Free and Open Source Hardware or FOSH by any other name would make electronics enthusiasts feel just as happy.
The reason I am waxing poetic about this game changing congregation of absolute brilliance, is that there are some humongous changes that have come about last week.
Auto Desk released its electronics and firmware open source just like it had previously done with its 3-D Resin and its Mechanics design. If that doesn’t make you feel a bit giddy, I don’t know what will.
3-D printers have already changed a lot, what with Chinese Win Sun Decoration Design Engineering constructing ten houses in twenty-four hours last year, now they are back with both the world’s tallest 3-D printed building – a five-story apartment block – and a 1,100 square meter mansion with internal and external decoration to boot.With such technology slowly becoming open and available, I can imagine how this can help with the housing situation in the slums of Mumbai or the villages in rural India still struggling with the lack of stable cost-effective houses.
With 3-D printing finding an application in almost every science and manufacturing industry, the impact on open source hardware is what gets our blood pumping.
With more companies willing to make their designs open source, it doesn’t take much for the average hobbyist to start dreaming about printing out computer chips that would be tailor-“printed” for your very own pet-project.(Something IBM is working on…)
RepRap is a 3-D printable 3-D printer or as they have more elegantly stated on their website-“humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine“.
It is unintentional bio-mimicry at its finest, making even the single-celled a bit green with envy (probably camouflage or bio-luminescence).
It begs the question-With their designs out in the open, how can any electronics company survive?
We have to take into consideration the pressures that any start-up faces with high end electronics products popping up everywhere, offering amazing features at jaw-dropping costs.
Imagine you have a thousand brilliant minds using your hardware, hacking it, thinking of how it can be improved, making design prototypes and submitting it to you, free of cost.
A brain trust consisting of researchers, college grads, tech enthusiasts or even a layman with a fresh perspective will phenomenally boost the design and usability of your product.
The cost of using said brain trust-release all the files that you would normally protect from your competition.
Many feel that this is possible only in niche markets, for example, Arduino the open source hardware company that only deals with hardware chips for hobbyists and some domestic embedded systems (thermostat,home-security systems,etc).
Many argue that this business model (i.e. open source) will lead to chaos as, a majority of the business models today revolve around intellectual property and the protection thereof, causing many companies that so far felt secure in their markets, to scramble, trying to offer better features and better deals to consumers.
Chaos brings Change…
The resulting chaos from the paradigm shift from the propriety to open-source shall lead to better designs, sharing of intellectual property and cumulative growth unlike ever seen before.
Anything can be reverse engineered, and so most major products are going to end-up as knock-offs at some point of time or the other.
On the other hand releasing your designs and letting others build upon it, allows greater growth and stability and faster solutions, increasing the chances of your product surviving and lasting.
The Arduino founders are baiting Chinese companies to go ahead and mass manufacture their designs.
This confidence comes from the fact that no matter how you might use their designs, their loyal customers will never adopt a low quality, badly soldered, defective product that might not be compatible with the major design changes that Arduino keeps making.
In engineering, it is ultimately design that makes or breaks the product.
The first one out the door wins.
With the major players constantly ripping-off each others design i.e. Windows and Apple, it comes as no surprise when Linux comes out on top with its massive community, striving to make the software they are using better rather than waiting around for the company/manufacturer to do something.
True power lies in making a change.Productive changes can only come if knowledge flows freely.So open source might eventually lead us to being intelligent communities -in the sense that matters.