The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) might be in full throws this week, but some of the coolest devices may be found off the Net -- blueprints and all. A burgeoning trend in open source hardware is putting up some devices on the Web -- from machines that make anything (including themselves) to cars -- with the specs to make them yourself. While still in its infancy, the trend could redefine hardware cost models much as its done for software.
Case in point is today's piece in the N.Y Times today about Neuros Technology International's new open source video recorder, the Neuros OSD. Docs for mucking around with the OSD (Open Source Device) are available on the company's wiki and an online community is even available to help along in the development.
Currently the device uses memory card or USB storage to store video and is great for consolidating old video libraries spread across video tapes and DVDs along with TV programs received off of cable boxes and other devices with standard video output. Hobbyists could in theory though hack on other video inputs presumably as well. (For the more techno-intimidated, the device could be bought for about $230 at major retail electronics stores).
What’s so exciting about projects like the OSD is their ability to tap into the “long tail effect” for hardware. In the past, the cost models of major brands, like Blockbuster, only made it profitable to go after the markets with the broadest appeal. The Web allows content producers to target smaller niches providing new opportunities for smaller developers.
Increasingly, it looks like the same will be said for the hardware market. Providing the building blocks for constructing hardware components broadens the accessibility of hardware design. Gadget-lovers without PhDs can begin experimenting with building appliances. This richness allows communities to apply the “wisdom of the crowds” to hardware development. It’s from here that the next iPhone may well be fostered.
BugLabs hopes it's Bug hardware platform will take care of some of that work. The "Lego of Gadgetry", the Bug allows consumers to snap together modules to form their own gadgets. These modules include a keyboard and video output and in this quarter Bug will offer a GPS, digital camera, touch-sensitive LCD screen, and an accelerometer module The core, a LINUX computer, that handles all of the interfacing between appliances.
But other projects are don’t require buying into a vendor’s platforms nor are they only focused on gadgets. There are even open source cars for one. Here's a list of some of the initiatives going on:
Sun’s released the UltraSparc processor specs into the public domain and now with the OpenSparc project, developers can get the source code for the processor. A second chip is now in the pipeline as well. Now all you need is your own fabrication plant.....
The Tablet ComputerAn initiative is underfoot to create a open soured, letter-sized display tablet. The project, called OpenBook, aims to sit between MIT’s $100 laptop and a consume PC. Draft 1.0 calls for a Linux based computer with a touch screen, USB 2.0, WiFi, and a few gigabytes of memory.
The Open Source IPod
Ok, so it’s not exactly an IPod, but the Daisy is a multipurpose sound player that can play MP3s. It can be used a personal music player or for other purposes, like the sound in an art project, a kiosk or the basis of a museum tour guide (so claims the web site).
The Free IP-PBX
Now that you’ve got Asterisk, what hardware platform will you run the software on? Usually folk settle on a Intel or AMD based-server of one kind or another. You can build your own PBX hardware with the Astfin Project or buy one for just $450 from the Free Telephony Project store.
Open Source Phones
Don’t pay for expensive cell phones any longer, build one yourself. The TuxPhone project aims to create a GSM/GPRS cellphone. Using the design, someone could integrate an RFID reader to create an RFID-enabled phone, notes the site. Don’t like the look? Check out OpenMoko, an effort to create a touchscreen, Open Source phone.
The Self Replicating Machine
RepRap (short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper) is a self-copying 3D machine. 3D machines use a process called fused deposition modeling (FDM) works by layering materials on top of one another to form a model originally design in software. Though it looks more like a TinkerToy than anything you’d ever use, the device can make plastic, ceramic or metal parts. How far it will get to manufacturing itself depends. The RepRap currently uses sensors, which today can’t be replicated easily, but the team is working on the problem and hope to have it solved in future releases.
Open Source isn't just for your office. The OScar aims to be the first open source automobile. The goal is to create a utilitarian car that aims to move people from place-to-place sans a lot of the high-tech gadgetry that runs in today cards. Initial concepts call for a four-door, four meter length vehicle weighing about 1000 Kilo capable of reaching 145 KM/hour.
Open Source AND Green
Love the idea of an Open Source car, but just hate the idea of polluting our environment to get it? Check out the Society for Sustainable Mobility who are working on the Open Source Green Vehicle (OSGV) project. The vehicle, called “The Kernel,” is behind the design to use any type of fuel including gasoline, natural gas and fuel cell.