Programmable Blinky Lights, DIY Desktop Fab and 3D Printing, Arduino Boards

Projects on the Move: MiniPOV, Contraptor, Arduino

Article from Issue 127/2011

Free/​Open Source isn’t just about software, it’s also about hardware. Open hardware projects are proliferating, and just like open source software, you can get started inexpensively. Here are three projects that are fun, useful, and suitable for beginners to embedded programming, robotics, and building electronic devices.

The speed bump for Free/​Open Source has always been hardware. Open, freely shareable code and a free open Internet are two of three essential components of the FOSS world. The third is open hardware, because, obviously, all that great software needs hardware. To me, it is silly to encumber any hardware with secret specifications, closed proprietary firmware, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), or any kind of “intellectual property” nonsense. Hobbyists, hackers, and do-it-yourselfers are drivers of innovation and improvements, although in this new era of “the customer is the criminal,” that message is often lost. Happily, open hardware has seen a small explosion in growth. “Open” covers a lot of ground: licenses, specifications, hardware description language (HDL) code, schematics, and more. Please see the good Wikipedia article “Open-source hardware” for more information on the details of what open hardware means.

Everything seems to be controlled by microchips these days, and microchips need to be programmed. These three projects introduce the fundamental concepts and skills of embedded programming and robotics while being fun and inexpensive.

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