This is just the beginning. We want to build OSHdata into an ongoing resource for founders, engineers, researchers, supply chain professionals, artists, and all the stakeholders in the Open Source Hardware (OSH) community. As articulated in the About page, we are hoping to build this into a financially self-sufficient resource for the community. This Road Map has those intentions in mind, proposing ways to create value that the community might want to invest in.
Moving forward, we will continue to build on the formal institutional work that the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) has done over the years. From codifying the Open Source Hardware Definition to creating the Open Source Hardware Certification program, there are questions that OSHWA is uniquely positioned to address. We want to support that work.
OSHWA’s Definition and Certification are both foundational elements that make this project possible. Any work we do will hew to those two elements in order to have a sense of common understanding about what Open Source Hardware is—and is not. If something is shared but not certified, we are considering it out of scope for the foreseeable future.
With that said, here’s an open-ended exploration of opportunities we’ve discussed and think could take this project to the next level. If you have feedback, please Contact Us.
Table of Contents
- Market Sizing
- Certification Updates
- Bill of Materials Analysis
- Source Code Analysis
- Points of Contact
- Next Steps
The most valuable areas that we are interested in exploring further are revenues for certified products, company revenue, and overall OSH market size. We believe this market is far larger than has been reported. With this data, OSHdata can help participating companies grow and encourage others to join the community.
This is the most conventional market research question that feels in-scope for this project. Market sizing is common in industries where Open Source Hardware companies are operating, from 3D printing and printed circuit board fabrication to hammocks and biomedical devices. Some companies in the community have been active about sharing their growth, email list subscribers, community engagement, and more.
We think there’s interest in more of this that could take the form of questions like:
- What is the annual revenue, profitability, and economic impact of OSH companies?
- How many employees are employed at companies participating in the certification program?
- Which industries are adopting Open Source Hardware the fastest?
After seeing ourselves how open development benefits customers, companies themselves, and the community, we genuinely believe in the business case for open hardware. Not everything needs to be commercialized, but we are interested in improving understanding for the businesses who are helping move the community forward.
Currently, updates from OSHWA are provided in short-form on social media and through columns written by an OSHWA member and submitted to publications. These columns come in two forms: a monthly dispatch of the previous month’s certifications (e.g. Open Source Hardware Certifications for January 2020 in Make:) and use case-oriented batches of items (e.g. 5 open source hardware products for the great outdoors on opensource.com).
There is substantive coverage of OSH by journalists, like Jason Evangelho’s piece System76 Debuts Thelio, A Gorgeous ‘Open Hardware’ Linux PC in Forbes. However we are not aware of any formal efforts to analyze certifications on a rolling basis and make that analysis available to the community.
We are interested in something approximating real-time analysis (say, within one week of a certification being published) that could include:
- An interview with the individual certifying the product.
- Information about the market they are operating in.
- Any past certifications that may relate to this one.
We see these individual certifications as individual flash points in between a more regular reporting cadence from OSHdata that would connect the dots over time. If you are interested in more regular updates, be sure to sign up for the newsletter below or follow @OSHdata on Twitter.
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Bill of Materials Analysis
Every hardware project has a Bill of Materials (BOM), but that’s where the similarities end. A BOM could be as simple as a single material and a corresponding design, or as complex as thousands of parts with unique designs and multiple suppliers for each. Sometimes they are standalone documents, other times they are included in design software. We have already seen so many different approaches to creating a BOM in the hundreds of certifications submitted to-date. We don’t see this necessarily changing, though norms and best practices may emerge and be formalized over time.
In speaking with one engineer with experience working for an OSH company, a number of interesting questions came up: What needs to be included in a BOM? Does a true BOM need to include actual production or supplier costs? Is there tension between internal procurement needs versus what a customer or hobbyist may want in a BOM?
Regardless, we believe that the community can gain a better understanding of the products and projects themselves with analysis and meta analysis of BOMs of certified products and projects.
Here are a few ideas we’ve considered:
- Number of projects with a current and accurate BOM.
- Categories or methods of organizing BOMs.
- Average BOM cost for certified hardware by category.
Doing this type of analysis could lay the foundation for deeper analysis like calculating the gross profit margin for products and potentially applying benchmarks to estimate net profit margin. Many BOMs are shared in a binary file format (e.g. an ODS spreadsheet), which makes this type of deeper analysis only possible with financial support from interested parties due to the required time and effort. Additionally, individual flagship products could be analyzed.
Source Code Analysis
What is Open Source if not source code? Hardware brings unique challenges that are not present in the open source software community. This manifests in managing large binary design files in version control software like Git, the substantially higher complexity of reproducibility, and more. We believe there is an opportunity if OSHdata were to dig into the source code.
Here are a few questions we have discussed so far:
- Measure how source code is shared (e.g. Git, SVN, Mercurial).
- Evaluate file formats and upstream tools used (e.g. board layout software).
- Consider project size and participation (e.g. number of commits, repository size).
This set of questions feels both fundamental to the process of creating Open Source Hardware, and potentially removed from what might have a material impact on how creators build their OSH products and projects. Source code analysis may be particularly useful, however, for suppliers and developers who support those creators by providing transparency into how creators in the community work. We aren’t sure what success would look like in this area, but it has been interesting to think about. If you have thoughts about this, let us know.
Points of Contact
There are standout companies and emerging ones who are just beginning to make their mark. One byproduct of better understanding of the industry would be that companies would be more aware of each other and it may facilitate collaborations between companies. Whether that’s developing new products, hiring a new employee, or working together in a supplier or distributor/reseller capacity.
We anticipate that there might be an opportunity to share points of contact for parts of OSH companies that are publicly facing. While individual companies may make aspects of this publicly available, OSHdata could curate it in one place that is vetted and current might make this collaboration easier.
This could look like a few different things:
- Buyer contacts and information about new product or part evaluation.
- Engineering contacts for facilitating joint development and collaborations.
- Job listing information and current open positions at OSH companies.
While companies strive to be open, these points of contact can still be difficult to identify. By making it easier for people to connect, we could accelerate the growth of this community.
So far, this has been a labor of love. We have built OSH companies before and always felt that something like this was missing. If nothing else, this report is our way of saying thank you to the community, commemorating ten years of the Open Hardware Summit, and celebrating everything we have built and shared together as a community.
The response to this project from the get-go was already more positive than we were expecting. We are hopeful about this project’s potential to be a piece of the overall Open Source Hardware ecosystem.
For OSHdata to grow into a reliable resource that can stand on its own, it must be financially independent and self-sustaining. The next step is to speak directly with people like you. We are going to take all this feedback, consider the best mix of public and paid access, and take things from there.