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Open source hardware worth $1billion by 2015

Insiders predict the open source hardware market will be worth over $1billion within the next five years…

This article originally appeared in issue 88 of Linux User & Developer magazine.Linux User & Developer, one of the nation’s favourite Linux and Open Source publications, is now part of the award winning Imagine Publishing family. Readers can subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

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The market for open source hardware is hotting up, with the top 13 companies in the space turning over nearly $50million last year – according to Phil Torrone, designer at Adafruit industries. Speaking with Adafruit’s founder Limor Fried at the O’Reilly Foo Camp East in the beginning of May, Torrone also claimed that there are now nearly 300 significant open source hardware projects in development and predicted that the market will grow to over $1billion by 2015.

The presentation, given at Microsoft’s North East Research and Development (NERD) Centre, began with Limor giving an introduction to open source hardware. She briefly outlined how designers share the ‘source code’ in the form of CAD and other design files, electronic circuit layouts and firmware/software essential to the functioning of any device.

With the explanations out of the way, Limor and Torrone ran through what they believed were the top 13 commercial companies in the space, all with revenues of approaching or
over $1million: Adafruit, Arduino, Bug Labs, Chumby, Dangerous Prototypes, DIY Drones, Evil Mad Scientist Labs, Liquidware, Makerbot, Maker Shed, Parallex, Solarbotics and
Sparkfun Electronics.

Like several of the other companies, Adafruit itself produces and sells a variety of component kits for both its own and other, third-party open source hardware projects. Sparkfun, the apparent market leader in this space, is reportedly hitting annual revenues of over $10million.
Many of the open source devices on offer are extremely basic and clearly aimed at the educational market and teaching new enthusiasts. However, companies like Makerbot and Evil Mad Scientist Labs both go as far as offering open source 3D printers. Meanwhile DIY Drones, a company co-founded by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, does exactly what you might expect.

The current industry darling appears to be Arduino, which describes itself as a tool for making computers that can sense and control more of the physical world than your desktop computer. Based on a simple microcontroller board, Arduino is being used as the basis for an increasing number of more specialised open source hardware projects. The result is that the company behind the project has now shipped over 150, 000 units.

Further proof that it is no longer just amateur fun and games: BugLabs, whose Lego-style, open hardware platform previously featured as our gadget of the month, has recently raised $16million in venture capital. According to reports in Business Week, the company is now doing business with Pitney Bowes, Sun Microsystems (now Oracle), Orange, Antenna Software and Human Rights Watch. In addition, the ‘Bug’ is also being used as a device prototyping platform by management consultants Accenture.

Interesting Links:
Limor & Torrone’s Foo Camp (video)
Top 40 Arduino-based projects
Source Force for hardware
Buglabs in Business Week