Thales, the French company specialized in groundbreaking innovation in space industries, security or transports, just published its results from a large scale experience on open sourcing the development of its RISC-V solution for custom-purpose processors.
While the content of this study is only available here - yes, you need to pay to access the results of a study on open source - we wanted to share with you factors they found advocates towards more open innovation. And we're totally aligned on that from our experience.
1 - Open Source Optimizes the Total Cost of Innovation
While costs vary a lot regarding the hardware application you develop (design costs impact differently low and high volume hardware), open source licenses help to lower intellectual property costs and in most cases to reduce the design cost through the reuse of hardware or software blocks. It also allows you to access a pool of creativity and partial solutions that you need to innovate. In some ways, you mutualise the costs of innovation and share the benefits from it.
2 - Design Processes Are More Flexible and Rapid
Opening the design process will first reduce the administrative time spend signing NDA's and intellectual property agreements with external partners ahead of the development phase.
It will also allow different actors within an ecosystem to contribute in a more flexible way. You can base parts of your design on other's prototypes and contributes to theirs easily.
3 - Stability and Modularity
Modularity is one of our main motto here at Mekanika. It allows to re-use or customize parts of a design easily, with a few core rules. It reduces the time needed to create new designs and it gives more flexibility for specific uses.
As a design is modular and used by a variety of actors within an ecosystem, it also becomes more stable regarding quality issues, reliability and testing or certification.
4 - Transparency
Open Source grants full access to design and code files, allowing anyone to inspect software and hardware. It allows transparency regarding IP issues but can also address more easily safety or security issues. It creates trusts between actors and even for clients.
5 - Possibility to Select Suppliers Outside of Dominant Players
We've had the opportunity to learn that the hard way during the recent COVID-19 crisis : relying on a single supplier is a huge risk for a company, leaving it vulnerable to supply chain breaches or price variations.
While we have an internal debate on whether we should share our suppliers to our ecosystem with the risk to get by-passed, we also have inputs from our community with local suppliers on the other side of the world, which is super worthy information for our expansion.
6 - More Permissive License Agreements
Licenses are a big deal within the open source hardware recent development. While permissive license agreements allow companies to create proprietary derivative work out of open source solutions, it may reduce the incentive to contribute back to the community. However, a fully open source license like the current open hardware license isn't protective enough for the interests of commercial companies. We've adopted the creative commons non-commercial share-alike licence, but we are still investigating other options.
7 - A Growing and Active Ecosystem
To be able to develop itself, an open hardware initiative must have a critical mass of users and of designers governed by the rules of the open source community and ecosystem. Nonetheless, as this threshold is reached and other commercial companies are adopting and supporting an open source solution, the benefits can be huge.