Open-source hardware (OSHW) is part of an emerging business model where all the design files of a product, including the circuit schematics, source code and physical design, are made publicly available under a license so that others can improve upon the design and share the improvements with the community. It works in a similar way to open-source software, where there are already established business models that allow for profitable companies. Here are 10 of the most successful open source hardware projects in 2013:
The Arduino electronics prototyping platform is arguably the most successful OSHW project out there. The Arduino is a microcontroller platform with an easy-to-use development environment that makes it easy for beginners to get started with electronics. It has a large community of supporters and there are software libraries available to do almost anything imaginable. The Arduino project open sources its software and hardware schematics, and views its trademark as its most valuable intellectual property.
OpenROV is a OSHW project to build a remote-operated underwater robot. The two founders of OpenROV, David Lang and Eric Stackpole, wanted to explore an underwater cave and created an online community to build the first open source underwater robot, where they share all of their designs and source code. They are now manufacturing these robots and have recently received backing from venture capitalists.
DIY Drones was set up by Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine,and is now the largest community for amateur UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). They sells multicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and autopilot systems based their open source designs through their 3D Robotics online store.
LittleBits is an electronics prototyping platform where all the components can snap together using tiny magnets. It was founded by Ayah Bdeir, an MIT Media Lab graduate. While the magnetic connector system has been patented by LittleBits, the circuit designs themselves are open source.
Sparkfun Electronics, based out of Boulder, Colorado, have been supplying electronic components and kits to the maker community for the past 10 years. Sparkfun designs, manufactures and distributes their own open source DIY electronics kits and components. The company has more than 135 employees, 75 million dollars of sales, 600 000 customers and 431 products. None of these products are patented, as they believe it is better to stay ahead of the pack by creating new products all the time.
Adafruit Industries is another hardware supplier to the maker community, based in New York. The founder of Adafruit, Limor Fried, is another MIT alumnus and seen as a pioneer in the OSHW movement. She was the first female engineer to feature on the cover of Wired magazine.Adafruit already had a turnover of more than $1 million in 2010.
Although MakerBot has released their latest 3D printer, the Replicator 2, as a proprietary product, the software and some of the hardware (including the extruder) is still open source. MakerBot Thingiverse is the largest repository of open source 3D CAD models.
UltiMaker is another company that sells 3D printers, this time based in the Netherlands. They sell one of the most popular completely open 3D printers, which has been voted winner of the Best Open Architecture category in Make’s Ultimate 3D Printer Guide.
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer designed as a small and cheap computer for kids, but embraced by the maker community as a more powerful alternative to the Arduino. The Pi is manufactured locally here in Wales at the Sony CEM (Contract Electronic Manufacturing) facility in Pencoed, and the 2 millionth Pi was sold in October 2013.
The BeagleBoard is another credit-card sized computer, introduced by Texas Instruments in 2008. With the success of the Raspberry Pi a lower-cost version, called the BeagleBone Black, was released this year. The BeagleBone Black has some maker-friendly advantages when compared to the Raspberry Pi, such as improved input/output functionality and a real-time coprocessor.