An Urgent Need in Open Source Hardware
I have just gotten back from the second annual Open Hardware Summit. The organizers did a fabulous job, adding breakout sessions and project demos while handling a growing audience (in person and over the internet). Kudos to the entire team.
As I flip through my notes from the summit, I find there are several themes which stand out. First was the wider variety of projects from last year. Second was the social impact of open source hardware from projects such as EyeWriter (a project to help people communicate using only eye movements) and Protei (a project to build autonomous boats to help with research and ocean clean up). And third was the urgent need to fully document open source hardware projects.
This last theme seemed to permeate the summit, from the opening keynote to Mach 30’s demo booth at the end of the summit. The Arduino Team expressed it as one of their lessons learned: “Document what you make.” It is direct and simple, and it rolls off the tongue. So much so, that I immediately thought, “there’s the tag line for Open Design Engine.”
It didn’t stop there. Bre Pettis of MakerBot went on to say “Publishing ideas is an urgent community responsibility.” For Bre, this was partly as an inoculation against having someone else patent your idea and make it impossible for you to act on it. I think it also speaks to the more fundamental idea that hardware only becomes open source when we publish it. Of course, this begs the question, what does it mean to publish an open source hardware project. At Mach 30, we believe it means opening up the entire design process, from identifying a need, to developing a concept, all the way to fabrication and test. And, it turns out we are not alone. Amanda Wozniak gave a brilliant presentation on how to start opening up the engineering design process as a means of documenting open source hardware projects.
To round out the day, Mach 30’s exhibit during the Cocktail and Demo Hour was a demonstration of Open Design Engine, a web portal developed specifically to address the urgent need to publish not only the final plans but the entire design process for open source hardware projects. We like to think of it as the Source Forge for hardware. And while sites like Source Forge and LaunchPad are focusing on features to support software projects (such as demo web and database servers for web site projects), Open Design Engine is focused on the needs of hardware projects. The private alpha version is built on Redmine, and has support for common features such as source code repositories, wikis, forums, and issue tracking. Open Design Engine also has full sub-projects so teams can breakout their work along functional lines (such as software, electronics, and mechanical engineering) all under the heading of the main project. And Open Design Engine has a desktop like file management system for storing non-source files in a way that is more familiar to developers who come from disciplines beyond software development. Check out the full list of features and the road map to see where Open Design Engine is headed.
So, the alpha version of Open Design Engine has the core project hosting features. What’s next? We want to open up access to any user who wants to host open source hardware projects. Unfortunately, there are still a few features we need to make this practical, things like a strong terms of service workflow to make sure users have seen and agree to the terms of service, and a consistent way of identifying a project’s license. And, we are rocket scientists, not web developers, so we have had to hire a development shop to help us implement these features. Luckily, we found a great shop here in Dayton, Littlelines, and they have given us a discount since we are a 501(c)3. But they still have to eat, so we still have to pay them. We are currently raising the funds we need for the development of the public beta. If you give $25 or more, we will give you an early access account on the private alpha so you can host your projects today, and help provide valuable feedback. So, please donate $25 today and help us spread the word about the urgent need to publish open source hardware designs and the role Open Design Engine can play in filling that need.