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EETE FEBRUARY 2013

SPONSORED Company Profile Open Source Hardware Changes the Game By Lynnette Reese, Mouser Electronics Embedded technology is facilitated by the standardization of operating systems so that applications can run on any platform that supports the standard. Witness the overwhelming success of the open source software (OS) movement. For software, it means that source code is free to obtain, use, and revise without payment of any kind to the originators. In return it is expected that the user will credit the original source of the code and perhaps contribute code back to the originating community. Cases in point: Linux enabled Google to build dirt-cheap servers; Java, Perl, and Ruby have become the lingua franca for building Web 2.0 applications; and the free Web-server software Apache enables nearly half of all the world’s web sites. OS can be said to have given birth to the Internet age, making everyone – including those who donated their labor – better off. Likewise, Open Source Hardware (OSHW) is a potential game changer for the electronics market. Open source hardware (OSHW) is a component or device that has been licensed to allow anyone to examine, duplicate, and modify the hardware as they wish. With open source, you can share and adapt the work freely, and if you choose to sell or distribute it, you can do so under the same license. Open source hardware is popular with hobbyists, and we may see product development with OSHW by commercial companies increase, as it has with Linux. Linux became a major engine of growth for embedded software once the large players realized that it was royalty-free and that it was legally supportable for their purposes. For instance, early on, the set-top box industry in the United States was under extreme pressure to create low-cost boxes when the cable industry began providing boxes free in order to gain subscribers. Linux was a cost-free operating system to run on the set-top-box platform. Linux is perfect to use on evaluation boards for demonstrating new semiconductor processor chips, as well. Development boards to evaluate new technologies and platforms exposed other, customer-companies to embedded Linux. The open source hardware movement will likely mature in a similar manner. It will always hold great appeal for hobbyists and educators because economically speaking, barriers to entry are very low; it can quickly become the platform of choice for start-ups with great ideas and less money to take those ideas to market. The main difference between OSHW and OSS is that OSS is completely free if you consider using the internet to transfer source code as “free.” OSHW involves cost of the materials. So the real point here is that the hardware IP is what is free. Contributors either make or purchase a platform before they can contribute (Figure 1.) Even so, multiple modifications and additions are uploaded by contributors. For commercial ventures, this can be a real time-to-market advantage, because it allows for fast prototyping and produces a device that may be iteratively tweaked or hacked; the entire design is out in the open. People like to make things and share them in communities because they make friends, earn respect, learn from others, and get feedback on their contributions. There are hundreds of OSHW projects published online today. As with OS, sharing with the OSHW community is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. One example of OSHW is the Arduino platform where commercial re-use of Arduino designs requires no royalties. Mouser Electronics offers the Arduino line, which supports ARM-based processors, as well as other OSHW lines: the Beagleboard using Texas Instruments’ processors, the Pinguino and ChipKitTM with Microchip processors, and the Freescale Olimex, among others. (Figure 2.) Unlike a free reference design, OSHW typically involves a community of developers that contribute their time and expertise with no expectation of payment for their effort. Some of the best benefits of open source are that many people with varying experience participate, which creates more robust designs, and offers collective intellectual property for free. Integrity, technological intelligence, and the elegance and cleverness in the execution of a solution are all rewarded. And this easier, faster, and cheaper way to design could fundamentally shift the hardware design and manufacturing paradigm. In supporting the community, Mouser stocks and delivers the newest OSHW offerings. A powerful development board that is difficult to keep on the shelf is the Arduino Due. It’s based on the Atmel SAM3X8E ARM® CortexTM-M3 microcontroller running up to 84MHz, providing flexibility and power. This is the first Arduino based on a 32-bit processor and enables new sketches for playing audio Open Source Ecosystems Differ Primarily Due to the Cost of Materials for Contributors from an DS card and a USB Host. Open 8 Electronic Engineering Times Europe February 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE FEBRUARY 2013
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