Open communities business models. Chapter 1: Open Hardware

Published on 03/15/2011 - Goteo

P2P economy, Tecnology reappropiation, Prosumers, Business strategies, Hacking

Contributors: Massimo Menichinelli

Since Goteo aims to develope a social network for free culture microfinancing based on the notion of community profit introducing the possibility of returning money in the form of packets of "training" and educational methodogies, FLOSS code or physical products such as open hardware or open design, we have teamed up with to publish a series of articles looking deeper at open communities business models.

We start with an overview of Open Hardware which will be followed by 2 posts on Open Craft and Fablabs. Enjoy!

Open Hardware Definitions
The current Open Source Hardware Draft Definition is intended to help provide guidelines for the development and evaluation of licenses for Open Source Hardware and it says that Open Hardware is "a term for tangible artifacts -- machines, devices, or other physical things -- whose design has been released to the public in such a way that anyone can make, modify, distribute, and use those things". The main difference with Open Source Software is that Open Source Software is collaborative, while Open Hardware is derivative: here a fork is the rule, not the exception.
Lists of existing Open Hardware projects can be found on the GOpen Hardware 2009 website, on the P2P Foundation website, on Make Magazine's Blog and Open Knowledge Foundation. Open Hardware projects are not limited to gadget and interaction design projects, but they can also be about development aid projects.

Patrick McNamara defined 4 possible levels of Openness in Open Hardware projects, that can help us understand them better:
1.    Closed: any hardware for which the creator of the hardware will not release any information.
2.    Open Interface: all the documentation on how to make a piece of hardware perform the function for which it is designed is available (minimum level of openness).
3.    Open Design: in which enough detailed documentation is provided that a functionally compatible device could be created by a third party.
4.    Open Implementation: the complete bill of materials necessary to construct the device is available.

Arduino: a successful open hardware project
Arduino is arguably the most popular Open Hardware project: an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software; many versions of the Arduino hardware have been commercially produced to date. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments. You can read a comprehensive introduction to Arduino on Wikipedia or on Alicia Gibbs thesis (PDF).
Most of Arduino official boards are manufactured by SmartProjects in Italy. The Arduino Pro, Pro Mini, and LilyPad are manufactured by SparkFun Electronics (USA). The Arduino Nano is manufactured by Gravitech (USA).
By 2006, Arduino had sold 5,000 units; in 2007, it sold 30,000; in 2009, Arduino was reported being on track to sell at least 60,000 of the microcontrollers. The reasons for Arduino's success are:
1.    it is a good starting point for projects;

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Visual notes taken by Annalena from MakerBot's presentation at Republica.