Tag Archives: OSHWA

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.

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.”