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The State of Open Source Hardware In 2008 88

ptorrone writes "MAKE Magazine has put together their 3rd annual 'State of Open Source Hardware 2008' — in just a few years, the number of projects has grown from a small handful to an amazing 60+ offerings. Similar to open source software, open source hardware is available with source code, schematics, firmware and bills of materials, and allows commercial use. The most popular project, Arduino, the open source prototyping platform for artists and engineers, has shipped over 60,000 units." The article is formatted such that the first link for a particular device will usually take you to the project home page. Some will bring you instead to where you can purchase the items, but most still have a "How To" tab which will direct you to guides and instructions on how to build your own gadgets. There are a bunch of interesting devices, from the Game of Life on the outside of a cube to a home-made MP3 player to OpenMoko.
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The State of Open Source Hardware In 2008

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  • Just in time (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by kbrasee ( 1379057 )
    for the Year Of The Linux Desktop.

    (sorry, I couldn't help myself...)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Companies, in a never-ending pursuit of getting our money, are only testing the water. If we don't BUY products for Linux these companies will drop us like a hot potato. There is no "open source = freedom" to make-a-buck companies, only bottom lines.

  • I ordered an Arduino, ethernet shield and some other goop from ladyada. It's to be my winter project plaything. Just my luck, the weather in Winnipeg is rather nice lately thus eliminating my excuse to hide at my workbench.
  • What's new? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by svirre ( 39068 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:52PM (#25926677)

    So what's new with 'open source hardware'?
    I work in a semiconductor company and we got lots of designs including schematics board layouts firmware and BOMs, other companies do the same thing.

    The point is of course to sell our devices by having customers using our designs, but the point is that there are lots of free designs out there, and they have been made available for many years not just the last few as it has been stated in the article.

    • the "new" part of this is the ability to use it for commercial use and the projects are things that many people can make at home. usually semiconductors are harder to make at home and there are commercial use restrictions on designs.

      all that being said, there will be an addition guide to "open hardware" and these are things that have similar "openness" with specific licensing (usually non-commercial use only).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Alioth ( 221270 )

        That's not new either. You can't copyright a circuit (you can copyright artwork, like PCB layouts and schematics, and possibly patent novel designs) - so any published design that's not patent encumbered can be made and used commercially if so desired. If you publish a schematic, you can't go and put restrictions on the design like "non commercial only" because the circuit itself isn't copyrightable.

      • by svirre ( 39068 )

        I can assure you that our designs are absolutely available for commercial use. That is the entire purpose. We release freely and unencumbered reference designs using components we sell.
        These designs (usually called appnotes) are specifically made to ease the design-in for a commercial user.

        I can't imagine why a semiconductor vendor would release reference designs with limitations on commercial usage. Commercial usage is what we make a living of.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by davolfman ( 1245316 )
      Not to mention 60 some-odd products is absolutely pathetic for an industry.
      • Forget I said anything. Once you RTFA you realize the summary is totally bogus. This is all just a bunch of Arduino micro dev boards.
        • Re:What's new? (Score:4, Informative)

          by ptorrone ( 638660 ) * <pt@NOSpaM.adafruit.com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @04:05PM (#25927197)

          hey davo, i wrote this guide. while there are a lot of arduino projects there are more non-arduino projects. there is a lot going on in the arduino space but it's not fair to ignore all the others in the list: x0xb0x, tvbgone, fuzebox, minimig, openmoko, daisy mp3 player... etc etc.

          these are all really cool projects too.

        • I give up. Just mod me down.
        • These aren't products. They're components. How many discrete kinds of lego blocks do you need before you've got your bases covered?
          • A truckload given how large and complex these pieces are. For my purposes I need a simple lightweight micro module with clock, a little memory, a few pins for 2-wire IO and a few pins to control an RC aircraft servo or link to a sensor. Nothing in this list is even remotely that simple. In Lego terms they're getting to dangerously close to POOP (Pieces Out Of Pieces) territory.
            • Whats wrong with a Ardunino?

              Ok its probably too big for your use.
              You can however take the chip the arduino uses (or a similar model), and use it standalone without the USB and power regulator stuff you dont need..

        • Re:What's new? (Score:4, Informative)

          by cheater512 ( 783349 ) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @08:17PM (#25928739) Homepage

          You've never played with a Arduino obviously.
          I've got three of them. Very nifty.

