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title: Introduction to Open Hardware
description: In this lesson we aim to introduce people that are not familiarized with open hardware to the subject. We will cover what is specific and unique about open hardware as a practice, where does it come from and practical considerations about getting started with developing open hardware projects. We aim also to cover briefly the specifics of open hardware design, development, distribution and usage. What is unique about it, why it is relevant and powerful.
authors: Jerry de Vos, Jose Urra, Santosh Ilhamparuthi, Andjela Tomic
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# Introduction to Open Hardware
[![License: CC BY 4.0](https://img.shields.io/badge/License-CC_BY_4.0-lightgrey.svg)](https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) [![DOI](https://zenodo.org/badge/DOI/10.5281/zenodo.7195344.svg)](https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7195344)
**Date of release:** August-8-2022
In this lesson we aim to introduce people that are not familiarized with open hardware to the subject. We will cover what is specific and unique about open hardware as a practice, where does it come from and practical considerations about getting started with developing open hardware projects. We aim also to cover briefly the **specifics of open hardware design, development, distribution and usage.** What is unique about it, why it is relevant and powerful.
**By the end of this lesson you will**
- Understand basic definitions, concepts and ideas around open hardware
- Understand what is specific and unique about open source hardware
- With this understandings we hope you feel more prepared when working on an open hardware project
- Familiarize with open hardware principles and concepts
- Familiarize with the history of open source and open source engineering
- Discover the story behind open hardware developers and influencers
- Discover open hardware projects that are relevant to your project
**Where does open hardware comes from?**
Its two main predecessors are, hardware ( Its the design, development, manufacturing and distribution processes) and the free/libre software movement together with the open source software phenomenon. We can say that the combination of these two dimensions is what open hardware is about.
**Where is open hardware going?**
[OSHWA(Open Source Hardware Association)](https://www.oshwa.org/) provides a [declaration of principles as well as definitions](https://www.oshwa.org/definition/#:~:text=Open%20source%20hardware%20is%20hardware,for%20making%20modifications%20to%20it.) that are quite helpful and practical. We will come back to it later, but first lets establish some concepts and definitions for the purpose of this lesson.
## Hardware design
Design is a tricky word, as it refers on the one hand to the activity of designing, and on the other hand to the outcome of such activity.
**To make it more clear lets frame these two definitions:**
1. **A hardware design** is the specific way in which an physical object, artifact or product has been conceived so that it can be produced and used in a certain context tp deliver the expected functionality (This applies in many regards to software as well).
2. **Designing hardware or the activity of hardware design**, is what produces the result above. Here we don't consider the quality or specifics of the product, but the process that leads to such results. It makes sense to say that good processes lead to good results, which points us into the direction of learning from succesful open source projects in software and hardware to learn which path they followed that led to the good results.
Poor hardware design and engineering activities most often lead to bad design outcome, as well as poorly engineered design or even overengineered designs. In coming sections we will briefly discuss how engineering looks like when its open source.
## Sharing hardware design
**Sharing hardware design is sharing know-how** How to share this type of know-how, as compared for example with software?
We know that with software, not only the code and the design is distributed, but also all the tooling that is needed to reproduce, install and run the software.(This includes the descriptions of certain conditions under which the software can run, installation instructions, operating system specifications, minimum resources, architecture and so on).
**In the context of hardware we can only distribute a data package that contains all the data needed to manufacture/replicate the hardware.** This package of resources is the parallel of source code in software. It includes the documentation, CAD/CAM files, schematics, images, etc. As designs evolve over time metadata data is also essential, and this may include aspects such as version, release data, authors, contributors, and so on.
Standards on how to distribute these design data-packages are also becoming more important as more people start to develop, replicate and redesign open hardware projects. [Read more about this here](https://en.oho.wiki/wiki/Technical_documentation)
In the case of software that is part of the hardware project we distributed as we would distribute software normally.
## Open Source Engineering
Open source is social engineering without boundaries, anyone with the capacity to contribute from anywhere in the world is welcome or able to do so in principle.
**What makes open source engineering special and promising?** In this section we touch upon some aspects that we think are characteristic of open source development and can help you better understand the success behind it.
- What values and principles have propelled the movement?
- What do open source people look like?
- What design considerations are common in open source developments?
- How entire collectives agree, disagree and evolve technological developments?
- How open source initiatives are sustained?
:bulb: We will touch briefly upon these aspects to give you a start, only to encourage you to keep asking these and other questions as you dive into the open source world.
