SAN JOSE, Calif. -- From his small office in the heart of Silicon Valley, Windell H. Oskay dreams of the day when an open source processor or SoC catches fire, setting off a blaze of innovation.
"The horizon [in open source hardware] I am most excited about is open cores, open source designs for processors that can be implemented in firmware in an FPGA, for example," said Oskay, the vice president of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), an educational non-profit group started in 2012.
Today many open source hardware designs, like the kits Oskay's small company sells, are based on Arduino or Raspberry Pi boards. Hackers can access and tinker with the board-level schematics, but when it comes to the Atmel AVR or other microcontrollers on them, it's hands off.
"When open cores become more common it should be possible to make designs several layers more open," Oskay said in an interview at Evil Mad Scientist, the small shop where he makes and distributes hobbyist and educational kits and other products.
Besides being just plain cool for a die-hard Maker like Oskay, "there are a number of possible benefits to open source hardware -- some political and some economic," he said. For instance, open source hardware circumvents export restrictions and embargoes in places like Cuba, North Korea, Haiti, and Iran. "You'd be surprised at the practical barriers."
In terms of economics, open source hardware lets technical people build gear more cheaply than they could purchase it, opening doors for schools and developing countries. For instance, someone trying to set up a small commercial or academic lab in say Nigeria may not have the money for equipment. But if open source hardware designs were available, that person might be able to create the gear cheaply. "We hear stories like this all the time," he said.
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