          Actually its not the Arduino its self which is great.
          Its the ATtiny and ATmega processors from Atmel which seriously kick ass.
          Little chips which you can wire up in 5 mins, run at 20mhz and Atmel has very thoughtfully provided patches to GCC.

          You program them with standard C/C++ on any OS you can name and its all open source.
          The Arduino builds upon that.

    • Think of the Iphone how you have to use it on a certain network. With open source hardware you not only can use it with any software you want, but you can design your own software to work with it because everything about the hardware is open.
  • OpenMoko? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by socsoc ( 1116769 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:56PM (#25926711)
    Let me know when I can build an OpenMoko handset from parts that I purchase myself. That isn't open...
    • Re:OpenMoko? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ptorrone ( 638660 ) * <pt@NOSpaM.adafruit.com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:59PM (#25926733)

      the schematics are here... it's a tough project to make "from scratch" but it's possible...
      http://downloads.openmoko.org/schematics/ [openmoko.org]

      • Currently almost all "open hardware" is only open in the sense that the information you need to write software for it is available. You need more than the schematics to replicate it. You need files showing how the wires are routed on the pcb (assuming you're going to modify it somehow, why else would you go to all this trouble?). Oh and by the way you need > $1000 software to generate the files you'll send to manufacture the pcb. And after you do that you'll have to locate and buy each of those component
        • This all come back to the other article about the FSF's new definition of open. It's completely ridiculous to refuse to use proprietary software in any form to run proprietary hardware, and there's nothing that the average person can do to not have to trust in the work of a secret keeping commercial entity without a completely absurd amount of commitment and investment.
          • I'm not talking about free speech, I'm talking about free beer. The programs I'm talking about (I won't mention any names) just aren't available in _any_ form for > $1000. If someone handed me a copy of the software I'd be more than happy to use it, regardless of the source, it's just not available. But let's assume Cadence or someone else was offering these programs for free, or you just happen to have access to them. If I showed up at work on monday and my boss handed me those pdfs and wanted me to add
            • http://geda.seul.org/ [seul.org] looks interesting as a solution to the $1000+ software. I'm not sure if it's capable of doing what you ask with openmoko, but I'm sure it can work with many projects. The conversion and debugging would be a labour of love for a hobbyist which would negate many of the associated costs, and once one hobbyist shares it, the gap disappears. Can't you just be happy that the potential is there, even if it costs $25,000? Designing from scratch would entail a far greater cost.

              • Yep I'm happy with the potential. I didn't mean to be so negative on openmoko for releasing more than almost any other hardware manufacturer has. It'd be great though if they came out and said the reason they're not releasing the schematic and pcb files is that they don't want anyone else manufacturing the device. Really all my ranting could have been summarized as "it would take $25K of work to translate those pdfs into a device." (sorry about that)

                It's great that there are free tools available. I have use
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mustafap ( 452510 )

          >You need files showing how the wires are routed on the pcb (assuming you're going to modify it somehow, why else would you go to all this trouble?). Oh and by the way you need > $1000 software to generate the files you'll send to manufacture the pcb

          You clearly know nothing on the subject.
          Go google "EagleCad"

          >And after you do that you'll have to locate and buy each of those components on the board, assuming they'll even sell you > 10 of them at a time

          Go google "Farnell" or "Digikey"

          >And after

          • Dude, I do this for a living.

            eaglecad: tools for signal integrity?
            digikey: some parts only come in reels of 1000 or more
            smds: what's your solutions for bgas?
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by sketerpot ( 454020 )
              To solder BGAs, try a toaster oven [instructables.com]. I haven't tried it so I can't vouch for its effectiveness, but others have had some pretty impressive success with the method. Also, please note, ">" is generally read "greater than". What you wanted to use was "<", read "less than". (I have no other disagreement with you, so forgive me if this sounds a little confrontational.)
            • I too do this for a living. Although I understand the difference between > and <, unlike you, which makes it sound like you're actually a school kid. So let me educate you some more:

              >smds: what's your solutions for bgas?

              I don't use them. I use my brain and my engineer's instinct to design something without them.