### Values and principles
Open source development is rooted in the legacy of the [Free Software movement](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software_movement). The idea of sharing to advance technological development is key.
(Image from the Free Software Foundation)
In resonance with these values there are other movements that we find interesting and relevant to open source hardware and the openhardware.academy. Some of them include: [Open Science Movement](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_science), [Right to repair](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronics_right_to_repair#:~:text=The%20right%20to%20repair%20movement,of%20favouring%20repair%20over%20replacement.), [Appropriate technology movement](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appropriate_technology#:~:text=Appropriate%20technology%20is%20a%20movement,environmentally%20sustainable%2C%20and%20locally%20autonomous.), [Open Educational Resource Movement](https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.116.3546).
### Lead users with enginnering expertise
In the modern era, users and consumers know little about how the products they use are designed and how they work. But, in the context of open source great developers are also often experienced lead users. These lead users/innovators have been also able to build something they need, something they have been passionate about and commited to.
> Lead user is a term developed by American economist Eric von Hippel (Von Hippel 1986). His definition for lead user is:
> - Lead users face needs that will be general in a marketplace – but face them months or years before the bulk of that marketplace encounters them, and
> - Lead users are positioned to benefit significantly by obtaining a solution to their needs and so may innovate.
([More on wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_user))
[Limor Fried](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limor_Fried), [Linus Torvalds](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus_Torvalds), [Josef Prusa](https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/interview-josef-prusa-ceo-founder-prusa-research-81650/#:~:text=Josef%20is%20only%2026%20and,on%20the%20Rep%20Rap%20project.), [the Arduino project and team](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arduino#:~:text=The%20Arduino%20project%20began%20in,environment%20using%20sensors%20and%20actuators.), [Guido Van Rossum](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guido_van_Rossum), [Richard Stallman](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman) among many other influencers and shapers of the open source world have some qualities in common, the can be identified as lead users/innovators. People that build something that they needed and they wanted to see, they cultivated the expertise to achieve their goals.
**The learning here is that having an actual pain or need to solve and some ideas to address them is a good starting point.** Then if you are not the only one confronting this problem there is potentially a larger group of interested stakeholders that could develop into an active community of co-developers and contributors.
### Intelectual property and copyleft
According to Richard Stallman the founder of the Free Software Movement, GNU project and the philosophy behind free software, open sourcing and sharing code was a common practice back in the days. Copyright software, and the locking of software to make profit came after. As a response Stallman initiated a socio-tecnological movement aiming to protect intelectual property where users and creators are at the center.
The concept of **copyleft** reflects this idea:
> Copyleft is the legal technique of granting certain freedoms over copies of copyrighted works with the requirement that the same rights be preserved in derivative works. In this sense, freedoms refers to the use of the work for any purpose, and the ability to modify, copy, share, and redistribute the work, with or without a fee. Licenses which implement copyleft can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works ranging from computer software, to documents, art, scientific discoveries and even certain patents. [Read more...](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyleft)
### Open architecture
Open architecture, comes from the context of computer science but goes beyond.
- A computer or other hardware system that uses open architecture is usually constructed in a way so users are able to change, remove or upgrade components within the system.
- An open architecture can refer to a hardware system, network or even software that is able to be extended by users to provide new or expanded functionality.
- When dealing with software, open architecture means that, while a program performs on its own, either the entire source code for the program or a development kit is available so users can rewrite parts of the software or develop plug-ins and extensions to allow the program to perform new tasks. [Read more here...](https://www.easytechjunkie.com/what-is-open-architecture.htm)
**Key concepts:** Interopreability, reusability, compatibility, protocols and standards.
### Progressive development
Succesful open source initiaves tend to grow in number of contributors. This leads to the establishment of participatory rules, collective decision making, leadership and governance. **Progressive development, iterative redesign and evolution is a key feature in these projects.**
- Succesful, mainstream open source projects have evolved together with the community that adopted its technology. There is always a continous process of getting feedback, proposals and contributions from anyone that can do so.
- Projects get more mature once other people start adopting the technology and eventually contributing to it.
- Contributions are diverse and may include tutorials, documentation, as well as funding.
- Adoption of the technonology by other users is essential for healthy initiatives.
### Open source economics and sustainability
- The most valuable resource in open source are the engineers behind the designs. This is because they tend to be passionate and enthusiastic about technological development.
- In open source projects many maintainers and developers volunteer, mostly because they are pursuing their passion when developing and contributing for open source.
