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Open Source Hardware


Sitting down in my room on a Sunday afternoon, binge-watching various videos on electronics and its development over the years, I stumbled upon something that caught my eye. It was a TEDx talk by Nathan Seidle, founder of SparkFun electronics and he was explaining how being an open source hardware company has resulted in his companies growth and expansion over the years. Sounds crazy right, giving away your product design, its specification and also the firmware and still making a profit. Now this made me wonder when was the last time I used an electronic component which was not open source in one of my projects.

Open source: it started in the world of software, and has moved to physical objects like furniture or drones. Open source means that you share your knowledge, your files and provide everyone the right to make changes to your design and distribute these designs.Sharing your resource empowers people to learn, solve problems and also to start a business.

Open source hardware movement from backyards of a bunch of geeks has expanded so much so that it has started to impact millions of lives all over the world. About two years ago, a small startup in Tokyo called EXIII developed a prosthetic hand which is set to revolutionize the world of prosthetics. Typically a prosthetic hand would cost about 7 lakh rupee which is not affordable to most of the general public, but EXIII is making it affordable by selling their prosthetic hand for only 10000 rupees.So how did they do that? The answer is pretty simple, they made a simplified version that could be 3D printed. They are calling it Hackberry and have made it open source.When EXIII shared their design on Wevolver platform it started creating a buzz in the builder’s community.

Among them was, Matt Cashman whose brother Ryan had recently lost an arm in an accident. Now with the help of the maker’s community, Matt could help his brother out. Almost 40 individuals from all across the globe started working on this project that could change the lives of millions of people. All these 40 people came from different backgrounds and they could make any R&D department jealous. Max a gifted engineer, is helping EXIII by providing them with various codes that are more efficient than the ones which the company was using previously.Neela a hand surgeon is contributing to the project by explaining to the team of developers of the complexity of the human hand. Many startups also have come up with various materials that would help in making this product more bionic. Would all this have happened if the founders of EXII had patented their product?

Now, this is against the very rule of engineering right? We are taught day in and day out that we have to make a product that is unique and we have to patent it. If you grew up in the early 2000s like me, the camera was synonymous with the company KODAK.But now you don’t hear about it companies like NIKON and CANON has taken over the market. Now if you believe that KODAK got beat by other company based on the improvement of technology, then you will be amazed to know that KODAK patented the first digital camera in the year 1978, almost two decades before any company even came close to this idea. Now what did they do with the idea, they sat on it and they went after anyone who infringed upon it. So how did a multibillion-dollar company like KODAK did not realize that “IF YOUR IDEA IS UNIQUE, EASILY COPIED AND CAN BE SOLD IN A LOCAL MARKET, IT WILL BE”.

It is common knowledge that  “apple” comes up with revolutionizing hardware and software, but how long does it take for a Chinese company to clone the same product. In this ever-growing and changing world, we have to come terms with the fact that change is the only constant.

Open source hardware has a unique policy that makes it stand out in the industry today.i.e;

“IF YOUR IDEA IS UNIQUE AND CAN BE SOLD, IT WILL BE.”Some of the very famous brands today like AdaFruit, SparkFun have most of their products open sourced as it enriches their brand and helps them make unique products by learning from their customers.Open source hardware community not only helps a company to get started it also, gives them a very loyal customer base and the best R&D department that all company dream of.

OpenROV is another company that has embraced this culture.OpenROV develops underwater robots for deep sea exploration.Interestingly the company would never have existed without being open sourced. The founders of the company Eric Stackpole and David Lang both highly skilled engineers came up with this amazing design of an underwater robot, but in order to realise their dream they needed to acquire a lot more than that. Today OpenRov has more than 4000 individuals from more than 50 different countries working on various designs of the underwater robot.

Thinking of a world without an open source software like Linux is impossible today, I do believe open source hardware will have the same impact on the society in the days to come. Sharing ideas does not devalue us, it makes us better.This is how we started our journey that is being dependent on one another. Open source makes the society a better place, it helps customers have their voice heard in the market. It makes the company innovate.From 3d printed prosthetics to underwater drones, every single innovation has made me believe that knowledge is power, and this power can only be maintained if the power is divided equally among people.The democratization of technology has truly begun, this journey may lead mankind to greater heights than ever seen before.

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