A lot of us grew up programming on proprietary closed platforms and were firm believers that that was the way serious products are built. It would be an understatement to say that most of us were proved wrong about our (mis)conceptions about the power of community. Younger software developers can always claim that they always knew that Linux and open source software was the way to go. Hardware guys, at least we thought, take their skills more seriously and would not be drawn to something similar … never. At least that’s what we thought till Massimo Banzi told us that things could be made simpler in the electronics world as well … by allowing the proliferation of low cost open source hardware platforms and enabling thousands of innovators to experiment, without having to worry about a very expensive hardware design process.
Manzi co-founded what is now very popularly known to product innovators as the Arduino project, a cheap, easy to use, open source, hardware platform. Next time you have to do your own small control system in your lab, don’t bother designing your PCB … Arduino (and a few other ready to use open source hardware platforms) is all that you need.
Focus on the ideas … concept realization made cheap and easy.
While Arduino is without a doubt the poster child of the open source hardware movement there are others too … BeagleBone is another open-source single board computer that runs Linux. Because it’s a computer you can program your tests in any programming language you like, from C to the command line. Python, also open source, seems to be the most popular language for BeagleBone. Then there is the Raspberry Pi, which is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. The developers want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.
And so on…
Most of these platforms have evolved to the extent that there are a wide variety of daughter board designs available that provide a wide array of interfacing capabilities.
While this movement might seem like one for hobbyists, there’s a larger world out there. Open source hardware enthusiasts will tell you that this will quickly prove to be a tremendous business driver enabling companies to move faster and be more agile than ever. Open Source hardware is a way of accelerating innovation.
Next time you hear something called Razdroid or the Android ADK (latter one released by Google … now that’s cool), ignore it at your own peril … this is Android on your $30 board.