Could robots become the open source hardware target?

Summary:We usually think of open source as replacing what exists, and critics may thus deem it non-innovative. But open source is integral to homebrew robotics, and over the next few years we're going to get a lot more than vacuum cleaners out of it.

Willow Garage robot with wine glass, from willowgarage.com
Most of you probably just glanced at yesterday's post about Texas Instruments supporting open source with its new OMAP chips, and if so you probably missed an important target market.

Robots. (Picture from Willowgarage.com)

The age of homebrew robotics has arrived. As with computing in the 1970s robotics is dominated by a few large players, mainly Japanese, with a top-down vision which may bring robots onto the TV but won't bring them into our daily lives.

Thanks to open source and things like Dean Kamen's US First robotics competition, which has brought the hacker aesthete to the Internet generation, that can change.

The folks at O'Reilly are just starting to sniff around this idea, with Make Magazine and the Makerfaire. Despite Microsoft's sponsorship of the latter, open source is an imperative in this market, where everything is do-it-yourself.

Instead of seeing robots as Isaac Asimov did, as artificial people, the new robot hackers look at them first as computers with motors and specific purposes.

Starting with kits from outfits like Willow Garage, the hope is Kamen's Kids will grow up into the next generation of Gates, Jobs and Wozniaks. I'm Gates' age and I'm feeling it.

True, this is very much a pre-VC business. Quantities are tiny. TI is going to get a much bigger boost for OMAP from a single Taiwanese WiFi deal than from owning this whole industry.

But everything really useful starts in a garage, with a dream, and an idea everyone dismisses as useless, as just a hobby.

We usually think of open source as replacing what exists, and critics may thus deem it non-innovative. But open source is integral to homebrew robotics, and over the next few years we're going to get a lot more than vacuum cleaners out of it.

TI just got itself in on the garage floor.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Hardware, Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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