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Major Trends from Open Hardware Summit 2014

Open Hardware Summit 2014 took place in Rome, Italy. For the first time since it started 5 years ago, the summit was held outside the United States, and lasted not one but two days.

It gave attendees more time to meet, and brought new European makers in the community. What was said this year? Where is the open source hardware community going?

Open source hardware is more than electronics

This year highlighted almost as many open design projects than open electronics ones. Open source hardware is not only about electronics but tends to be more and more about products in general. Phonebloks, WikiHouse, OpenDesk were some of the projects on stage this year.

Gawin Dapper told the story of Phonebloks.

Gawin Dapper told the story of Phonebloks. Credit photo: MakingSociety.com – CC By 4.0

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OpenDesk co-founder Nick Ierodiaconou presented his project and WikiHouse. Credit photo: MakingSociety.com – CC By 4.0

Open source hardware is more than prototyping

General trend is also to see more and more open source hardware projects outside the prototyping world. Open source hardware becomes a backbone for final parts. It was pointed as one of the paths to success for the open source hardware movement: being able to use open hardware components in end-user devices, and not only for prototyping.

Many actors are working hard on lowering costs, downsizing components and educating suppliers.

Jason Kridner announced a lower cost for the BeagleBoard Black

Jason Kridner announced a lower cost for the BeagleBoard Black. Credit photo: MakingSociety.com – CC By 4.0

Eric Pan from Seeed Studio about shortening the path between design and manufacturing.

Eric Pan from Seeed Studio about shortening the path between design and manufacturing. Credit photo: MakingSociety.com – CC By 4.0

Open source hardware is an open community

A topic that seemed to be in everyone’s mind this year was about spreading the movement.

Open source hardware tools are already a huge popular success. Thousands of engineers, designers, students and artists use these tools every day. But they don’t necessarily know how to join the community or contribute back.

Open source hardware is build on the idea of giving away rights and documentation for everyone to use and improve hardware. It’s a way to avoid reinventing the wheel so that humans can move forward together. As Sparkfun CEO Nathan Seidle pointed: “it already happened with clothes or software, now it needs to happen for hardware.”

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Open source hardware heroes Tsvetan Usunov from Olimex and Nathan Seidle from Sparkfun at Open Hardware Summit 2014. Credit photo: MakingSociety.com – CC By 4.0

Obviously, not everyone knows how to code, create electronics or 3D model parts, but people with these skills have a huge impact and responsibility in technologies. They become part of the open source hardware community as soon as they start using the tools. It’s about taking and giving. Open source hardware is a cycle that nurtures itself.

As a voice of the open source hardware community, the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) has a big role to play to communicate the practices and the overall vision. It’s not just about technical and legal aspects, it’s about communication. As Jason Kridner, BeagleBoard co-founder, said in his talk, question is “how to share the message better to the general audience”.

FadeCandy creator Micah Elizabeth Scott shared the open source hardware vision as a way to give visibility and creative opportunities to hardware engineers. “People pour their lives into their work but no one get to see it.” Open source hardware brings back human creativity in engineering.

FadeCandy creator Micah Elisabeth Scott about bringing back art in engineering

FadeCandy creator Micah Elisabeth Scott about bringing back art in engineering. Credit photo: MakingSociety.com – CC By 4.0

Many contributors to the open source hardware movement take public action to spread the practices:

  • some involve public institutions, such as Public Lab
  • some work in cities, such as FabLab Barcelona or Second Story
  • many go in schools or give workshops

The entrepreneurial side of the movement is boiling. It was particularly visible in the morning workshops. Half of the room was primarily interested in how to combine open hardware practices and sustainable business. Benjamin Tincq from OuiShare gave a workshop on the business models of open hardware using the business model canvas. He showed that open hardware and business can go hand-in-hand successfully.

How to join the OSHW community

Open Source Hardware Association is now officially a non-profit. It’s the best place to start and join the community. You can become a member and join the mailing-list on oshwa.org.

A glimpse of the afternoon workshop with  Eric Pan from Seeed Studio

Before the hat frenzy – a glimpse of the afternoon workshop with Eric Pan from Seeed Studio

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Becky Stern from Adafruit and her team rocking the manufacturing workshop led by Seeed Studio. Credit photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

Thanks to Gabriella Levine, Simone Cicero, Addie Wagenknecht, Nahid Alam, Aileen and Zachary Menegakis for the organization!

Glad to be part of the movement,

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