Open Source Hardware
We participated as a sponsor in the Open Hardware Summit 2010 held in New York last month. It was a significant day on which the open hardware movement, that has been developing online, has finally become a reality. The theme of the summit was ‘Open Hardware in Reality.’ It sounded revolutionary how the open hardware could derive the epoch-making business models and ‘Productizing’. We can view the future ecosystem of the electronics industry resulted from this paradigm shift.
When we think of open source, we usually think software; Linux being the representative example, and Android in the case of smart phone. Now, it is hardware! But, how in the world do we open the source of the hardware? This is an intellectual property protected by patents. However, now even the hardware can open the source through the open hardware platform. The platform means the microcontroller-based development tool for DIY (Do It Yourself) that enables users to self-construct their own applications. Thanks to this platform, UCA (User Created Application) generation, such as UCC, is starting to take place.
So who makes the open hardware platform? Only the suppliers? No. The users make them. We call them ‘prosumers.’ They are producers as well as consumers. Prosumers are wiki-active. They generate power blogs and social networks, and open forums in online communities. Some initiative prosumers develop the open hardware platform which will be improved by the followers, commoditized, uploaded on YouTube and furthermore traded online. UCA products utilizing the platform will also participate in this trade. This kind of wiki business is spontaneously developing into new enterprises in the long tail economy in the Web 2.0 era. It is just similar to the ‘Enterprise 2.0’ trends of the software industry.
Now, how could the semiconductor companies, especially the processor vendors who are dominant in the existing supplier’s market, cope with the UCA generation which is accelerated by the open hardware platform? It seems that there are not a whole lot of things that they can do. They just hope their processors to be adopted in the prevailing platforms. If so, what kind of processor could be adopted? Competitiveness in technology is not enough. Uniqueness in concept as well as technology is advantageous. So then, just do open the source, with schematics for application, libraries and peripherals together with various reference codes. They will be improved in wiki-way, created like hybrids and proliferated like clones.
The hardware TCP/IP chip is adopted in one of the most popular platforms, ‘Arduino Ethernet Shield’, and also in various application-specific clone platforms that are derived from Arduino. This is because the hardware TCP/IP is unique in its concept as well as technology. More than 100,000 UCA prosumers are now using those platforms for the last three years. They will become the infra of the electronics industry ecosystem in the near future. They will make the hardware TCP/IP to be positioned as a standard leading the internet processor market.
YB Lee, CEO of WIZnet, firstname.lastname@example.org
This column contributed to ‘ET News’ in Korea on October 8, 2010