Advances of open hardware in the scientific community

Open Source Hardware logoEven since CERN launched the Open Hardware initiative in 2011, the idea of open hardware has been gaining momentum within the scientific community.

CERN has been a very strong supporter of open hardware design methodologies as a platform for sharing ideas and results with the rest of the scientific community. To this end, and recognizing that the existing open source licenses are pretty much software-oriented (and as such they cannot be easily applied to hardware designs, at least not without leaving room for ambiguities), they introduced the CERN OHL (Open Hardware License). Furthermore, they supported the creation of the Open Hardware Repository, a website dedicated to hosting open hardware projects.

Among the many interesting projects and tools hosted today at the Open Hardware Repository, our attention was drawn to the FMC projects page, a growing collection of mezzanine and carrier boards complying to the VITA 57 (aka. FMC) standard. The list of boards is impressive, as is their functionality. Many of those boards are designed for use in important scientific experiments.

Other notable projects include White Rabbit, a fully deterministic Ethernet-based network for general purpose data transfer and synchronization, whose developers claim that it can synchronize over 1000 nodes with sub-nanosecond accuracy over fiber lengths of up to 10 km, and HDL Core Lib, a collection of reusable generic HDL cores, such as memory and I/O interface controllers.

The value of this repository cannot be underestimated, either as a rich library of projects that can be re-used, adapted and improved, or as an excellent educational tool for aspiring electronic hardware designers. One can only hope that the collection of open hardware projects will keep growing and that the insight demonstrated by the scientific community will be followed by others as well.

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