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How open hardware can change the field of electronic design

20 Dec 2013  | Javier D. Garcia-Lasheras

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The Open Hardware Repository at CERN is an essential step towards a free shared environment that can help empower electronic designers around the world, according to Open Science Activist Javier D. Garcia-Lasheras. He sheds light on the OHR, including the Open Hardware Licence first introduced in 2011, to present a preliminary idea of what the project can do for the future of electronic design.

In this column, I would like to introduce you to one of the most important open science-related projects I've ever found. The reason I say "most important" is not due to the outstanding milestones that have already been achieved, but mostly for its huge potential for empowering an open hardware paradigm in the electronic industry. The project I'm talking about is CERN's Open Hardware Repository.

The OHR has its roots in the White Rabbit project, a timing system developed for experimental physics facilities able to synchronise ~1,000 nodes with sub-nanosecond accuracy over fibre optic cable lengths of up to 10km. While dealing with White Rabbit development, Javier Serrano, leader of the hardware and timing group in CERN's beams control group, realised that hardware development need not be performed in isolation by a group of persons or entities with relatively long-standing, established relationships. Instead, such development could be achieved by gathering contributions from diverse sources, ranging from individual designers sitting in their basements to entire design teams from large organisations.

After developing a clear idea of how to bring his ideas for an open electronic design approach into reality, Serrano gained the support of CERN's knowledge transfer group. In 2009, the OHR started its outstanding track record of success.

Over the last few years, the OHR has become the de facto place on the web where electronics designers at experimental facilities collaborate on open hardware designs, sharing much of the attitudes and beliefs of the free software movement. The underlying philosophy is clearly depicted in the OHR Manifesto, which states the numerous advantages of working in a completely open environment—peer review, design reuse, healthier relationships with companies, and the joy of working inside a global community.

I have no doubt that, if you are an electronic designer working on a project that may prove to be useful for experimental physics research, then the OHR is the place you should host your work. This is why I am now the proud leader of two different OHR-hosted projects. But beyond pure scientific research, how is this CERN initiative helping to develop a healthy, open hardware-based business environment?

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