What Is Open Source Hardware And Why Should You Care?


open-source-hardwareShort Bytes: Open Source Hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design. Open hardware is paving the way for recent technological developments, especially in the field of Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D Printing. Here is all you need to know to about Open Source Hardware.

You would have heard about the Arduino platform. It is an Open Source electronics platform, in both hardware as well as software. Some of you might have heard about the Banana Pi Board or the BeagleBone Board. They are Open Source, high-performance computers. But what is meant by “Open Source” for hardware components? Welcome to the realm of Open Source Hardware!

What is Open Source Hardware?

Open Source Hardware (OSHW) or Open Hardware shares most of the principles of Open Source software, in the sense that anyone must be able to view, study the hardware, understand its working, make changes and share those changes. Therefore, all the original hardware design files must be shared, which includes schematics, logic designs, HDL source code, CAD files, PCB layout files, blueprints, G-Codes, bill of materials and documentation. But OSHW is more than that.

Opensource.com defines OSHW as

“A set of design principles and legal practices, not a specific type of object. The term can, therefore, refer to any number of objects— automobiles chairs, computers, robots or even houses.”

But OSHW faces a lot of issues compared to Open Source Software. The first problem is that electronics hardware design is done in software, and in some cases hardware is coupled with software. For example, audio codecs must be accompanied by their driver software. Therefore, OSHW dictates that the assisting code must be released as Open Source Software.

Another issue is that OSHW involves production costs, labor costs, and high overhead costs compared to software. Therefore, OSHW products are often not free-of-cost, but they give you the freedom to fabricate the product from the given design. That is why Arduino boards are not free.

Image : Open Source Hardware Association

Can I use non-OSHW components in my OSHW design?

According to Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), there are various levels of OpennessFully-Open, Mixed-Open and Minimally-Open. Mixed-Open certificates can be obtained if there are some closed components in the hardware design. The components’ certifications and their documentation must be provided. Any every software required to view or modify the files must be specified along with their certification.

The first thing that might have struck your mind while reading “Open Hardware” is 3D Printing. Yes, there are many 3D printers and 3D printing design files that are Open Hardware, and that is one of the reasons why you should care about OSHW. With the design files, you can build you own Arduino board clone, or a Drone, or a 3D Printer, or a vehicle or even a Humanoid robot!! There has been a lot of OSHW IoT products too. “The Physical Web” is an open source cloud platform for IoT development. As IoT and 3D printing advances, OSHW will provide the base for future technological leaps. Few OSHW projects have been linked below.

More Resources –

If I have missed out any important points about Open Hardware, comment and share it with us.

Also Read: What is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and Why You Should Use it?

Anand Krish

Anand Krish

Research Student working on Robotics and Deep Learning
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