Monday, January 07, 2008

Bug Off

Open source software is a concept that people have start getting familiar with over the past few years. Open source hardware is admittedly a more difficult proposition, but I've recently come across a couple of groups that are doing things with computer hardware that captures the spirit of open source software. The first is a local company called Modern Device Company, the brainchild of a RISD professor. They provide a simple and cheap microcontroller and development environment. I was unable to attend the recent Providence Geeks dinner where this technology was demoed, so I don't know much more about it. There's a short interview with the creator here as well as some links to related projects.

I read about a start-up called Bug Labs in the latest issue of Technology Review. They are doing a very similar thing, albeit in a more polished (and expensive) form. Their vision is a world where people are free to create their own purpose-built high-tech gadgets by stacking together a set of components and wiring them up using their software tools or by writing their own code.

It's all pretty interesting stuff. I don't have any insights to offer into what the first open source hardware killer app might by, but I think that this is something that is going to get bigger and I wouldn't be surprised if some forward-thinking gadget manufacturers start releasing versions of their products over the next few years that allow for end-user customization via a mixture of open source hardware and software components.


svec said...

It reminds me of what I've read about the early days of the home PC industry - it was By Geeks, For Geeks. Steve Wozniak at the Home Brew Computer Club, for example. Everything was open source, though I don't think they used that phrase.

I don't think there's much open source here, but iRobot has some hackable hardware:

And Lego has been in the game for a while too with their Mindstorms brand. (I think the Mindstorms programming environment was created by a Purdue grad, btw.)

I'm not sure if it matters if the end-user customization is open source or not, I suppose the customizations just need to be useful and/or fun, as well as easy enough for a non-geeky user to manage.

dhodge said...

Good points. Unfortunately, I don't see this happening on cell phones anytime soon due to the way carriers like to cripple their handsets to keep customers from being able to do what they want with them. Perhaps the Gphone will change this.