- Eventually projects might evolve and develop a sustainable business model or funding scheme, this is might be more critical when it comes to hardware
## Before you get started with your open hardware project
- Technology comes first in open source. Become a tinkerer, be curious and build know-how on a problem you are passionate about.
- Do it because you think is good for the world and yourself all together, don't do it if you don't believe in it, or you simply want to get a commercial product to the market.
- In many open source projects, the commercial aspect follows the technology and problem solving drive.
- Openning up your project has a lot of benefits if you want to focus on developing the technology and getting feedback while doing so.
- Bare in mind that hardware has costs (material costs and labor costs)
- This is why we recommend to start small and focused on the problem and the technology, and progressively build up your project based on the feedback you get.
- Open source can help you to lower the risk and adopt this progressive community feedback.
- Not all useful products are going to be profitable, and not all selling products are good or "useful" for the world
- We encourage you to focus on the use value of your project. This will take you somewhere, it might be the case that there is a big market or small market.
Some experts suggest to think first on the market before developing the product, we think this is only the case if your goal is to go commercial.
- Making open source your project doesnt make your technology or solution by default good, but it can help you find out this.
- If you understand a problem that can be solved with hardware and you have some basic skills, resources and interest to develop know-how around the technologies and a specific problem you are in a good position. **You don't have to be an engineer to get started.**
- It is good to consider once your project needs to evolve from a prototype design to a mature design to build an interdisicplinary team with experts in whatever field is related to your project (mechanical engineering, software development, electronic, etc.) **At some point you will need to develop either individually or collectively engineering expertise.**
- Many succesfull open source projects have started in Universities and have been funded with public money, **keep in mind that a university is a great place to be in if your focus is on solving a problem with technology.**
- Be prepared to be dissapointed by unethical or unexpected behavior, some people will simply take advantage of what you have done or will not contribute back. This is common in open source, and it is part of its nature.
## Exercise 1: Go through the OSHWA definition
- Read the definitions and principles: [OSHWA definitions](https://www.oshwa.org/definition/)
- Share in the chat which principles you find useful in this document that you think can improve your current practices and why.
## Exercise 2: Learn from open source projects
- Pick at least one of the many influential projects in open source hardware and get familiar with its history. (There is a list bellow, for example you can pick one software project and one hardware project to compare similarities and differences.)
- Think about the concepts and ideas we provided in this lessons, were you able to spot some of these characteristics in the project you selected?
- Share in the chat what captured your atention about the project
- What did you find different in their approach compared to your idea of how hardware is developed and distributed?
- What did you find familiar to your own practice?
**Some interesting open source projects and initiatives you can google:**
- RepRap and Prusa 3D printers
- Adafruits company
- Precious plastic
- Linux and git
## Excercise 3 (Optional): Find an open source project related to your domain
Find out if there are open source projects out there related to your project. You can start with the [open hardware observatory](https://en.oho.wiki/index.php?title=Special%3ARunQuery%2FprojectSearch&pfRunQueryFormName=projectSearch&ProjektSearch%5Bcontains_pdf_drawings%5D=yes&ProjektSearch%5Bsubcat%5D=Bending+machine) where there are lots of open hardware projects.
 “What is open hardware? | Opensource.com.” https://opensource.com/resources/what-open-hardware (accessed Jul. 01, 2022).
 “Definition (English) - Open Source Hardware Association.” https://www.oshwa.org/definition/ (accessed Jul. 01, 2022).
 “Eric von Hippel | Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management.” https://evhippel.mit.edu/ (accessed Jul. 01, 2022).
 “Copyleft,” Wikipedia. Jul. 12, 2022. Accessed: Jul. 29, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Copyleft&oldid=1097759583
 “What Is Open Architecture? (with picture),” EasyTechJunkie. http://www.easytechjunkie.com/what-is-open-architecture.htm (accessed Jul. 29, 2022).
 “Open-source hardware,” Wikipedia. Jun. 30, 2022. Accessed: Jul. 29, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Open-source_hardware&oldid=1095733253
 “OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE BASICS | WIRED.” https://www.wired.com/beyond-the-beyond/2020/05/open-source-hardware-basics/ (accessed Jul. 29, 2022).
## Thanks to
This lesson is made possible by:
Jose Urra, Jerry de Vos, Andjela Tomic, Santosh Ilhamparuthi
Link to [Academy website](https://www.openhardware.academy/)