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  • EEVblog #195 – Open Source Hardware Explained

    Posted on August 12th, 2011 EEVblog 29 comments


    Open your mind to Open Source Hardware.
    Dave gives you the low-down on what Open Source Hardware (OSHW) is, how it works, and some benefits of using it for your own projects.
    LINKS:
    http://freedomdefined.org/OSHW
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_hardware
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/
    http://www.ohwr.org/cernohl
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGPL
    http://www.tapr.org/ohl.html

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    • Jacob

      A nice list of general Open Source licenses: http://www.opensource.org/licenses/category

    • Nick

      Nice babble, but I really like the outtro sound. :)

    • Brian

      I don’t see anything in the definition that enforces copyleft or “share-alike” as you claim. (starting at about 6 mins)

      “The license shall allow modifications and derived works, and shall allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original work.”

      Allowing the same license is not *enforcing* the same license. IE: MIT, BSD, public domain are allowed and none of that is share-alike/copyleft as you say at 6:02.

      MIT/X11, BSD and other permissive licenses are widely accepted as open. If you think there is a basis for only copyleft being allow please point me at the source.

      Thanks.

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Ok, i stand corrected. I think you are correct here, it is not required, they use the word “may”, and not “must” in the definition.
        It seems that if you want to enforce copyleft or “share-alike” then you have to specify it yourself (e.g. CC SA)
        Creative Commons Share-Alike is likely the most common OSHW license though.
        The Arduino for example is licensed with Share-Alike, so all future product derived in any way from the Arduino must “Share-alike”.

        • http://www.adafruit.com/ pt

          @brian and @dave. dave posted a link to this thread over on adafruit so maybe i can help out. i’ve worked on the OSHW definition and make a living doing OSHW :)

          the OSHW definition does not require a copyleft / creative commons license, you as the maker pick the license you want assuming it fits the OSHW definition.

          any license should meet the definition, creative commons was not ideal for hardware so in the last few months after the definition went to 1.0 CERN released the CERN open hardware license, it was based on the OSHW definition.

          this is similar to how there is an OSI open source software definition and many open source licenses to choose from. some are more restrictive than others but they all meet the OSI definition of open source.

          i think we’ll see a lot of OSHW makers choose new licenses specifically made for hardware as those are released. the 1.0 of the OSHW is only a few months old, CERN open hardware license, maybe a month old – this is all new :)

          in general a lot of hardware makers like “attribution, share-alike, commercial use allowed” that fits the OSHW definition so that’s why we’ve seen it a lot. also, the arduino and they tend to be the biggest / most successful “open-source hardware” project at this time.

          i’ll check back later, hopefully i understood what we’re talking about.

          • Brian

            Thanks PT and Dave. I will be sure to read the CERN license. All my documentation is CC-BY, and all my software is Apache or MIT at the moment. I don’t release board files at the moment because it is rather a mess and I want things I open to look nice, but I wouldn’t want to ever use a copyleft license. Glad that the OSHW community doesn’t want to exclude those who prefer permissive licenses.

          • Brian

            I read the CERN license. I consider it far too long. The longer a license is the more scary it is to use.

            While I use Apache for some projects that is simply to use the same license as the libraries. I hope someone will define a suitable hardware minded MIT like license. Short and too the point: this is free, use it at your own risk, no warranty.

            Anything that does definitions of 10 things then digresses for 3 pages is just too long.

            • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

              The longer a license is the more scary it is to use.

              Can’t disagree with that!
              Why can’t these damn lawyers make something simple?

          • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

            Thanks for joining in the discussion Phil, much appreciated.
            It is all very new indeed, and I suspect the licenses and the industry will still continued to be shaped, improved and refined over the coming years.

    • http://www.siliconfarmers.com Siliconfarmer

      Dave,
      I have to disagree with your comment on not bothering to trademark.

      This leads to a couple problems.

      One problem is that you, as the well known and “famous” original designer can get saddled with support for boards sold by others. These other boards may not be exact copies, and thus don’t work exactly the same, or even have bugs or manufacturing errors that shouldn’t be your responsibility to fix. This can be a big time sync.

      The other problem is that customers won’t realize when they are buying cheap clones from someone that is not even following the OSHW ethos, yet it is marked with your trademark. In that case, you have very little practical recourse, unless you have protected your trademark.

      Big corporations have done a lot of work to get legal protection for trademarks. So you can relatively easily get the appropriate government regulatory agencies involved to block imports. You can contact distributors to warn them they are selling illegal copies and may be facing fines and other penalties unless they stop immediately.

      Protecting copyrights for something “open source”, is un-tread territory and will likely involve legal costs that far exceed what any OSHW business could afford.

