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Why the Best Days of Open Hardware are Yet to Come

One of my favorite talks at the Summit this year was by Bunnie Huang, who is the lead engineer of the Chumby, among many other accomplishments. He put forth the idea that as the increase in tech capabilities slows (as the doubling window for Moore’s law increases to 24 or 36 months), smaller developers will stand a better chance of creating innovative products which can succeed in the marketplace. He’s put all this together into an equally excellent blog post:

Currently, open hardware is a niche industry. In this post, I highlight the trends that have caused the hardware industry to favor large, closed businesses at the expense of small or individual innovators. However, looking 20-30 years into the future, I see a fundamental shift in trends that can tilt the balance of power to favor innovation over scale.

In the beginning, hardware was open. Early consumer electronic products, such as vacuum tube radios, often shipped with user manuals that contained full schematics, a list of replacement parts, and instructions for service. In the 80’s, computers often shipped with schematics. For example, the Apple II shipped with a reference manual that included a full schematic of the mainboard, an artifact that I credit as strongly influencing me to get into hardware. However, contemporary user manuals lack such depth of information; the most complex diagram in a recent Mac Pro user instructs on how to sit at the computer: “thighs slightly lifted”, “shoulders relaxed”, etc.

What happened? Did electronics just get too hard and complex? On the contrary, improving electronics got too easy: the pace of Moore’s Law has been too much for small-scale innovators to keep up.

I urge you to read the whole thing, because it is utterly compelling, and contains one of best sentiments ever:

Personally, I’m looking forward to the return of artisan engineering, where elegance, optimization and balance are valued over feature creep, and where I can use the same tool for a decade and not be viewed as an anachronism.


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1 Comment

  1. Really great read … thanks for pointing that out.

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