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Putting people over Megahertz

Open source hardware can probably best be defined as hardware that has been made publicly available. The primary advantage of open source hardware? The concept allows DIY Makers and engineers to modify, improve, distribute, make and sell the design (or hardware based on that design).

According to the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware. Simply put, open source hardware offers people the freedom to control their technology – while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.

Atmel-powered Arduino boards – which epitomize the above-mentioned philosophy – illustrate the numerous advantages associated with an open source approach. Indeed, Arduino has already managed to link the rapidly growing Maker Movement with both the corporate world and educational communities.

As Brock Craft, author of “Arduino Projects for Dummies” confirms, the boards are wildly popular in schools, with science and computing teachers in secondary institutions using the platform to teach kids the principles of programming and computational thinking.

“[Of course], Arduino is also used in colleges and universities, [where] they are often found in design programs, particularly in product design, because Arduinos can quickly be used to prototype products that do physical things – like toasters or dispensers or remote controls, for example,” Craft told ItPortalPro.

“It is also widely used in digital arts programs for making interactive artwork, music, and performances. [Yes], there have been similar products on the market for many years and education curricula have used other alternatives. But what makes Arduino different – and is driving teachers to use them – is that Arduinos are easy to use. And if they need help, it’s easy for teachers and students to get it in the extensive online communities.”

In addition, Craft noted that Arduino boards are being deployed throughout the corporate world, as the hardware is used by designers, architects and engineers for prototyping purposes.

“It’s very easy to try out design by building a prototype so that they can see what solutions work and toss out those that don’t. This is much easier to do early in the design process before more money has been spent on bringing an idea to fruition; Arduino can play a key role here,” he added.

And why not? As Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi wrote in a recent Makezine article, Arduino boards are essentially a mashup of open technologies wrapped up in a unified user experience.

“From the out-of-the-box experience we want to know how long it takes to you to go from zero to something that works,” Massimo explained. “This is very important because it creates a positive reinforcement that you are on the right path. The longer that time is, the more people you lose in the process.”

According to Massimo, “we are all on the edge” of a new step in the Maker Movement.

“Some of you are surely working on the next big thing. Please keep at it, but keep in mind the overall experience,” he continued. “[Yes], you can put a processor that is 100 Mhz more than another one, but the way you interact with it makes a huge difference to people because it’s more important to take care of the experience people have when they learn than to give them power they don’t know what to do with.”

Massimo reiterated the notion of “people over Megahertz” earlier this week during the New York Hardware Innovation Workshop (HIW), which kicks off right before the 2013 World Maker Faire in NYC.

“Every time you design a system to do everything, you end up with a system designed to do nothing. The challenge is to build a platform that solves a simple problem for a specific group of people: beginners for example,” Massimo emphasized during a panel discussion about the evolution of microcontrollers (MCUs). “Our boards are not the most powerful, but they enable people to get ideas into products very fast. It’s people over Megahertz.”

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