Why Open Source Hardware?

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Understand your goals

In the earliest stages of open source hardware development, teams should decide who their target audience is, why they’re open sourcing their project, and what they hope to gain from doing so. These decisions will help to inform the artifacts that should be created and which toolchains are used to create them. OSPO and other groups at Google have already put extensive thought into these rationales (see go/opensource/why, go/opensource/education/when-open-source, or go/oss-in-gcp), but below are some specific examples as they relate to hardware:

Mitigation of manufacturing risk

Manufacturing hardware products is expensive and time-consuming, involving complex supply chain management, inventory, marketing, and customer support. While many of these steps can be outsourced to vendor partners, delivering a Google-branded product still carries with it a high responsibility to maintain user trust throughout the entire lifecycle of the product. In cases where Google wishes to avoid the high costs associated with manufacturing, open sourcing a hardware project can effectively “throw it over the wall” and allow other individuals or companies to adopt the design and begin manufacturing their own copies or derivative products.

If the only goal is risk mitigation, this significantly lowers the requirements in terms of toolchain selection, component selection, and artifact generation: if your end user is a single factory, less effort is needed to generate editable file formats that are widely accessible, since “compiled binaries” are often sufficient for manufacturing. However, care must be taken around copyrighted artwork and industrial design elements to ensure that derivative products are not falsely attributed to Google.

Disintermediation/Disruption

In markets where the prevailing standard or dominant vendor offers a proprietary solution, open source hardware can commoditize the hardware itself and create an opportunity for differentiation based on Google-specific features or value-adds.

Platform/ecosystem building

Open source hardware can be a useful tool in driving adoption of a platform or Google-specific technology or expanding an applicable market through a robust ecosystem and community of developers. By lowering the barriers to entry and encouraging others to build on our platform, they become invested in its success and can bring more diverse viewpoints for a stronger project overall.

For more guidance on open source hardware strategy, reach out to the Open Source Hardware team at emailremoved@.