Tag Archives: OSHW

From Shanzhai to OSHW: The Maker Movement in China

Although the Maker and open source hardware movements are a global phenomenon, the DIY culture in China can actually be traced back to the ancient concept of Shanzhai. As Gabrielle Levine, the newly appointed president of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) notes, China is going to be a huge driving force in the open source hardware landscape.

“There are many similarities between [the local concept of] Shanzhai and the open source hardware community,” Gabriella Levine told OpenElectronics in February. “Both Shanzhai and open source hardware projects borrow information, tools, source code, CAD files and techniques; both improve upon other’s work to accelerate development.”

SeeedStudio founder Eric Pan expressed similar sentiments during a recent interview with Atmel’s official blog, Bits & Pieces.

“MakerSpaces will likely enable a new wave of tech startups in China as in the US,” he confirmed.

“Clearly, hardware development is becoming a more agile process with the aid of [open source] prototyping tools like RepRap and Arduino boards – both of which are helping to facilitate innovation across the world and particularly in China.”

Similarly, David Li, co-founder of Shanghai’s first Maker Space, told The Economist that the DIY movement has inspired the creation of legitimate and innovative products, with socially progressive Makers teaming up with more traditional manufacturers in China.

We at Atmel are at the strategic heart of the international Maker Movement, with a comprehensive portfolio of versatile microcontrollers (MCUs) that power a wide range of Maker platforms and devices, including 3D printers (MakerBot Replicator 2 and RepRap), the vast majority of Arduino boards, as well as Adafruit’s Gemma, Trinket and Flora platforms.

Indeed, Arduino boards are currently used by millions of Makers, engineers, schools and corporations all over the world. At least 1.2 million Atmel-powered Arduino boards have been sold to date, with the ATmega328-based Uno being a particular Maker and prototyping favorite. Of course, stand-alone AVR microcontrollers like the tinyAVR lineup are also popular amongst the DIY crowd.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, an increasing number of Makers are kicking off project prototyping with Atmel-based Arduino boards. Concurrently, we are also seeing a jump in professional engineers relying on Atmel-powered Arduino boards to create initial models for their devices, platforms and solutions.

According to Gartner, 50% of companies expected to help build the rapidly evolving Internet of Things have yet to coalesce. This is precisely why Atmel views China’s Maker Movement as one of the primary tech incubators for future IoT companies and devices, many of which will undoubtedly use Atmel microcontrollers (MCUs) to power their respective platforms.

Atmel will proudly be attending Maker Faire Shenzhen this year on April 6-7. Our booth – #4 – is located right next to Center Stage. We’ll be showcasing a number of Atmel-powered products including a Zigebee-based lighting demo, robotic model car, various Seeeduino boards, the Rainbow Cube (LED light controlled by Atmel MCUs) and an e-ink badge.

I’ll also be giving a presentation about Atmel microcontrollers, the IoT and Makers at 2PM on April 7th at the Center Stage. Hope to see you there!

Gabriella Levine talks OSHW, Arduino and China

Simone Cicero of Open Electronics recently sat down with Gabrielle Levine, the newly appointed president of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) to discuss a wide range of topics, including the rapid evolution of the open source movement, Arduino boards and China’s key role in the hardware space.

“I believe it is becoming commercially strategic for companies to release open source hardware tools and platforms. Because tech innovation is happening so rapidly, companies have to innovate quickly,” Levine told the publication.

“As the trend of open toolkits and information becomes more mainstream, no longer will patent ownership be the driving force behind success, but success will come from the best technology that is fastest to make it to market. Releasing open source hardware is certainly commercially beneficial in some ways for companies and for consumers.”

According to Levine, OSHW allows consumers to control, modify and personalize various platforms or tools. In turn, this facilitates healthy competition within the market, while accelerating product proliferation via derivatives.

“For example, Arduino has created a market share based upon both Arduinos as well as derivatives. Additionally, open source hardware can contribute to commercial success because it puts so much emphasis on ‘the Brand.’ [Remember], Arduino became known globally due to attribution,” she explained.

