A few weekends ago, Digilent said a brief goodbye to the semi-sunny skies of Pullman and headed out to Philadelphia for the 2015 Open Source Hardware Summit.
As someone who had never attended an Open Source Hardware Summit before, I was not sure what to expect. I knew a few of the speakers’ names and considered myself to possess a reasonable understanding of the idea behind open source. However as I quickly discovered, this was not the kind of conference where one can really expect to be able to expect.
From the minute we walked into the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, where the summit was being held, I was immediately inundated by a collection of sights, sounds, and swag bags. Laptop stickers, wattduinos, nametags, and other assorted goodies were sprinkled across the greeting table, and excited chattering comprised the background noise. After some brief socializing, we shuffled along with the group into the pews and quieted down in preparation for the speakers.
I can verify that there are very few things in this world that can hold, let along captivate, my flighty college-student attention for ten or so hours, but the summit was undoubtedly one of them. From an incredible keynote speech from Professor AnnMarie Thomas examining what exactly makes a Maker, to Bruce Boyes’ speech featuring revelations about American technological history (including a rather villainous appearance by the Wright Brothers!), the conference was entirely enthralling.
And beyond the flood of content from the stage, there was inspiration reverberating from every corner of the room. Every person in attendance had their own unique response and interpretation of the content, and just being present in such an exciting space was an experience in its own right.
I quickly found myself sweeping up Twitter handles and website URLs as fast my super neat contact-transferring Hackable badge could receive information.
But beyond the social aspect, the conference was an introduction.
To me, open source hardware is the commitment to an idea, the concept of separating the bonds that have long restricted creativity and creation. It is a motion to keep Makers out of the courtrooms and in their studios. It is a culture of collaboration, an acknowledgement that working together is (most likely!) going to be more effective than working alone. And while open source may not always be the best solution, I think that there are many instances where it is greatly beneficial.
One of my favorite speeches that I feel excelled in illustrating this concept was Joshua Peace’s talk on open hardware and its impact on the sciences. In his speech, he examined the inefficiency of the current grant system. He explained how if ten scientists apply for a grant and there is only enough funding to purchase the expensive equipment for one applicant, 90 percent of the scientists will be unfunded and therefore only ten percent of the research can be done. However, in the open source model, scientists are able to create their own equipment for a fraction of the cost. For example, they could make this $50 centrifuge instead of the $2000 version that would normally be required. This method would decrease the cost of equipment so drastically that instead of only being able to fund the one scientist out of ten we would be able to ideally fund all ten.
The concept of open source hardware and commitment to it ties in superbly with Digilent’s mission of enabling hands-on-learning inside and outside the classroom. With devices like 3D printers, accessible educational resources, and companies’ willingness to open source their hardware, it allows exponentially more opportunity for this mission to be achieved more fully.
Digilent has taken initiative to be committed to this movement as well, with the open sourcing of our entire chipKIT, robotics, and shields lines. We are also instrumental in the community at Zedboard.org and recently introduced our new Robotics Open Hardware Initiative. This is in addition to almost all of our software, our Wiki, and Fritzing, and our 2016 plans to open source all of our Pmods and accessory boards!
Until next year, OSHWA, and thank you for an incredible summit!