The State of OSHdata and Open Hardware

There’s a lot happening, so I want to take some time to update you on the OSHdata project and what we see happening next in the broader Open Source Hardware community as we look ahead to Open Hardware Month in October.

OSHdata was started earlier this year by myself (Harris Kenny) and my friend and co-creator Steven Abadie. We worked together to create and publish the 2020 Report on the State of Open Source Hardware, which we released under an open CC BY-SA 4.0 International license.

Our report took a deep dive into how to price open source products, which licenses are being used by open source hardware projects, the growth of open hardware, and potential ways that we would modify OSHWA’s certification application. In parallel, OSHWA has been working on developing an API to increase accessibility of their data—which means more and easier reporting in the future!

After publication, we co-authored articles on new open hardware for Make: magazine and received media coverage in a number of different places like from Gareth Halfacree, Fabbaloo from Sarah Goehrke, and the Makers on Tap podcast co-hosted by Aaron Peterson and Joe Spanier. In many ways, this project has already exceeded our expectations. But there’s still more work to be done.

Our research has been read in over 40 countries around the world, on every continent—except Antarctica. Our report helped increase awareness of the certification program and created a sense of friendly competition between some of the leading Open Source Hardware companies in the world. Since our report was first published, the program went from slightly over 400 certifications to now boasting over 1,000 certifications!

In many ways, this project has already exceeded our expectations. But there’s still more work to be done.

This more than doubling of the certification program was led by our friends at Adafruit, who are now the leading creator with nearly 40% of all certifications. To mark the time when they claimed the top slot, we interviewed Adafruit founder Limor Fried was kind enough to share her perspective on open hardware and also how their business was being affected by this year’s events.

As you can see in the certification directory, the Open Source Hardware movement is a global movement. It’s not just about leading brands like Adafruit, SparkFun, Olimex, or Field Ready. It’s also not about the big companies are involved in this space and have certified hardware, like Google or BeagleBoard. Open hardware is built by people you know, and by people you may not know yet. We have worked hard to shine a spotlight on the up-and-coming creators.

Big companies have their role. Beyond their hardware itself and increasing awareness about open source, the platforms they have built are important part of the foundation for the open source community. But there are many more smaller companies and independent developers who are also pushing things forward.

Open hardware is built by people you know, and by people you may not know yet. We have worked hard to shine our spotlight on up-and-coming creators.

We have seen a lot of enthusiasm and interest in Europe. In fact, the team at OpenForum Europe reached out and we commissioned a special report on the State of Open Hardware in Europe. Here’s a dynamic chart we put together visualizing per country growth by region.

Let’s understand this better by looking at a few specific creators.

  • Independent developers like Arturo182 in Sweden, who recently founded SolderParty and has certified multiple products. He’s sell his wares through the up-and-coming Cyber City Circuits and Tindie.
  • Firmware experts like 3mdeb in Poland, who have a long-running expertise in open source firmware projects like coreboot and have since expanded to manufacturing certified open hardware.
  • STEM companies like Otto DIY, who were the first to certify open hardware in the Czech Republic and whose capable robots are being used by educators, parents, and hobbyists around the world.
  • IoT experts like Bulgaria-based ANAVI Technology, who are helping drive open hardware innovation through a myriad of sensors, detectors, controllers, and more.

We also connected with the team at E-Radionica in Croatia, who were generous enough to send us an Inkplate 6—their successfully crowded e-paper display, which they funded on CrowdSupply. You can see the hardware and read the tech specs in OSHdata’s Inkplate unboxing and first impressions post.

Looking beyond the open hardware community, so much has happened this year that raised the awareness of how things are made. I believe all three of these major trends point towards a future that is more open when it comes to hardware.

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic led to headlines in major media outlets around the world about DIY and open source methods of making a wide range of things, like fabric masks and face shields. As I write this, I just got off the phone with a reporter interested in discussing this topic for a piece.
  2. Correspondingly, there’s also increased awareness about the fragility of global supply chains in their current form. If re-shoring conversations, many things will need to be re-learned and re-engineered. That might happen openly to accelerate the timeline.
  3. In the technology industry, there’s an increased focus on integrated workflows and supporting distributed work. We have seen acquisitions of companies that help open hardware proliferate, like Cadence Design Systems acquiring InspectAR (which supports developers using open boards for their work).

With that in mind, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what all this means for the future of OSHdata.

We’ve seen the strongest interest from founders of smaller companies who are interested in individualized help commercializing their open source hardware products. So OSHdata is going to focus in that direction, both through services and through info products to help those founders. I re-launched the website and updated the brand colors to reflect this newfound focus for the OSHdata project. So if you suspect that things look different around here, you’re right, they are!

Working with founders and engineers on go to market strategy is something I am passionate about. I’m interested in taking further OSHdata further as an extension of my consulting work. On the other hand, Steven is going to be taking a step back from OSHdata to focus on web and software development projects. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Twitter @stabadie.

We’ve seen the strongest interest from founders of smaller companies who are interested in individualized help commercializing their open source hardware products.

So whether you are a founder yourself, or you are looking to reach founders, contact OSHdata or reach me directly on Twitter @harriskenny. Next month is officially Open Hardware Month and we are excited to announce new content, including: founder interviews, product unboxing, and more.

If you are simply interested in following along, there are two ways you can do that. First, you can subscribe to the monthly email newsletter for regular updates below.

Second, you can get the most recent updates on newly certified hardware, follow OSHdata on Twitter. I regularly comb through the certification directory and post updates about newly certified products.

Featured Image by Daniel Andrade on Unsplash

Published by Harris Kenny

Founder and CEO of Intro CRM, your virtual sales assistant.

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