Open source electronics is enabling people to realise their designs quickly. Designers and hobbyists are turning their ideas into reality through digital manufacturing. The power of product development today is not only with the major corporations but is trickling down to individual designers and entrepreneurs. As a matter of fact, semiconductor multinationals are gradually investing significant time and energy on this do-it-yourself (DIY) community. The availability of low-cost manufacturing tools and low-cost distribution on the Internet sites are levelling the playing field. So let’s explore the driving factors for people ranging from hobbyists, DIYers, specialists/experts, professionals and even academicians to create and build open source systems.

3D printer in action
3D printer in action

It is all about making and sharing
“Open source electronics is electronics designed with the spirit similar to open source software. When more eyes look at open source electronics, any possible defect will be identified quickly and, more important, new ideas to utilise the same hardware for different applications will emerge,” says Dhaval Vasa, solution architect, eInfochips.

With open source electronics, everything is to be released publicly. “I have been working on open source electronics for past many years and for me it is something non-proprietary—all documentation is made available, be it schematics or PCB layout,” says Varun Sivaram, CEO and founder, Technigriti Systems Pvt Ltd. He adds, “Arduino, for instance, releases everything including the Eagle CAD file. Anyone can modify it and build stuff.”

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Open source electronics is all about sharing knowledge, believes Priya Kuber, director, Arduino India. She says, “It is not about just getting behind closed doors but teaching others how you built it so that any new person can have an accelerated learning instead of starting from scratch.” When hardware is open, it enables you to modify it, better it and pull out something really great.

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More and more people going open
In India, the kind of development happening in the field is at an elementary stage, but there is a constant rise in the number of people exploring open source hardware. Kuber shares, “In 2009-10, when I started exploring open source hardware, there were not many people who had heard of such a concept. The norm was you just pay for a course, learn 8051 and get back to make a summer project.” Today, everyone is buying and building their own robotics project. People are widely adopting open source hardware. She adds, “In every technical session or robotics competition, there is at least one thing made using an Arduino hardware.”

There are many people, especially those with software background, stepping up and creating open source products. Sivaram says, “But one thing I have noticed is, sometimes people try to achieve too many things in one project.”

What’s driving open source
An open source project is released publicly, with design files available online for download with a defined sharing licence which allows designers to replicate, hack, improve, modify and contribute to the project. Of course, there are some factors driving hobbyists, electronic enthusiasts and even professional designers to replicate, improve and build stuff. Let’s find out what’s motivating them to do so.

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Cost-effective tools enabling open system designs. With respect to India, although open source electronics is still at a nascent stage, Kavita Arora, founder, Bangalore MakeSpace and Open Source Creativity, says, “Electronic components and embedded computing modules are getting more affordable today, which is definitely one of the most interesting changes in this arena.” This cost-effectiveness is motivating hobbyists to design and build systems in a budget-friendly manner. Popular boards like Arduino are also copied and built into non-branded (such as Freeduino) boards that sell at a lower cost at sites like kitsnspares.com

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Sharing his personal experience, Sivaram notes, “When I used to buy boards, an Arduino, for instance, cost me around 1100 rupees. Keeping aside the Chinese clones of Arduino, Indian boards are available today for 600 to 700 rupees. The hobbyists I meet today are buying these pocket-friendly, India made boards which enable them to build many projects.” This is really driving the costs down and, in turn, helping a lot of people build stuff using open source hardware.

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