OSHWA and Altium Live: Done.

Well it’s been a crazy few weeks since my last Upverter and CircuitMaker blog post. There’s a lot going on with the Open Source Hardware Summit at MIT in Boston, and then the very next week I had the privilege of presenting once again at the AltiumLive Summit in San Diego. As a result I’ve been kept from updating the community but… here we are!

OSH – Summit 2018

OSHWA summit was extraordinary as ever. Sponsored by several companies in the open source hardware / hacker / maker community, Octopart, Upverter and CircuitMaker brands were represented. Why do we even care about this event? Because the Open Hardware Summit and the CircuitMaker and Upverter communities share the same spirit – information wants to be free, and we can’t build and improve our electronics unless the work of those who went before us is available to build upon. For this reason, and for the social aspect, I’ve always loved attending these events – to find out what’s new in the community, promote CircuitMaker and Upverter designs, meet old friends, and discuss cool projects people are working on.

There were a lot of excellent talks about the state of OSHW and it’s future, exciting innovations that can only occur because open source collaborators band together to achieve amazing things out of sheer enthusiasm, and improvements at the community level with a new version of the open source hardware certification program.

Up-close view of the OSHWA 2018 badge.
Up-close view of the OSHWA 2018 badge.
Registration Table at OSHWA 2018 – Drew Fustini was rapidly programming everyone’s name into their badge.

Drew Fustini of OSH Park posted video recordings of the main presentations which you can catch up on over at the OSH Park blog: http://blog.oshpark.com/2018/10/07/open-hardware-summit-live-stream/

New Open Hardware Certification V2.0

So what does the new OSHWA certification process mean? It comes down to the Community Definition of what Open Source Hardware actually is. Let me explain it in my words – I’m sure you’ll relate to this story:

I got excited when I discovered “open source” single board computers were made cheaply available to makers. The first of these $30-ish single board computers most people think of in this sense is the Raspberry Pi. It’s a great tool, and the fact that it runs a useful Linux distro with Python makes it especially so. With this information, there are many websites and marketing material out there since it’s release talking about open source development and waving the “open source” flag, but the day I tried finding the schematic and PCB files so I could learn (not even copy, but learn, mind) about the PCB design of the Raspberry Pi, was they day I learned that not all the people out there marketing a product as open source are telling the whole truth. I was angered by this, as I’m sure some of you may have been as well. I’m not knocking the Raspberry Pi designers or even Broadcom for the product – we all agree it’s great – but there is an incongruence to all this which I personally find distasteful. I’m all for commercial, closed and open designs for different things, but if you call something open in your marketing, you should make it truly open.

What I love about the new Open Hardware Certification is that you can’t just slap the official logo on your design unless it does meet the true community definition of open hardware. And what that boils down to is a short list of important characteristics, my personal favorites of which are:

  • Original CAD format files are made available.
    • This has to be the most important criteria. Just putting the schematics in to a PDF or even making gerber files available for download is considered not acceptable to the community definition (I’m looking at YOU, PI clones!)
  • No restrictions on Use:
    • For an open source design to be certified, its use cannot be restricted to any people group, country, industry or business. It’s truly available and useful to all.
  • Software to operate hardware:
    • Any software needed to make the hardware carry out its function either:
      • Has to be also available under a similar open source license, or,
      • Documented enough that suitable software/firmware can be written by anyone with the skills to do it.
  • Does not restrict external hardware or software:
    • Including the requirement that external software working with it be open source. In other words, you don’t have to use KiCAD to draw your schematics, just because you want the design to be open. You can use any CAD tool you prefer.
    • This also means you can write your own custom software or firmware, or design other non-open source hardware, that interoperates WITH this open hardware product. This is an important requirement for open hardware to be able to form a legitimate play in the electronics economy. Without this, we’d not have such a great competitive environment for 3D printers, laser cutters, single board computers, and many consumer devices.

But I cannot do justice to the certification program here. I highly recommend you read about it and follow it through for your own projects as Michael Weinberg, OSHWA President, suggested in his talk at the 2018 Summit. It costs you nothing but a little extra time and attention to details, and it’s definitely worth it.

To learn more, check out the OSHWA Certification Page: https://certification.oshwa.org/

More Summit Highlights

I did get to sneak in a couple of video interviews. So stay tuned for more. This first one was with Jasmine Brackett from Tindie – a maker oriented marketplace where any of us can sell hardware products we designed in Upverter or CircuitMaker!

Altium Live 2018

Old School Altium Live badges - no paperwhites or microcontrollers here!

…Then on to AltiumLive! Me, Camaryn and Christian building camaraderie by attaching lanyards to “old school” badges. Perhaps we can learn from the OSHWA crowd and get on the electronic badge bandwagon for AltiumLive next year – it would sure make prepping the badges more fun!!

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