The open source revolution certainly has taken the world by storm. What started as something that could be pegged as something to be used by Academia only and as utopia in the cut throat commercial world in the early seventies is now a reality. It has changed the way our kids learn, the speed technology evolves, the level of accessibility less privileged individuals have to technology, and so many other aspects that some are now linking the open source movement with the very fabric of how companies will function and, why not to say, how society will live.
It is impossible to say open source without immediately thinking Linux. The Unix-based operating system that was created by a student in 1991 - again Academia helping shape our future - is now almost as popular as the one day single ruler Microsoft Windows. For the ones with their fingers kept close in the pulse of the evolution of the Software development community, many more examples come to mind, such as; MySQL for databases, Apache for server software, Python for general scripting programming, PHP for web design and many others.
Historically, open source has been always correlated to Software. However, the community produced an aftershock of the first movement that has been as unexpected and formidable as the original one; the Hardware open source movement. The hardware open source movement, in its core, carries the same philosophy as its older brother: all artifacts produced are open and disclosed. In the Hardware world, that means schematics, bill of materials, mechanical model files, printed circuit board layout files, even manufacturing ready gerber sets are made available to the community.
There are several popular open source hardware projects; such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Some others are new kids on this block but are none less coming out strong, such as UDOO and Red Pitaya. In my opinion though, Arduino is for the Hardware open source movement what Linux was for the Software one. Arduino was the precursor of so many other projects of the same nature that an impressive critical mass was generated by the Hardware community around these types of projects. Arduino has now been slowly but surely migrating beyond the hobbyist audience, into the professional industrial one.
Together; they are bringing about what some people are calling the next industrial revolution. Is this comparison an exaggeration? I sincerely don’t think it is. In order to make a case for the acceptance of this association between the original industrial revolution and the current open source movement, let’s take a quick trip back in time to evaluate, in the high level, the 1800s industrial revolution.
Back then, the main focus was to bring about change via increased efficiency of the industrial production. Henry Ford was certainly one of the great minds of that era, who made available the Ford production line concept; which is still an inspiration in today’s industrial settings with its concepts of lean manufacturing and 5S. Ford is probably the first name that comes to people’s mind from the industrial revolution movement. However, I offer that Ford wasn’t thinking much differently than all the other minds who were preoccupied with the obsession of transforming the way industries worked. The holly grail of that historic moment was to produce more with the same resources that were utilized to produce much less. Underneath it all; it was all about making things available to different levels of society. It was about creating different consumer markets; to create wealth. It was about having the ability to making cars; citing Ford again, available to the middle class in addition to the rich minority. All technological innovations of the time were centered on this very goal. That is how the steam engine was invented and propelled this concept into reality. The root concept was to make things; starting with consumable things but then later expanded to other things, available to the masses.
How is this different than what the maker’s movement is aiming at? Today’s obsession is very close to the industrial revolution one: it is also about making available to the masses what wasn’t available until then. Since technology is usually a big driver, if not the biggest one, to how we live our lives – e.g. facebook, tweeter and, why not to say, the Internet itself – making technology available to the masses will most likely shape our future’s reality a little differently than it is forged today. Having a microcontroller based hardware board available for around $20 – named the Arduino platform, just to cite one – has been putting and will continue to put technology in the hands of a larger and larger critical mass of people. This movement has given non-profit organizations and social movements, such as http://www.tunnellab.org/, the right to dream about actually having a shot at changing our kid’s and kid’s kids realities through technology. Let’s teach them how to fish instead of the futile attempt to give them the fish. Let’s develop productive members for our society through technology as opposed to complacently accept the reality that almost 15% of Americans live in a state of extreme poverty. And this is America, the richest and most powerful nation of the globe. I am embarrassed to even state statistics about Africa and South America.
The Arduino Compiler for LabVIEW is my small, infinitesimal even, contribution to this movement. I would like to see the test and measurements industry become more and more part of the new industrial revolution. Test is a fundamental aspect of every product; and, in order to make products more and more available to lower income individuals, test and measurements needs to get with the program. It needs to offer alternatives, low cost ones, so test Engineers can do their jobs in the most economical way possible.
Let’s take advantage of the maker’s movement machine that has started moving and give our own contributions to it. If every one of us offer ideas and use our skills in benefit of the biggest brotherhood of all, the human race, wealth will not only seek and find us, but it will also extend its graceful hands to our brothers and sisters. We can transform this world of inequalities into one much more leveled, where all of us could be free to explore our full potentials.