      • http://www.adafruit.com/ pt

        @siliconfarmer – that’s right, a trademark is used on the arduino(tm) project. they release their product as open-source hardware and you’re free to “clone it” you can’t however use their name.

        this is why you can buy a seeeduino and other arduino-compatible clones. usually there are cool improvements and those are shared, seeed for example does this well.

        the arduino team sometimes needs to stop ebay sellers or cloners from making hardware with their name on it, but anyone who makes anything knows you might be “cloned” – a trademark gives you legal framework to work within. i live in nyc and there are fake prada logos on canal street purses.

        personally, i’ve had to request ebay to stop sales on someone make adafruit clones, i also emailed the seller and said “it’s ok to make these clones, you just can’t call them adafruit xyz”. i also encouraged them to consider making new hardware with improvements too :)

        dealing with trademarks is easy, or easier i should say, as you said copyrights would be a lot harder. copyright enforcement hasn’t been a concern for people doing OSHW. trademarks and maybe patents.

        in the USA, we generally do not have copyright for hardware, patents are used for protection (and trademarks). the “image” of a schematic could be copyrighted but an actual schematic can’t be copyrighted, recipes or clothing patterns cannot either. in the usa mask works cannot be effectively protected under copyright law either.

        it gets complicated quickly of course, lots of edge cases – the OSHW summit in one month will have a lot of talk about all this.

      • http://blog.softwaresafety.nt Bob Paddock

        “Big corporations have done a lot of work to get legal protection for trademarks. So you can relatively easily get the appropriate government regulatory agencies involved to block imports. You can contact distributors to warn them they are selling illegal copies and may be facing fines and other penalties unless they stop immediately.”

        That does not stop people in other countries from cloning your product, and selling it there. They simply don’t care. Nor does anyone in that country seem care to stop them.

        We came across a knock-off off our product at CES. They were even using a photo of our employees showing our equipment to sell the badly made knock-off (held together with hot glue that will fail on the first use of the product, meant to be used where it is very hot). They still keep sending us literature to get us to buy them, even tho we told them at CES they were copying a trademarked product.

        In some countries today you can find copies of whole Apple Stores right down to the paint job on the walls inside. No amount of legal wrangling with any kind of license, open source or not, or trademark fixes the problem where people (not all people) nave no ethics.

        • http://www.adafruit.com/ pt

          @bob paddock – that’s a situation i see, hear and live daily :)

          a long time ago limor and i (she runs adafruit) decided that we were going to do open-source hardware for everything we make. we observed, as you did, that there will be clones of anything, regardless of any trademark, patent, copyright, etc. as you noted, there are fake apple stores and just a few blocks from me in nyc i can get a fake ipod. if apple, which was briefly bigger than exxon last week, cannot stop this – then what can anyone really do?

          we can all do a lot. provide more value than just hardware. create a community, provide tutorials, support and forums. do a weekly video show. give back and provide more value than you take.

          yes, we’ll get cloned and do – but so will everyone else who makes something valuable. we can help people along the way and they’ll reward us by buying our products, not cheap knock offs or products from our competitors.

          it’s not just a “china” problem. in fact, we’ve been cloned more from other places.

          i’m learning mandarin since i do a lot of business with china, they’re not all just cloning stuff in fact many of the newest and interesting things are made and designed in china and the datasheets are only in chinese. there’s a lot of innovation going on there now – i’m excited about the global market place. i don’t see china a competitor for everything, more like a partner i can work with.

          the link that @jan posted i a good read, i think we’ll be seeing more that :)

    • jan

      here is how a creator of a very famous OSHW project has reacted when he found out it was cloned by a chinese manufacturer.

      http://www.diydrones.com/profiles/blog/show?id=705844:BlogPost:377816&commentId=705844:Comment:378844

      btw, it’s probably still true that most project clones come from china, one should also not forget to mention that there are chinese player who create original stuff and put it out in the OSHW world, like Seeed:

      http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/

    • jan

      I meant to say that one of the most active and innovative player in the OSHW world is from China. Makes it sound odd to still serve the old cliche of “‘we’ create, ‘the chinese’ just clone it.”

    • Ray Jones

      What are the balls on stalks in the background?
      Lights?
      Tesla coil discharge outlets?

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Yeah, spot lamps for better and more even light when filming teardowns etc on the bench.

    • adam lumpkins

      Dave, Good one!!! I think you hit the nail on the head with this one!!

    • http://www.vk6mrg.webs.com VK6MRG

      Dave, just found this and thought of you. Hope you enjoy.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaHm1ecBCgw&feature=fvwp&NR=1

      Regards,
      Matty G

    • tbm1

      The last few episodes you’ve mentioned a bit about design software.

