This weekend, in the wankel-shaped dome of the Kresge auditorium at MIT, nearly 1,000 obsessed and passionate people who believe in giving away their work came together. Known as the Open Hardware Summit, this was the fourth gathering of these peculiar and wonderful people who have gathered to discuss open-source hardware.
Lets first take a moment to describe what open-source hardware is. Many have heard of open-source software and regard it with a skeptical or curious eye, but most are unfamiliar with open-source hardware. This relatively new trend borrows many ideas from the open-source software movement, though it does have its own nuances due to the fact that some technologies used within a project may not be freely distributed.
Here's an excerpt from the definition, taken from the Open Source Hardware Association:
Open Source Hardware (OSHW) is a term for tangible artifacts – machines, devices, or other physical things – whose design has been released to the public in such a way that anyone can make, modify, distribute, and use those things.
I have had many engineers ask me what open-source hardware is, and inevitably, after hearing the answer, they ask how it could possibly work. How could you possibly survive as a business that shares its source code and schematics? That has a longer answer than I plan to give here, but we can see some great examples of companies that are focusing on open-source hardware design and sales that are doing quite well. You're probably familiar with Adafruit and Sparkfun, both major proponents of open-source hardware. Here's an intruiging TED talk given by Nathan Seidle about why he chose open-source for Sparkfun. Basically, they survive through superior customer service and constant innovation.
Now that we've covered what open-source hardware is in the first place, lets get back to the Summit. The Summit moves to a new location every year. This year it was on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a single-day event dominated by talks given from all points of view within the open-source hardware community. The subjects varied from technical aspects of hardware construction to law, funding, and even philosophy. You can see the entire lineup of speakers here, and they intend to post videos of each presentation this week.
What really stood out about this event is that every single person was there because they were passionate about the topic. If you have been to conferences you know that there is a broad spectrum of enthusiasm present at each event. Some people are there out of duty, or out of job requirements. This conference may not be huge, but the attendees were focused and excited. There simply wasn't a single person there who seemed as if he or she would rather have been somewhere else. I absolutely loved it and look forward to seeing those presentations once they are posted.
If you'd like a chance to get your hands on a piece of open-source hardware for free, you should hop over to our September caption contest and leave a comment for a chance to win an Adafruit Trinket development board!