I completely agree with the "order of magnitude" assessment of how easy and accessible open software is versus open hardware. It does come down to 'bits' versus 'atoms.' The cost and trouble associated with working on an open software project is extremely low and tools and infrastructure (the Internet, github and your PC) have all been paid for before you start your open software project so the incremental cost is your time.
Open hardware does require that you get the 'atoms' just to get started on the project and as a previous post stated:
- Using a company's standard product is your lowest cost option ($5 to
- FPGA implement is higher cost ($20 to $2000)
- Your own custom ASIC ($200,000 to $2,000,000)
- Your own fab to make your parts ($500,000,000 to $2B)
'* These costs include development costs as well as chip costs
Now, the open mixed-signal hardware movement doesn't have the benefit of an FPGA-like option mentioned above with more reasonable development costs and device costs.
Companies [yes, my company is one of them] are working to make configurable mixed signal solutions that would bring an FPGA-like business model to analog and mixed-signal chip design. In someways, open hardware in a configurable mixed-signal chip will lend itself to open hardware projects more than PCB-level designs do today.
Yes, I'm saying that configurable chip design could be easier than PCB design.
A configurable chip would contain silicon-proven IP that could be interconnected with single-mask layer changes by automated design tools similar to an FPGA place&route and configuration flow. And, mixed-signal designs don't go obsolete as quickly as digital designs because analog circuits do not need to chase Moore's low like digital designs.
Being able to work with a distributed team on the contents of a configurable chip could conceivably bring open software concepts and benefits to open hardware design.
Our premise is that the following attributes will help to make open hardware more popular:
- Standardized configurable mixed-signal chip hardware
- Characterized and documented IP blocks
- Affordable high-level design tools that abstract full-custom chip
- Automated compilation of high-level designs to configurable devices
- Design sharing tools that support distributed teams