Meetup Profile: Open Hardware

The Open Hardware Meetup, hosted by Neil Lamoureux and Graham Nelson, meets the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 PM. 

The Open Hardware Meetup is a place where all kinds of people can share an interest in the intersection of hardware, software, connectivity, and user experience. When combined, these elements create a new art which blends the lines of beauty and technology.

Open Hardware is hosting Arduino for Makers on May 2, a hands-on workshop for beginners. 

We had a chance to chat with Neil about the meetup and his passion for Open Hardware. 

Q: What is Open Hardware?

A: Open hardware is electronics hardware for which designs are open and freely available. You can freely download and use these designs, but most people don’t do that because they don’t want to actually build computers or electronic devices from scratch. But because the designs are royalty-free, manufacturers can build and sell this hardware cheaply, making it attractive to hobbyists. The emphasis tends to be on adding sensors, radios, motors or other mechanical devices to have the hardware interact with its environment. 
For example, many robots are built upon open hardware.  Large and active communities can exist around the hardware, offering projects and open source software for others to duplicate and extend from.  Some examples of open hardware are the Arduino boards and Raspberry Pi computers.

Q: What is Arduino and what can you do with it?

An Arduino board is a microprocessor with all of the necessary electronics to run it. The microprocessor itself is a small computer, but with a lot of input and output pins that can be hooked up to sensors, lights, motors,  and many other things. Essentially, you can read values off of sensors and respond to them. A simple example would be an Arduino with a sound sensor, that turns on a LED light when things get too noisy. A more complex one would be a robot that uses a light sensor to move to the darkest part of the room - a robotic cockroach! You can hook up an Arduino to a keyboard to play music. There are millions of things to do - you just need to imagine it and figure out how to do it.
Part of the Arduino ecosystem are add on boards called “shields” that add electronics assemblies that can talk to the Arduino board. This way you can add screens and buttons, GPS sensors, Wifi, ethernet, and even small radios to talk to other devices. You could build a swarm of Arduinos that talk to each other over the radio, exchanging GPS fixes to coordinate their movements!

Q: What are the benefits of having an active open hardware community?

Although there is a lot you can do by yourself with open hardware, it is great to get together with others to learn from them and be inspired by them.  Also, you can collaborate with others to create amazing things. An artist might have a fantastic interactive art idea, and can ask others in the community to work out the hardware, software and help build the project. Or you might see a great demo at the Open Hardware meetup, and contribute new ideas on how to extend it, or make a better version yourself.
Having an open hardware community contributes to innovation around the hardware, and the possibility of creating new commercial devices and businesses based on these devices.

Q: Who would you encourage to come to future events & your Arduino workshop?

We’d encourage anyone who has an interest in open hardware, and building devices that can interact with its environment. We’d encourage people who have interesting ideas that they want to pursue using open hardware, but need help getting there. And we really encourage people who have done some projects and are willing to show them to our group.
The Arduino workshop is directed at people who want to create stuff with smart electronics, but don’t have much knowhow about electronic components, programming and how to get started with Arduino.  We start from the basics and show you how to start building stuff with Arduino.

Q: What are some of your favourite open hardware projects?

Some projects I’ve built using open hardware: 
- An Arduino that plays music on my electronic keyboard
- An Arduino with GPS that plays higher tones the faster it moves
- A Raspberry Pi thermometer that uploads the current temperature at work to a website, so I know how hot/cold it is at work before I go there.
- An Arduino robot I can control with my smartphone over bluetooth