“Another example is Sparkfun and Adafruit. These companies seem to survey what sensors the community is using, see what people have made and then decide to produce their own products or sensors based on what they see is popular, or even based upon the designs of some of the community.”

Levine also commented on China’s role in hardware innovation, noting that it boasts fast-paced manufacturing, along with inexpensive tools and materials.

“I believe China is going to be a huge driving force in the open source hardware landscape. There are many similarities between [the local concept of] Shanzhai and the open source hardware community,” she said.

“Both Shanzhai and open source hardware projects borrow information, tools, source code, CAD files and techniques; both improve upon other’s work to accelerate development. What differentiates Shanzhai from open source hardware projects is that it doesn’t build upon the work of others for increased innovation, but it exactly copies and prices it lower.”

Last, but certainly not least, Levine said Germany, Netherlands and Japan are at the forefront of design and innovation. As such, the trio will play a “big role” in making the open source hardware movement more mainstream.

Interested in reading more? 

The full text of the Open Electronics interview with Gabrielle Levine can be accessed here.

CNBC analyzes open source hardware

Writing for CNBC, Tom DiChristopher confirms that the rapidly evolving open-source hardware (OSHW) movement is currently in the process of migrating from the garage to the marketplace.

As DiChristopher notes, companies that follow an open-source philosophy make their physical designs and software code available to the public. By doing so, they engage a wave of Makers, hobbyists and designers who don’t just want to buy products, but rather, offer a helping hand in developing them.

“Patents still work as an incentive for some people, but for a growing number of companies, sharing is more lucrative and fulfilling,” Alicia Gibb, executive director of the Open Source Hardware Association, told CNBC.

Gibb specifically highlighted Atmel-powered Arduino boards as an example of popular open hardware, pointing out that one of the biggest assets open-source hardware manufacturers have is the communities they’ve built among users who share their values and their roots as Makers.

“[For example], one of the things that the Arduino has that cannot be duplicated no matter how cheap you make it is the community that surrounds it,” said Gibb. “Even if somebody else comes along and tried to sell something cheaper I don’t think it would matter.”

According to Catarina Mota, research chair at the Open Source Hardware Association, the rise of open-source hardware companies can be attributed to a number of cultural and technological trends. Indeed, hardware makers have built on the open-source software movement that gained steam in the ’90s, while the ubiquity of the Internet allows hobbyists to collaborate on physical products. The barriers to making hardware and other equipment have also fallen, says Mota, thanks to cheaper prototyping tools such as the Atmel-powered MakerBot and RepRap 3D printers.

The rapid growth of the movement is also reflected in the success of marketplaces for DIY developers and open-source enthusiasts like New York-based Adafruit Industries, a company which uses Atmel microprocessors (MCUs) in a number of its platforms, including FLORA and Trinket. To be sure, Adafruit’s revenue has tripled year over year, with the company expecting full-year revenue for 2013 to reach $20 million. Of course, customers are not just limited to hobbyists and isolated Makers.

“Our customers are moving more and more towards commercial endeavors and a very large portion of our orders are from professionals at very large companies,” Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit, told CNBC.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, perhaps the greatest success to date in OSHW (open-source hardware) has been the Atmel-powered Arduino, primarily because it established a vibrant ecosystem. Writing in Electronic Design, David Tarrant and Andrew Back note that all the hardware design files were made available – so both Makers and engineers could study the design and extend it for their own purposes in a commercial or non-commercial context.

“These files were combined with an accessible and equally flexible software platform. [Clearly], Arduino has benefited from derivative and complementary third-party hardware and is today a growing brand with a strong reputation for quality,” the two explained.

“Following its example, hardware companies are increasingly seeing OSHW as an opportunity to seed the market and educational establishments with their technology. Development kit design files are increasingly available under open-source licenses. And as was the case with software, more reusable components are becoming available.”

According to Tarrant and Back, another key product example of the OSHW revolution is the Atmel-powered MakerBot 3D printer, the initial generations of which were entirely based on open-source design.

“Although open-source hardware has to date largely been seen as existing at the simpler end of the electronics design spectrum, it embraces two major assets within the engineering community—goodwill and collective intelligence—and is being recognized as an important movement with increasing opportunities across both industry and education,” the two added.