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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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @06:26PM (#30381976)

    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?

  • no, they havent. (Score:4, Informative)

    by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @06:39PM (#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:wrong question (Score:2, Informative)

    by Rophuine (946411) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:34PM (#30382754) Homepage

    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 programmer kit from a Chinese drop-shipper cost me maybe $200 all up. Component manufacturers will often send you free samples of anything you can't afford if you say you're working on a new product. And when you're done and bored with the project, you can pull it all to pieces and go build something else.

    Compared to the laptop I bought to play Red Alert on during boring engineering classes, the total investment in gear to work on hardware designs was very low.

    Now you won't want to go building a bunch of the things on breadboards, or even vero, but we're talking about open-source design, right?

    Finally, open-source software doesn't usually make the author money by selling the software. Most of the mates I have who do lots of open-source work do it either because they're interested in the project and want to improve it for their own use, or else they like having lines like "Commit privilege to the linux kernel source" on their resume.

    I always envisaged open-source hardware to work by the design being published and expecting users to take the manufacturing effort away from the people doing the designing. It's an upside, not a downside, unless...

    You're not really that into open-source principles, you're into money-source principles. You want a bunch of (almost-)free labor to improve your crappy hardware designs, but you still want to lock people into buying trashy over-priced hardware from you. Don't "Ask Slashdot", ask "MadeInChina.com". The labor is slightly more expensive but not much, and they'll really and truly promise not to nick your IP, and pretend to let you have world-wide exclusive rights to selling the widget they designed for you.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:25PM (#30383280) Homepage Journal

        Actually, on the car analogy, no.

        In most countries (I won't claim to know all nations laws), you can buy and install aftermarket parts. Generally, aftermarket parts exclude very few pieces. I haven't seen too many aftermarket frames, but I know they exist. :) They simply are sold as the aftermarket company, and don't include the OEM marks (like, the company logo). If you really look into the parts on a car though, you'll find that a lot aren't made by the auto manufacturer.

        Depending on your location, you can do a ground-up build of your own vehicle. Have a look at "Sand Rails". Depending on who builds it, it could have a nice mix of factor and aftermarket parts. It would be registered as a homebuilt though. In my state, there is a list of essential things for it to be legal on the street, which includes lights, turn signals, brakes, windshield, and horn.

        You can also build your own aircraft, since we're on the idea of hardware certification. I've been looking at homebuilt aircraft or retrofitted aircraft with Chevy LS1 engines. Some people use rotary engines, or even Volkswagon air cooled engines. Those, if I understand correctly, are registered as experimental, and have restrictions on where they can be used.

        On the medical use, most medical companies like to keep a tight hold on everything they do, so they wouldn't just open source their pacemaker software for other vendors to use. It costs them enough to get certified, they don't want to lose profits elsewhere. It's not like you want any Joe building your pacemaker in his garage. :)

  • by labnet (457441) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:35PM (#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 Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:47PM (#30383990)

    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 trouble getting the free tools from Atmel, Microchip, etc. and a programmer, selecting the right microcontroller from their extensive lines, reading lots of data sheets, and programming it.

    The Arduino isn't made for that market; it's made for hobbyists who aren't engineers and want to do things with microcontrollers, which most likely will never see any serious production.

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