Open Source Hardware – How to Make Money

Open source hardware has been growing in popularity over the last few years. It facilitates large-scale collaboration, which can leads superior technology. According to the Open Source Hardware Association, open source hardware is defined as “hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design”.

In a very interesting video from Hardware Pioneers, Maarten Ectors, Vice President of IoT at Ubuntu, answers the big question; how do you actually make money from something you are giving away for free.

He talks about how software is starting to define hardware, giving the examples of hardware items, including cameras and torches, that have been disrupted by a mobile phone apps, and suggests that the way forward for hardware developers is to put apps onto their hardware so that the same hardware can be redefined over and over again.

If your hardware is doing a single function, you are at risk that some mobile device can take over your function via an app, and Maarten talks about letting people create an app ecosystem, with the hardware developer focusing on creating the control function and making the best open source hardware designs. If you focus on design, you can leave the logistics, certification and inventory to a manufacturing company. He gives an example of a body scanner that you walk through which detects if you have weapons, but with a different app it could scan your body shape and to give a tailor the exact information needed to make perfectly fitting clothes.

Where you can start to make money is if you can make an app abstraction layer so you get paid for delivering the app ecosystem to the clients. Hardware manufacturers need to be connected to the software developers and the software needs to be certified. You could get a percentage of all hardware sold or a percentage of all apps sold, or both.

The Var Guy recently wrote a blog on open source hardware, where he talks about another very important benefit which is that it allows users to know exactly what hardware does, as opposed to only knowing what the company selling it to you wants to know. More and more these days, consumers are suspicious around security issues and will be drawn towards products, which have transparent and open designs.

A recent article from talks about making money by pro­viding support for open hardware, or conducting quality-assurance checks and validation tests to support guarantees on products. It also discusses the aspiration that in the future, every scientific article would not just contain the experimental methods, but also instructions on how to build the equipment required.

We recently interviewed Emma Dowling, the CMO of MyOctopus, which is a startup creating a sensor system for your home that supports open hardware and software. They are very excited about the endless possibilities that result from open source, as opposed to a dedicated sensing system that has pre-defined uses. Read the full interview with Emma here.

If you have experience with open source hardware that you’d like to share with us, please comment below, email me at [email protected] or tweet us @MintTekCircuits