Open Source Hardware (OSHW) represents a new way of sharing design
information which has a number of advantages, among which:
Peer review of designs increases quality.
Re-use of designs saves time and effort.
Vendor lock-in situations are easily avoided. Vendors are selected
solely on the quality of the service they offer.
Dissemination of design knowledge is made much easier. This also
allows new actors like underdeveloped countries and small companies
to access design knowledge they can reuse in their development.
Companies can be selected to satisfy other needs, e.g. selecting
local companies to comply with rules of funding agencies.
Experience in CERN's BE-CO-HT section since 2009 has shown that OSHW is
a paradigm that
ensuring all the advantages described above for the clients and allowing
companies to enter new markets with much lower entry barriers.
We have already overcome three obstacles to efficient sharing of
Providing an efficient web-based collaborative tool, the Open
Hardware Repository which allows designers to
upload design data and communicate with other designers very easily.
Providing a sound legal framework thanks to the CERN Open Hardware
Licence, developed in collaboration
with CERN's Knowledge Transfer group.
Providing companies with mentoring and support for developing a
profitable business model based on OSHW.
Today we can safely say that this initiative is already a success, but
there is one more obstacle to efficient sharing of designs: the
development tools. In particular, Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design
tools have a very steep learning curve and each save design data in
incompatible formats, so that designers using different tools have a
very difficult time sharing these designs. To make matters worse, many
of these tools have licensing fees which many laboratories,
universities, companies and individuals cannot afford. A Free Open
Source Software (FOSS) tool for PCB design would unleash a great deal of
design power and would make sharing much easier.
We analyzed the landscape of existing FOSS PCB design tools and
concluded that KiCad is the best basis on which to build a
high-performance feature-rich tool. Our analysis and a summary of the
developments needed to bring KiCad on par with existing proprietary
tools in terms of features and quality can be seen
KiCad is a tool, and as such, improvements on it will be a power
multiplier. The work of a few individuals can allow thousands of others
to develop PCBs better and faster in an easier way, and to tackle bigger
projects thanks to the possibility of easily setting up large
Academic institutions will greatly benefit from this development, very
much in line with CERN's educating mission. Students will be able to use
professional-quality PCB design tools without cost, functionality or
intellectual property constraints. They will also be able to contribute
to making the tool better, for the benefit of others, an activity with a
high educational value in itself and which will increase their
Commercial PCB design companies will also benefit greatly from this
development, since the barrier to entry for this kind of tools will be
greatly lowered. More companies from more countries will be able to
participate in the market of PCB design and development. In addition,
software development companies will have the possibility of offering
support services for the tools themselves.