How to create an ecosystem to grow open source hardware

A recent paper co-authored by Microsoft Research and the University of Wisconsin has given us food for thought, and fired us up to encourage more people to develop the open source hardware system.

Software has flourished due to open source innovations, but where is hardware? It’s behind, in 2013 software startups attracted fifteen times more investment than hardware startups. If you think about the big success stories of the last 15 years – they are mainly software-based. Facebook uses PHP, Twitter and Shopify are built on Ruby on the Rails and Uber uses Node.js. All open source software platforms.

Open source technologies allow startups to develop faster, shorten their time to market and reduce costs. Individuals have been able to experiment, learn and ultimately create successful businesses because costs are much lower in software. The advent of the inexpensive components, single board computers  and ready access to high-speed internet makes this easier and easier as each year goes by.

 Open source hardware (OSH) has a problem in that physicalequipment has longer lead times and design specification is less accessible and transferable. Where industry has been more forth coming in software, there are still deterrents in hardware as industry has been slower to respond to open source requests.

Industry virtually ignores OSH for use in commercial products, and contributes little front-end, back-end or EDA tools,due to lack of perceived value. The lack of industry recognition limits OSH participation for skill-development.