Hardware and Freedom

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Do the theoretical notions about software freedom extend to hardware? This is an important issue for digital rebels or those who aspire to be. After all, the same forces that seek to lock away the supposed secrets of software (and thus lock out users) effect hardware. Hardware is the physical manifestation of technology and without it, software is stuck in the domain of pure theory. Imagine a world where hardware is built such that it only functions with a restricted set of software. A computer might be designed so that it could only ever work with products from say, Microsoft, for instance. Then, the happy misconception (from Microsoft's perspective), that the operating system IS the computer can become irrefutable law and the term, "general purpose computer" will cease to apply. What's more, these are not mere idle fears; efforts to create a future for computer hardware very much like the one just described are well under way.[1]

Even for many experienced and long time digital rebels, hardware is an area of mystery. Even for people who regularly build their own computers, hardware is something that's bought at a store and comes prepackaged. The freedom one has in building a computer is limited to the option one has for purchasing various hardware (a constantly diminishing set of options). But, if we want to truly build a future where computers work for their users and not the other way around, then we need to make not only software, but also hardware, the domain of the average person.

What is Open-Source Hardware?

The Makers

Out of this idea has sprung the maker movement. The maker movement is many things to many people, but the general idea is that people can be empowered to make technology that works for them; and that means hardware too.

One of the stars of the maker movement is a little open source micro-controller called the Arduino. I highly recommend searching for resources online concerning the Arduino. (And yes, I mean you, whoever you are, because I can speak from experience about approaching this technology from a place of pure ignorance about hardware.)[2][3][4][5] One of my favorite kits for introducing Arduino (and electronics in general) to beginners is the Adafruit ARDX kit.[6] The kit has everything you need to get started all for under $100. I used this kit in the original terrestrial version of this course and my students loved it.

But what is Arduino, and what does it mean? Let's let one of the inventors of the Arduino, Mossimo Banzi, answer that question.

Open-Source Imagination

(Incidentally, if you're still doubting your ability to work with this technology in a meaningful and fulfilling way, perhaps the young (very young) lady that Mossimo mentioned in his talk can help you find your courage and motivation through example. Silvia is Awesome

It's getting to be a common theme, but the key to and the power of open-source (liberated) hardware is in collaboration.

Changing "Do It Yourself" into "Do It Together"

Hardware in Our Lives

Less and less hardware is contained in a box that sits on your desk and more and more its something we carry with us; or even inside us. It's time to consider the implications of not being the master of that hardware.

Hugo Campos

Digital Medical Records


  1. http://boingboing.net/2012/01/10/lockdown.html
  2. https://www.adafruit.com/category/17
  3. http://www.makershed.com/Arduinos_Microcontrollers_s/43.htm
  4. https://www.sparkfun.com/categories/103?page=all
  5. https://www.radioshack.com/search/index.jsp?kwCatId=13384949&kw=arduino&origkw=arduino&sr=1
  6. https://www.adafruit.com/products/170


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