CERN appeals for open hardware contributors

Liam Tung | Jul 11, 2011 12:15 PM
Hardware license borrows open source software concepts.

CERN, the research organisation behind the Large Hardron Collider, is hoping that its new open source hardware license will attract contributors from outside the organisation.

The European nuclear research group released Version 1.1 of its Open Hardware Licence (OHL) on Friday, three months of the initial license was published.

The license borrows concepts from open source software licensing models, but governs the use of hardware designs instead of source code.

Version 1.1 aims to lure more contributors from outside CERN, including commercial organisations, which the agency believes could benefit by cutting out duplication of different hardware.

"Version 1.1 integrates feedback received from the community in order to follow generally accepted principles of the free and open source movements, and purports to make the CERN OHL even more easily usable by entities other than CERN," said Myriam Ayass, Legal Advisor for CERN's Knowledge Transfer Group.

The push for such a license was borne out of the desire by CERN's hardware developers to reap the collaboration benefits that their software peers enjoyed, according to the agency.

"For us, the drive towards open hardware was largely motivated by well-intentioned envy of our colleagues who develop Linux device-drivers," said Javier Serrano, an engineer at CERN's Beams Department and the founder of the Open Hardware Repository (OHR) where the license is published. 

"They are part of a very large community of designers who share their knowledge and time in order to come up with the best possible operating system. We felt that there was no intrinsic reason why hardware development should be any different."

CERN released an updated beta version of its own Linux distribution, Scientific Linux CERN 6.1 in June. The operating system was built on a freely available version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.

Despite the hardware initiative's relative youth, dozens of projects have already commenced under CERN's hardware license.

Those include the White Rabbit switch, which aims to improve multi-node synchronisation over distances of 10 kilometres, and the ARM-based printed circuit board, ARMadillo.

CERN's open hardware initiative is not the first, according to Ars Technica. Previous licensing systems include the Tuscan Amateur Packet Radio group, and open GPL hardware projects.