Open Source Robots Drive Innovation

The most well-known names in technology are also some of the highest-grossing.

Apple, Google, Samsung, and their contemporaries bring in tens of billions of dollars in revenue each year. These technology giants, however, were built on the backs of humble projects, worked on in late-night basement sessions all over the world. This type of software, open and available for anyone to improve, helped create much of the technology we know today and is continuing to do so today in creative ways.

Open source software (OSS) is software whose source code available so anyone has the “rights to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose.” The open source software movement began in the 1980s and was formalized with the Open Source Initiative in 1998. While it is praised for its affordability and transparency, the real virtue of OSS is its democratic philosophy. Anyone can contribute his/her ideas to a piece of open source software, escaping the suffocating beurocratic structures that own most other programs. This has resulted in explosive innovation and development of open source technologies over the past few decades.

While it may seem like the domain of hippie dippie nerds, most technologically illiterate laypeople encounter OSS on a daily basis. Apache is OSS for running most of the Internet’s web servers, Mozilla Firefox is an open source webbrowser, smartphones running Android are built on an open source foundation, and even Wikipedia’s editorial system is based upon open source principles. Perhaps even more important to the layperson: open source software is estimated to save consumers $60 billion per year.

Hoping to make robotics accessible and affordable to a wider variety of people, many robotics hobbyists have embraced the open source philosophy. To keep costs down and to drive quick innovation, more robot projects are moving toward the open source model in which groups of people from many fields collaborate together on a single project. Much like their software counterparts, these robots have open source hardware, meaning that their blueprints and schematics are freely and publicly available for anyone to reference or innovate upon.

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