By Calder Phillips-Grafflin
How many of you use Firefox? Chrome? Safari? Mac OS X? Linux? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those, then you’re one of the millions who use open source software. However, it’s unlikely that many of you have heard of, let alone used, open source hardware.
Open source hardware is a relatively new movement made possible by the introduction in recent years of low-cost yet powerful microprocessors. Additionally, the difficulty of circuit-board fabrication has dropped significantly; what was once out of reach for all but the most dedicated developers is now as easy as placing an order online.
Despite the growing community of open source hardware developers, it has remained, until recently, the realm of dedicated hobbyists. This changed with the release in recent years of open development platforms that are used by hobbyists and professionals alike.
An example of this growing trend is the development platform made by Bug Labs. ‘The BUG’ is a modular platform powered by ARM processors with a variety of input/output modules.
Unlike previous projects, BUG Labs has been able to get support from the industry, with approved wireless modules from Verizon and AT&T, and the platfrom has been adopted by professional developers.
On the other end of the scale, the open source Arduino microcontroller has become a staple of hobby and academic projects, with a number of them being used by Union students.