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Frequently-Asked Questions about Open-Source Hardware

What is open-source hardware?

Our statement of principles puts it like this: "Open source hardware is 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. The hardware's source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it."

Open-source hardware is also a growing community of companies, individuals, and groups designing and making lots of cool stuff! Some well-known examples include Arduino (an microcontroller development platform), Chumby (a wifi device), MakerBot (a 3D printer) but see [[ | this question]] for more. Open-source hardware developers gather at events like the Open Hardware Summit and on online forums like the mailing list. They've ...

We think open-source hardware is a great way to share knowledge and facilitate development of new products. We hope this FAQ helps you understand what it's all about and whether it makes sense for you.

Why make hardware open-source?

What files should I share?

What are other best practices for open-source hardware?

Won't people rip me off?

Why aren't non-commercial restrictions compatible with open-source hardware?

There are a few reasons.

If you place a non-commercial restriction on your hardware design, other people don't have the same freedom to use the design in the ways that you can. That means, for example, that if you and someone else both release designs with non-commercial licenses, neither of you can make and sell hardware that builds on both of your designs. Rather than contributing to a commons of hardware designs for everyone to build on, you're limiting others to a very narrow range of possible uses for your design.

In particular, because making hardware invariably involves money, it's very difficult to make use of a hardware design without involving some commercial activity. For example, say a group of friends wanted to get together and order ten copies of a hardware design - something that's often much cheaper than each person ordering their own copy. If one person places the order and the others pay him back for their share, they'd probably be violating a non-commercial restriction. Or say someone wants to charge people to take a workshop in which they make and keep a copy of your hardware design - that's also commercial activity. In general, there are just very few ways for someone to use a hardware design without involving some sort of commercial activity.

Who makes open-source hardware?