Open Source Hardware: What It Means and Why It Matters
You’ve heard of open source software. But what about open source hardware? Here’s an overview of what open source hardware is, what the challenges are and why open hardware is poised to grow in importance as the Internet of Things ( #IoT ) continues to boom. Defining #OpenSource Hardware Simply put, open source hardware is a term that refers to any type of device whose hardware specifications are fully documented or otherwise available. That’s important for several reasons. First, it maximizes the ability of third-party programmers and partners to work with a given device. In most cases hardware manufacturers provide only a basic level of programmability by releasing software development kits ( #SDK s) or limited documentation about hardware specifications. Sometimes additional hardware information is available through partner programs. But with open source hardware, all information is freely available to the public. Another reason why hardware openness matters is that it lets users know exactly what their hardware does. If you’ve ever read stories about webcams spying on users or microphones listening in without their permission, you appreciate the value of being able to know everything your hardware is capable of doing (and how it can be activated), as opposed to knowing only what the company you buy it from reveals. Open hardware has the benefit of being more extensible, too. For most people this matters with hardware even less than it does with software. But for the hardcore geeks out there who want to be able to customize to infinity, documentation about how hardware works is crucial. It makes it much easier to tweak a device by cutting wires, plugging in additional components and so on. Open Source Hardware Origins If the benefits of open hardware sound a lot like the ones you get from open source software, it’s because they are. And the relationship between open hardware and open source software is not incidental. As a conscious movement, open hardware dates to the late 1990s, when Bruce Perens announced an open hardware certification program that had the backing of a number of industry partners (most of them were companies that sold #Linux hardware, software or support services). Less than a year later, Perens was also one of the figures who helped launch the open source software movement properly defined.