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Open source platforms afford infinite design capabilities

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:open source? embedded? Arduino? Internet of Things? Rapsberry Pi?

In the context of design and development, open source offers a model through which universal access for a product's design or blueprint is freely made available. This includes the universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, and also includes latest enhancements to it by anyone. The advent of these open-source development platforms has generated a large volume of resources that even non-experts in the field of design can use to their heart's content.

Not too long ago, the idea of open source was synonymous with "free," because, of course, there is no upfront cost involved. That perception was successfully realigned, through education, towards "liberty," the freedom to use the resource without cost.

The distinction is important because, in order for open source to continue to grow, it requires those benefiting from it to contribute back to the project in some way, an action that clearly involves a level of effort and therefore contains an element of cost.

The availability of open-source software and, more recently, hardware targeting embedded applications means that access to high-quality engineering resources has never been greater.

The emergence of open-source development platforms based on popular microprocessors, developed and maintained by dedicated volunteers, has effectively raised the level of abstraction to a point where non-experts can now use these platforms to turn their own abstract concepts into real products.

The communities that surround these platforms provide a wealth of informal support, encouraging people who may have never considered a career in engineering to get their hands on real hardware and make real "things" that can change lives. This "maker" spirit is fuelling new trends in technology and will play a major role in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Rising open source projects benefit engineering community

The rationale behind that statement is simple; there just aren't enough qualified engineers in the world to meet the expected demand for IoT-enabled devices.

Put another way, the imagination of people who just "get" the possibilities offered by a more connected world will far exceed the capacity of developers to create innovative products, and once inspired, it's really hard to stop people demanding more.

This is where open source comes into play. Creating platforms that are simple to obtain, easy to use, and intended to be modified allows almost anyone to enable their wildest dreams to become reality.

The range of existing open-source projects is staggering and stems from an enterprise world where the rapid expansion of the Internet almost relied on a more open approach to programming and operating systems.

Perhaps the most influential person in those early years was Richard Stallman, who founded the Free Software Foundation and launched the GNU Project in 1983, as well as developing the GNU General Public License framework under which much of the open-source IP available is now distributed.

It took much longer for open source to filter down to the embedded domain, but the influence of Linux and its many derivatives cannot be understated.

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