Copyleft Hardware

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Qi Hardware is copyleft hardware. Our mission, provide free software developers with stable, mass market quality hardware that they can develop compelling end user applications on. I’ll contrast this with some efforts we’ve witnessed in the past where the hardware was not stable and not consumer ready. The openness of that hardware could not overcome the problems of instability, and software development floundering in the quicksand of changing hardware. At Qi the hardware designs are selected because they are stable and shipping in mass quantities and because they can be opened and safeguarded for free software development. In some cases the hardware designs already run some version of a Linux kernel, but the kernel is outdated and reprogramming the device to other purposes is complicated. We make that task easy. Our key commitment is delivering stable, working, high quality hardware to free software developers. With that firm foundation software developers can focus on making insanely great end user applications.

Our process starts by finding shipping hardware that can be opened. We work with manufacturers throughout Asia and either source hardware that can easily be opened or work with them to engineer open versions. Our hardware engineering efforts are focused on documenting these designs, publishing them under copyleft licenses, and then fostering a collaborative community effort to improve the designs. This engineering effort will utilize free software tools such as KiCAD and HeeksCAD, and copyleft the complete electrical and mechanical design.

Copyleft hardware is hardware with a future. In a proprietary system the end user is at the mercy of product life cycle. In the proprietary world there is a scheduled end of life — EOL. At that date software support ends; the hardware roadmap hits the wall. With copyleft hardware there is no EOL. The design is always open for enhancement and extension; and, with GPL software running on the hardware, end users always have the freedom to support themselves and each other. The roadmap for hardware is open. Because the designs are copyleft any engineer with an idea can create a new design, but only those willing to share back the design can take advantage of it. At Qi our roadmap philosophy will be simple — add capability in an incremental fashion. This ensures a focused software development effort.

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