Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang on the future of the open hardware movement

Noted hacker, maker and author Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang has made an interesting prediction: the best days of the open hardware are still ahead of us.

In a reasoned and thorough blog post, Huang revisits the subject of a talk he gave at the 2011 Open Hardware Summit earlier this year: that of the future of open hardware.

“Currently, open hardware is a niche industry,” Huang admits. “In this post, I highlight the trends that have caused the hardware industry to favor large, closed businesses at the expense of small or individual innovators. However, looking 20-30 years into the future, I see a fundamental shift in trends that can tilt the balance of power to favor innovation over scale.”

These trends – including a point in the next few decades where we reach a fundamental limitation beyond which it will be impossible shrink semiconductors – will, Huang argues, lead to a return to the open hardware ideals of the consumer electronics industry’s early days.

“In the beginning, hardware was open,” Huang reminds us. “Early consumer electronic products, such as vacuum tube radios, often shipped with user manuals that contained full schematics, a list of replacement parts, and instructions for service. In the 80s, computers often shipped with schematics.”

As the race to create newer, faster, smaller components slows down, Huang argues, devices like tablets and smartphones will become inherently more open. Users will be able to drop in new processors and memory modules, much as they do with a desktop PC – one of the most ‘open’ of the proprietary hardware platforms around – or an Arduino.

Huang’s full blog post on the subject is well worth a read if you’re at all interested in the open hardware movement.

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