              Signal integrity - yes, you need that if design very high frequency circuits, but that doesn't discount the whole bloody exercise. There are *many* more circuits that can be designed with hi
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jonwil ( 467024 )

        You cant make it yourself, the schematics for the GSM radio portion are not there (because of the FCC etc, its illegal to operate a GSM radio that hasn't been approved by the FCC).

        • you "can" make it, you're just not legally allowed to use it in the USA - there are a few open source hardware projects, well, at least one that is like that... the open source cell jammer - the wave bubble.

    • Uh, can you build _any_ cell phone from parts you purchase yourself? It's as open as it can be...

      • by socsoc ( 1116769 )
        Yes, and I have by using parts from SparkFun. Just because the schematics are avail doesn't mean anyone can build it.
        • by Alioth ( 221270 )

          But that's the same with software, too - not everyone can build Linux. Doesn't mean it's not open.

    • About that:
      http://downloads.openmoko.org/schematics/ [openmoko.org]
      http://downloads.openmoko.org/CAD/ [openmoko.org]

      There isn't much point, in the case of a device loaded with fiddly SMD parts of dubious hobbyist availability, to assembling one yourself; but they don't seem to have any interest in stopping you. Beagleboard is in a similar position. If you want one, it'll be loads cheaper to just buy one from somebody who builds them in bulk; but they won't stop you from producing them, if you feel like it.
      • Its quite interesting from a educational standpoint anyway to see how a complex gadget like that works.

  • Great Read (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I can't wait for the 4th annual 'State of Open Source Hardware 2008'!

  • Better Headline: (Score:2, Informative)

    by basicio ( 1316109 )

    "The state of Arduino hardware in 2008"

  • I am waiting for the time we'll have a near perfect Open Source Printer...fully functional with drivers and everything.

    If this ever materialize, I will be happy not to have to dole out money firms like HP, DELL and Lexmark that only cater for their bottom line and nothing else.

    Am I reasonable to expect this?

    • Do the schematics and firmware need to be open, or will just about any postscript printer ever do the trick?
      • I wonder if the yellow dots on laser printers are made by firmware or is it build into the thermal component. Getting rid of them is one good reason for open hardware printer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by itsdapead ( 734413 )

      Am I reasonable to expect this?

      Not if you expect to buy a complex bit of hardware like a colour laser printer for a few hundred bucks.

      These things are subsidized by the sale of cartridges (which is why a new, consumer, laser printer often costs less than a set of cartridges) - hard to do if your design is "open source" - and rely on the economies of scale of mass production and custom-made parts (very expensive to tool up, but low marginal costs). Even so, the store that sells it to you probably only makes a profit if you buy a $20 USB

  • no USRP? no opencores? Lame lame lame
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ptorrone ( 638660 ) *

      opencores is at the bottom in the pending/others section (it's being added, this is not a static list).

  • It looked like a product catalog to me. This is nothing new. Seriously, where is the MiniMig on this list? The MiniMig is a full open source reimplementation of the Amiga 500.
  • open source hardware (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eil ( 82413 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @03:20PM (#25926897) Homepage Journal

    I read this exact same article the other day. Only at that time, it only listed the Arduino and it's progeny along with a couple of related projects.

    In particular, I'm happy to see the x0xb0x [ladyada.net] make it to the list. The x0x is one piece of open hardware that doesn't nearly get enough attention. It's a perfect clone of the Roland TB-303 analog synthesizer which spawned an entire musical genre and left its impression on electronica in general. The parts list, build instructions, schematics, and board layouts are all open and free and there's an active community [ladyada.net] supporting and hacking it.

    I consider the x0xb0x to be the perfect example of how to successfully translate the ideals of open source software to hardware hacking.

  • RepRap (Score:3, Interesting)

    by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @03:35PM (#25926995)

    The RepRap [reprap.org] is interesting here - not just as an open source hardware project in itself, but in that the ability to easily reproduce arbitrary shaped plastic widgets could make other "open source" hardware a bit less clunky.

  • Probably not as practicable, but isn't http://opencores.org/ [opencores.org] kinda missing from this list.

    Also, a lot of fun to be had with FPGA-based boards (http://www.fpga4fun.com/ [fpga4fun.com], http://hackaday.com/2008/05/22/fpga-projects-roundup/ [hackaday.com])

    • opencores are at the bottom of the list in the pending / other section. some folks claim they don't below on a list like the one we have, others think they should be - so they're there and it's open up to debate. the fpga stuff is a lot of fun and we're seeing more projects.

