The Rise of Open Hardware

Is the Future of Hardware Open?

Despite all the challenges, more open hardware products probably exist today than ever before. Keyboardio, for instance, has established itself as an innovative keyboard manufacturer (Figure 1) and is currently in the early stages of developing other products. Similarly, Purism has established itself with a line of high-end laptops (Figure 2) and has attracted attention for some months with its development of a free phone. Other open hardware manufacturers may not have launched the next IBM or Apple, but their small businesses do appear to be enjoying modest successes. For the most part, the longstanding challenges of open hardware production appear to have been alleviated in the last few years, even if they have not been overcome.

Figure 1: After almost three years of struggling with production problems, Keyboardio has become an open hardware success story.
Figure 2: Purism has become known for its line of high-end, open hardware laptops.

The next challenge for open hardware production is to scale and become a known presence in manufacturing. This next stage may already be happening in prosthetics, where open hardware can produce alternatives for a fraction of the cost of proprietary methodologies (Figure 3). However, to date, most open hardware makers seem to have a boutique niche, producing high-quality products at high prices for a relatively small number of discerning clients.

Figure 3: The high demand for prosthetics make them a field where open hardware has made inroads. Shown here is a design from Social Hardware.

Perhaps the Internet of Things (IOT) will alter this situation. To be fully realized in the short time that is predicted, the IOT requires millions of gadgets as soon as possible, and conventional manufacturing is unlikely to keep up with the demand for product development. Now, all that can be said is that, one way or the other, open hardware is on its way to becoming a reality at last.

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