Building Open Source Hardware [Source; Amazon]
This week’s selection is “Building Open Source Hardware” by Alicia Gibb.
Open source software is more-or-less well understood by most Fabbaloo readers. However, open source hardware is a bit different, yet retains most of the same principles as its software equivalent.
The idea is that the actual digital design of an item is made public, so that, in theory, anyone could make something with those plans, modify them, remix them with other designs, or potentially even sell items made using the plans.
It’s a radically different business model than that typically seen in capitalist society, where the designs are hidden as best as possible to maintain a monopoly over the intellectual property.
However, open source has a very different philosophy: everyone has something to contribute, and no single person can know everything. By making the plans public, in theory “more eyeballs” provides a better look at the design and can potentially improve it. Another way of looking at it is to use the public as stakeholders in the project, and each stakeholder will provide input from their unique point of view.
Businesses operating on open source principles must use a somewhat different business model. Instead of setting the retail cost of a product to a profitable level that leverages a secret design, open source hardware projects tend to only charge for the recovery of parts costs and the labor to assemble the product.
It’s less expensive for buyers who don’t have to pay for the development costs of the project, which was essentially provided at no charge by the participants of the project during its design phase.
This book delves into the myriad of issues and challenges facing a business attempting to build a hardware product business using open source principles.
There’s a long segment describing open source hardware theory, and the history behind the movement. Several notable open source hardware projects are specifically investigated.
With that in mind, Gibb provides a specific definition of open source hardware, with a list of best practices.
There’s a very long section describing the various open source licenses that can be involved. It’s quite important to understand them, as there are many types to address a variety of situations and a project must very carefully choose which license is required.
Gibb provides an entire section on the practical steps required to execute a project to develop an open source hardware product. This includes typical development workflows, as well as iteration, making derivative products and even establishing an exit strategy for when the project is to close.
Case studies are included to investigate the development of an open source hardware 3D printer, as well as an arduino project and wearable products.
The third section of the book delves into the business aspects, as that could be an objective of someone reading the book. Of particular importance is determining how to manufacture the product, a challenge for any product company, regardless of whether they are open source or not.
If you’re interested in open source hardware, you might want to check out this book as it contains a wealth of information on such projects.