  • A good number of these projects are using non-free schematic capture and/or layout packages. What if I want to modify the schematics or layouts? Do I have to redraw them in one of the real free/open source tools?

    Eagle is not free software (there is no source code and the "free" download is crippleware since the board size is limited).

    PS. Yes I'm slightly bias as I am a developer on gEDA http://geda.seul.org/ [seul.org] and KiCad is nice too. :)

    • good question, i think many folks in the open source hardware communities seem to agree that what tools are used to make the schematics do not matter so much. you can use windows XP to draw a schematic, it's about the information and licensing more than anything else. there isn't a free/open format for PCB files that everyone agrees on yet but anything can be re-created if it needed to be as long as the maker puts the information out there.

      as far as "who" defines open source hardware - that's a good questio

      • by ah13 ( 957364 )

        Thank you for your comment/response.

        i don't think it matters to get to hung up on a who yet, it's still early - just a few years ago there were only a few projects and now their are over 65... arduino shipped over 60,000 units - it's impressive but just a start.

        Yes, that is pretty impressive, I had no idea arduino was shipping that many units.

        i've sent emails to the address on the gEDA site in the past asking about the project but didn't get a response, can you drop me a note - i really like the project and would like to cover it in MAKE (more). it's one of the best projects out there in this space and i'd like to get the word out more.

        It is very likely my spam filter gobbled up your emails (if so, sorry about that). I will get in touch with you. Thanks.

    • by oskay ( 932940 ) *

      It never seems like a project is really "open source" if you need a $1000+ piece of software to open up the design files.

      I can say that two of the kits in that list (which I designed) *were* designed with gEDA and have the pcb design files released. I don't know for certain if any of the others are.

      I *really* wish that there were good open source CAD tools for mechanical applications as well-- it would make a lot of other projects easier to release as fully open source.

      • by ah13 ( 957364 )

        It never seems like a project is really "open source" if you need a $1000+ piece of software to open up the design files.

        I couldn't agree more!

        I can say that two of the kits in that list (which I designed) *were* designed with gEDA and have the pcb design files released. I don't know for certain if any of the others are.

        Awesome, which projects and I'll make sure they get some publicity/linkage on the gEDA site (if they aren't there already) :)

        I *really* wish that there were good open source CAD tools for mechanical applications as well-- it would make a lot of other projects easier to release as fully open source.

        Yes indeed. However, I'm quite curious, what sort of project did you have in mind that would be easier with an open source mechanical CAD package? I guess I'm trying to understand the scale and scope of such a project and what sort of CAD you would need (2D/3D/both)?

        • by oskay ( 932940 )

          what sort of project did you have in mind that would be easier with an open source mechanical CAD package? I guess I'm trying to understand the scale and scope of such a project and what sort of CAD you would need (2D/3D/both)?

          Both. My own project is CandyFab, but there are a lot of other cases out there where such a thing would be helpful. The Openmoko design files are released in Pro/E, for example-- not exactly free software.

  • ARM7 JTAG (Score:3, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @04:18PM (#25927293)

    I've done ARM7 development in the past. I've just started a new ARM7 project after a four year hiatus. What seems to have changed the most is the availability of cheap hardware debug tools such as cheap FTDI FT2232 based JTAG pods.

    I'm also interested to see what comes of Eclipse's DSDP initiative.

    http://www.eclipse.org/dsdp/dsdp-charter.php [eclipse.org]

    I've always thought the Balkanization of the debug hardware was one of the major barriers in the wider circulation of open hardware.

    Concerning the Adweebo, I've programmed this chip before using the free download (for Windows) AVR Studio. What an amazing tool. Despite the AVR having a dedicated hardware call stack, this thing can't even display a call stack.

    Nor can it display local variables for call frames up the stack. The upshot of this is that if you have a complicated protocol subroutine that calls get_byte() which blocks waiting for the next byte of input from USART or SPI/TWI (as slave), then whenever you break the program (yes, you must break the program for AVR Studio to display *anything*) you'll inevitably end up looking at the local variables of get_byte() which won't be interesting, while all the variables you wish to inspect in the calling routine are unwatchable.

