What Is Open Source Hardware

Open Source Hardware (OSHW) is the physical compliment to Open Source Software (OSS). Like OSS, the materials needed to re-create the final product are shared freely with the public. For hardware, this often includes things such as schematics, PCB designs, bills of materials and operating code. Hardware can range everything from CNC machining equipment to drone planes.

Why now?
Open Source Hardware is relatively recent phenomenon, especially when compared the the very similar Open Source Software movement. Here are some possible explanations for the rise of Open Source Hardware:

  • Mass-computerization of Design

More of the hardware design process has become computerized. Both the mechanical and electrical elements of devices are often in industry built and tested completely in software before every being built. This computerization has become progressively cheaper and easier. Because most of the pre-manufacturing work is done electronically, the design portion is cheaper (less expensive prototyping) and the resultant files can be now be easily shared.

  • Availability of Tools

The tools that are used in hardware design have been progressively getting cheaper and easier. Hobbyist-oriented, low-Cost Oscilloscopes, Logic analyzers microcontrollers kits, 3D-printers, laser cutters, and CNC Mills are now priced within the reach of consumers, many of themselves OSHW. Many of these tools are then turned around and used to create even more low-cost tools under OSHW principles.

  • Social Networking and Hackerspaces

The growth of social networking has led to more like-minded people being able to collaborate each other in the real world. One off-shoot of this is hackerspaces. People are using online tools to find others to collaborate with in real-world, communal spaces.

  • Media

Media has also played a key role in spreading the word about Open Source Hardware. Groups such as Make Magazine publish DIY-electronics information and heavily promote OSHW like the arduino and makerbot in their literature. Websites such as Hack-A-Day publish projects people have completed with their OSHW devices.

  • OSS movement success

Inspired by the success


Rather than complex boards of ICs and tangles of wire, digital designs can now commonly be done entirely on the computer in Hardware Descriptive Languages (HDLs) and then loaded onto reconfigurable Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Designs that would take weeks to wire by hand, cost thousands of dollars and even longer to debug can now be processed into files, share electronically and loaded in seconds into FPGAs. OpenCores hosts, for example, entire 32-bit processors, ethernet cards and crypto cores freely available that can run on $50 hardware, rather than the tens of thousands needed to make custom made chips. This facilitates higher-order designs that might use resources beyond what microcontrollers can offer, without resorting to expensive chips.


Open Source Software is heavily defined by the swath of licenses available to it.

links to process

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