // and //gs line of computers.

    The old Motorola 6800/6809 and 68K series should be open sourced so we can have old Motorola based systems recreated for a low cost. Apple should open source the 68K Macs, Atari open source the Atari ST, Radio Shack open source the COCO (Color Computer) line, Amiga open source the 68K Amiga line and let the best company reproduce the old systems.

    Intel should open source the 8088/8086, 80286, 80386, 80486, and Pentium chips and IBM and Compaq open source their old systems that used the 486 and under processors. Then we can use MS-DOS on them or FreeDOS and see who can build the better DOS based computer. OpenGEM is already open sourced DRI GEM, and I'd like to see 386MOS, Taskview, Desqview, IBM PC-DOS, DR-DOS, etc open sourced as well. I know OS/2 cannot be open sourced due to 300+ third party code IP, but OSFree is an open source project to create an open source alternative to OS/2 and IBM needs to contribute to it to develop it further.

    The AM/FM Cassette players, 8 Track Tape players, VHS Video Recorders, etc should be open sourced so that cheaper versions can be made. I know it is old tech but media for them still exists and people have a need to play and listen to their old media.

    The old cars that aren't made anymore need to be open sourced as well. The 1890 to 1950's cars should be released to open source so that people can put modern engines in them and make parts to replace those on existing cars that need repairs and upgrades. The auto companies cannot afford to upgrade them and replace parts for them anymore, so let the others deal with it.

    Someone needs to create an open source hardware plugin hybrid engine for cars, and then adapt them to any vehicle to swap out the gas powered engine for the plugin hybrid one. We need this to convert old gas guzzler cars to hybrids as cheaply as possible. If not most people won't be able to afford new Hybrids. We need to be able to take the $500 car that gets 10 MPG and convert it for under $500 to a Hybrid engine.

    • [~10x "$Company should open source $thing"]

      Cool, awesome. If I work for that company and it does open source $thing, does the money spent on paying the new people to do that work come out of my paycheck?

      Or does the community fund the necessary work? Or, failing that, what's the economic incentive for $company to do it? To increase demand for the newer products in the trillion-dollar sector of nostalgic nerds?

      It's all fine and good to say "but I want that pony!". It's even better to say "but it's good for society!". The companies are going to do

      • Because the company that open sources old technology gets goodwill from it that cannot be bought via money. That means people are more likely to buy new products from $company because they open sourced $thing and thus more people will buy $newthing from $company because they open sourced $thing and helped out the community and society to have legacy hardware at cheaper prices.

        In the case of the Amiga et al, they can still sell AmigaDOS and AmigaOS for the open source Amiga and make a profit on it, where the

        • Ah, yes, you went with the "trillion-dollar sector of nostalgic nerds" answer.

          The "trillion" bit is sarcasm. I think nostalgic nerds are already avid consumers of technology, with not much room to increase their consumption in. Why would you want two $newthing anyway? Oh, I might convince my aunt Tillie to buy $newthing from $company rather than $competitor, but that's a zero-sum game.

          If it makes sense for all these many companies to open up $thing, why have none done it yet? Are all the managers stupid

          • Well the open source hardware can be sold in third world nations that cannot afford the $newthing which would help the local population earn enough money from it to eventually buy $newthing later to replace $thing that was open sourced. The potential here for cheap $things for schools and libraries that otherwise couldn't afford them would win good diplomatic relations with the nation that $company is in for open sourcing their hardware to make it more affordable. As a result the foreign government might bu

  • by BhaKi (1316335) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @11:29PM (#30384932)
    Who asked open-source hardware? I just want hardware whose programming interfaces are completely documented.
  • should competing big companies be allowed to use their economies of scale to make and sell cheaper products based on open hardware designs developed by small start-ups without payment?

    Obviously yes. If you don't want them to, then don't make it open.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.

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