    In another nod to genius, whenever you break execution under AVR Studio, it changes focus to the source code tab where the execution happens to break. Even if you just had your cursor on the variable you wished to watch, or the line of code where you wished to add a break point, neither of which can be done while the program is running. Breaking the program changes your view, and then you have to find it again among twenty or so tabs you might have open.

    I've never managed to develop much proficiency with GDB. I expect my new project will finally cure that. Generally I write my code so that I don't spend time debugging at that level.

    It's nice to see prebuilt packages such as Yagarto where the GDB to random JTAG-of-the-month debug interface is pre-configured, and you're not forced to invest $700 in a "professional" level debug pod to get debug features that we really ought to take for granted in this day and age.

    Also, I can't sign off without coughing up a hairball to describe the modalities of the Atmel debugWire interface. Bluuurp. There, that feels better.

  • Patent Encumberance (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DrMrLordX ( 559371 )

    Is open-source hardware ever going to be a reality outside of circuit designs and/or designs for odd gizmos that are either in the public domain due to expired patents or have flown under the radar of patent trolls? Can you, for example, apply something like the GPL to "meatspace" hardware, such as an efficient solar heater? I had an idea for a solar heater that could heat water, or potentially other fluids, to temperatures in excess of 1500C, and I had wanted to create a development community for it by ope

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ibbie ( 647332 )

      That is a good question. Have you checked with EFF [eff.org]? They have a lot of IP talent that might be of use for you, and this sort of thing at least sounds right up their alley.

      It seems to me that at least in this type of situation, patent law as it stands prevents any number of good (and bad) ideas from being tested, tried, and released... which is to the detriment of society as a whole. We can learn from the bad ideas just as well - sometimes better - as we can from the good. Often an inventor misses something

      • You know, the idea to check with the EFF never quite entered my mind. It should have, though. Thanks for pointing that out. I am in agreement that it is extraordinarily difficult to share technological ideas (yes, even bad ones) thanks to the existing system of patents. It is even more difficult to figure out what you can do without violating someone's IP rights, which seems odd when you're trying to share something that is one's own invention (or would-be invention, or concept at the very least).
  • Any such critter out there? Very easy to mix and match and recycle and make an upgradeable and customized desktop, but for laptops it doesn't seem to exist much. The chokepoint seems to be smallish screens, they seem to cost what a brand new cheap laptop cost. The next one seems to be no standard motherboard config. Granted, I haven't googled much at all on this, but seems there should be some projects already running. I checked the article and didn't see anything, open moko looks to be the closest, and tha

  • I just bought the best priced by feature 42 inch lcd 1080p tv. In my opinion the hardware manufactures that use open source are in a very good position to keep prices on hardware reasonable. This LG tv uses kernel 2.6.12 in an embedded situation and can be reflashed and tweeked by either a usb or rs232c null modem. The source of the firmware is also available to the consumer and the access software is also available. So because it is open source I can do all the technical service of my own TV if it ever bec
    • this is pretty cool, can you send me an email about this / might be a nice little article for MAKE if you're up for it.

      • this is pretty cool, can you send me an email about this / might be a nice little article for MAKE if you're up for it.

        Here is the scoop on the LG use of open source.Directly from the Appendix to the user manual

        Open Source Software Notice

        The following GPL executables and LGPL/MPL libraries used in this product are subject to the GPL/LGPL/MPL License Agreements:


        • Linux kernel 2.6.12 busybox


        • uclibc


        • Nanox

        LG Electronics offers to provide source code to you on a CD-ROM for a charge covering the cost of performing such distribution, such as the cost of media, shipping

  • My interest is in merely open hardware. That is, I want hardware I can use with my open source software. If the hardware is sealed, that's probably fine by me. But all OS components need to be open source (that means drivers and loadable blobs). This would apply to both attachable devices as well as whole systems (such as a phone).

    That said, open source hardware is a plus, since that means there can be competition in the manufacturing processes.

  • The problem with free hardware designs ( I'm at loathe to use the term OS HW because it makes no sense and frankly, it reaks of abusing buzzwords) is that there's no point other than hobbyist interest.

    Stuff like the Open Moko... It's expensive, not well designed and horribly lacking in features. I can't even build it myself. When Windows mobile and Android have a lot of leeway with software development, there's little reason for the handset.

    Likewise stuff like MP3 players. I can buy a 1gig player from T

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court