Wired recently published an excellent article on Open Source Hardware entitle "Build It. Share It. Profit. Can Open Source Hardware Work?"
It's a great summary of the current situation, and writer Clive Thompson cites the likes of Arduino, Adafruit, NYCresistor and Instructables as he recounts our journey from the gestation of Linux to the popularity of Netgear's open source routers. Particularly, Thompson focuses on an interview with Arduino creators Gianluca Martino, Massimo Banzi, and David Cuartielles, and there are some interesting insights into the genesis of that project and where their business advantage actually lies:
"Because you're the inventor, though, the community of users will inevitably congregate around you, much as Torvalds was the hub for Linux. You will always be the first to hear about cool improvements or innovative uses for your device. That knowledge becomes your most valuable asset, which you can sell to anyone."
My favourite quote however comes from MIT professor, Eric von Hippel:
"In a sense, hardware is becoming much more like software, up to the point where you actually fabricate an object," von Hippel says. "That's why you're starting to see open source techniques in hardware. Design is largely going to shift out from manufacturers to the communities."
What an exciting idea: a shifting of design work from the brutal world of commercial manufacture as we know it, to communities of people sharing knowledge. Is it only me who finds the choice a no-brainer? Isn't this the future we've dreamed of making for ourselves?
Thompson writes of the difference that, as he puts them, 'geeks' have made to Arduino - it is their dedicated hacking that make Arduino and any successful piece of open hardware, well, successful. We as designers are the geeks of open design - and goodness knows I know a lot of geeky designers. I might go as far as to say that the reason you are reading this blog is that you might be a bit of a laser-cutting/digital manufacturing/design culture geek: design geeks have tools for open design laid out in front of us, and it is we who will shape our future products. We can only look to the open hardware movement as a role model for open design in general, as there really is an increasingly tiny difference. All it takes is some guts. Or some stupidity, if you take heart to Thompson's final paragraph.