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Open Hardware: Open-Source Sharing of Hardware Specifications

By Dick Weisinger

The success of Open Source software is leading many to wonder whether a similar model would work with hardware.

Open hardware” or “open source hardware” are design and manufacturing specification that are available publicly for study, modification, and manufacturing.

The most well-known open hardware project is project for the specification of RISC architecture. RISC was first developed at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1980’s.

RISC-V is an open standard instruction set architecture (ISA) based on established reduced instruction set computer (RISC) principles. Calista Redmond, chief executive of the RISC-V Foundation, said that “with more than 420 organizations, individuals and universities that are members of the RISC-V Foundation, there is a really vibrant community collaborating together to drive the progression of ratified specs, compliance suites and other technical deliverables for the RISC-V ecosystem. While RISC-V has a BSD open source license, designers are welcome to develop proprietary implementations for commercial use as they see fit. RISC-V offers a variety of commercial benefits, enabling companies to accelerate development time while also reducing strategic risk and overall costs.”

Ted Marena, RISC-V ecosystem director for Western Digital, said that “open-source collaboration is well-advanced in the software world, and Linux has demonstrated the power behind that movement. I believe that hardware will start to ride a similar wave, and you’ll see organizations start sharing. They may not share everything, but as they incrementally offer up more and more solutions into the ecosystem, there’s going to be a broader benefit.”

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