      How about an episode all about software?

    • firewalker

      You still haven;t put back together that oscilloscope of yours? :P :P :P

    • http://wardyprojects.blogspot.com Adam Ward

      Despite my several differences of opinion with you on some key points, I love that you’ve done a video on this topic. I’m passionate about Open Source stuff and it’s clear that you are too. I think this is really good, enthusiastic coverage of a potentially intimidating subject.

      You’re making it very accessible to the novice and that is massively awesome.

      As always, your show is kick-ass content.

      • http://www.eevblog.com EEVblog

        Thanks.
        What are your differences of opinion? The more opinions on the topic and shared knowledge the better!

    • John

      Wonder if you could apply WTFPL on hardware… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WTFPL)

    • jsp

      @Brian – The CERN OHL works a bit like an open-source project itself. If you would like to help us make the next version better, you can subscribe to the mailing list and submit your issues to discussion. Everything is explained here: http://www.ohwr.org/projects/cernohl/wiki/Cernohl

    • http://wardyprojects.blogspot.com Adam Ward

      @Dave, my main disagreement with your discussion on this subject was the whole “Release your EDA files” concept.

      I took that to mean that you’d want me to release my (e.g.) Altium Designer files to the world, otherwise I’m not properly considering the Open Source ideology. Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood you on that key point (or anything else for that matter :)).

      I would say that this is actually counter-productive to the Open Source ideals. I deliberately picked Altium Designer as my example because it’s very expensive and therefore not something that most people have easy (/legal) access to.

      What you would in fact be doing is preventing everyone who hasn’t got that software from using your design.

      I came upon this problem when I released my propeller dev board. I had done it all in DipTrace (which is fine and dandy) but it instantly made no sense to release the DipTrace files as the sole means of distributing the idea. At best all that would do is provide a small minority of users to get a shortcut to the design data.

      I thought about it and realised that it would be far more useful to the users of my design to release it all in MULTIPLE formats. So that meant releasing everything as verbosely as possible. For my project I released Gerbers, netlists, drillfiles and BOMs etc. These formats can be used by anyone without the need for any specific design software. Gerbers, netlists, drillfiles and BOMs are all ascii text files and are thus universal.

      I also released the original EDA files just as a secondary set of information just for the hell of it. But even if I hadn’t the release would still be a valid one as far as Open Source ideals go.

      In summary – my design needs to be transferred from my brain and into someone elses – the means of conveying that data should be as unrestrictive and transparent as possible. This deliberately does NOT make the assumption that all the work is done for you as soon as you download someone’s design.
      Personally when I download some awesome Open Source design with the intention to alter it and use it for my own needs I would certainly not *expect* that the creator would have included his raw EDA files. I would only expect the kinds of files that I could use to transfer the concept of the design into whatever suite of tools that I happen to prefer at the time. I’m happy do the legwork if the design’s creator has gone to the trouble to open his/her product to the world.

      By all means release your proprietary EDA data for your Open Source project but that must NOT be the sole method of distribution, because not everyone will use the same EDA package as you.

      (If any of the above sounds a bit ranty, then please be assured it’s not a rant at all, just opinion sharing with a smile :))

      It’s a great topic though, everyone has their own different idea about it :)

      Rock on.

      • jconnor

        That is why OSHW community will have to agree on a “standard” for EDA tools soon. In the software world, majority of open source software is made in a way to be utilized (compiled) with GCC compiler (in case of C/C++ code). However, if you want to use it with something else, for example Visual Studio, you’ll often have to do some serious work. Furthermore, returning your contributions back to community can become a nightmare.
        Gerber files are good only for making exact copies, usefull only to chinese manufacturers, a not anyone else ;)
        Open source is not here for exchanging ideas. Schematics, or even well written articles/papers are used for that purpose. So I think you are wrong, OSHW exactly IS about “making all the work for you as soon as you download a design”.

        • http://wardyprojects.blogspot.com Adam Ward

          Fair enough, but until everyone does agree on what EDA tools to use, we are stuck with the problem of compatibility, hence my point.

          But I think that isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Open source projects don’t tend to progress along with the “state of the art” in my experience. We could all decide that everyone must use package “X” one day but two or three years down the line the chances are that once again the commercially driven competitors will have long since overtaken X in their capabilities.

          Look at the “Mono” project for instance, last time I looked that was a couple of years behind the Microsoft .Net system. There are many other examples of this phenomena if you look around. I think that avoiding any particular format is the only way to ensure a good degree of future proofing your work.

          The more I think about it the more I reckon that the Open Source movement should *not* nominate a specific package for everyone to use, unless they are prepared to make a solid commitment to maintaining that package at at least a nominal level of on-going technological advancement.

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