RMS says: We need Free Digital Designs!


Back in 1999 Richard Stallman had interview commenting on “Free Hardware” for Linux Today, where he says “freedom to copy software is social imperative, but freedom to copy hardware is not so important as hardware is hard to copy”

SO even man with such visionary as RMS didn’t understand quite well why people would have motive to make Free Hardware Designs (also known as Open Source Hardware Designs).

Somewhere else he also have said something like: “We do not need imperatively free hardware, but well documented hardware” to may write proper software for it. Looking from Software point of view he is probably right, but he was missing something important: Free/Open Source Hardware is not done just to allow other to replicate it. It serves much deeper goals.

  • Spreading knowledge – when people have access to the design files they can learn how the original author created this hardware and study the design from inside.
  • Getting vital feed back and improving the design – the author who opens everything can get free expertise from many other people who works on same problem and thus to combine the knowledge of the community about this. In long run product which is collaboratively developed is with better specs and features than the one who is done in closed company.
  • When your hardware is with open specs this gives your customer additional value – they know everything about your hardware, they are not dependent from single source of manufacturing, they can modify and customize for their need. All else being equal OSHW design will be preffered and gives more value to the customer.
  • By opening the designs you give access to the technology to casual people who can innovate and no need to be big companies with lot of money. Just have look at what 3D printing and Arduino did.

This is why it was nice to see the evolution with RMS view on the Open Source / Free Hardware which he published in Wired yesterday named: Why we need free hardware designs?

In this article RMS says:

We need free digital hardware designs!
Free hardware designs offer practical advantages. Multiple companies can fabricate one, which reduces dependence on a single vendor.
Having circuit diagrams or HDL code makes it possible to study the design to look for errors or malicious functionalities (it is known that the NSA has procured malicious weaknesses in some computing hardware).

If you design hardware, please make your designs free.


Although naming “Free Hardware Design” what we know more popular as Open Source Hardware, RMS correctly spots the advantages vs closed non-free Hardware Designs.


Our first two small KiCAD OSHW boards are ready!


I wrote some time ago about the importance to use Open Source CAD tools when you want to make OSHW designs.

FOSS CAD tools increase the base of your contributors, you can’t expect to have many people who to contribute back to your project if you make it with Altium or PADS which cost thousands of EURO/USD.
Even Eagle which have low cost entry version cost thousands if you want to use it for more complex designs.

So the decission was taken, but the resistance among our developers was not small :) nobody wants to break his comfort when there are already lot of libraries made and had to be duplicated for the new platform.
It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks :)

Situation changed a bit this month as we got two new guys who joined Olimex design team – Todor Bobotilov 25 years old “fresh out of school”, who recently graduated Technical University in Plovdiv with one of the best scores/results from the exams, and Christo Budakov who have 25 years of experience with electronics design and has worked for Bulgarian Academy of Science, and as free consultant last years. They both joined Olimex on March 4th.

So I decided that after the latest announcements for the new features in KiCAD we have no excuses anymore and have to kick Eagle by the end of this year with all our designs. And to start clean the new guys will be thrown in the deep waters from the beginning and they will start working with KiCAD from scratch.

First thing was to install newest and latest although unstabile version of KiCAD to may be up to date with latest developments.

This is easy to do in Ubuntu, you just have to add the nightly builds repo to your apt-get list:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:js-reynaud/ppa-kicad

Then every morning you will be asked if you want to install the newest build. This had some trade offs like latest KiCAD tends to crash every couple of hours for some reason, but this is OK, we know that we work with unstabile version and just have to save the projects more frequently :))))

Another issue – the libraries, we have our own technologycal setup in our production, based on our process we run for many years, this includes how the stencils are manufactures, how the NC files for the machines we have are generated, what component pads to be used, what drills, annular rings, etc we have to use to suit our PCB design and manufacturing process to achieve the best yield in production, in most of the cases this have nothing in common with the recommended by vendors PCB land pads and dimensions.

Christo started working on the libraries slowly while making new boards he converts from proven Eagle libraries just the components he uses in his current designs.

This week we got two new very simple boards designed with KiCAD:

MOD-MPU9150 3-axis gyro + 3-axis accelerometer + 3-axis magnetometer compass all in one here is the GitHub repo you can see it how it looks on the picture above.

and MOD-OLED-128×64 OLED 1″ display with UEXT and Breadboard 0.1″ headers, the GitHub repo is here.


you may bet many more and much complicated designs are to follow :)

New PIC32-HMZ144 Open Source Hardware development board is in stock


PIC32-HMZ144 is low cost development board for the new PIC32MZ2048HCM144 processor from Microchip with these features:

  • PIC32MZ2048EHC144 512KB RAM 2MB Flash
  • uSD card
  • ICSP for debug and programming
  • JTAG pins exposed on 0.1″ step 6 pins
  • EXT1 and EXT2 50 pin 0.1″ connectors for all PIC ports
  • RESET and USER buttons
  • LiPo battery charger and connector
  • UEXT connector
  • Dimensions: 77 x 52 mm

PIC32MZ2048HCM144 is high performance MIPS core processor from Microchip with 10-bit, 500 KSPS, 48-channel ADC module, MMU for real time OS support, CAN, UART, I2C, PMP, EBI, SQI & Analog Comparators, SPI/I2S interfaces for audio processing and playback, Hi-Speed USB 2.0 Device/Host/OTG, 10/100 Mbps Ethernet MAC with MII and RMII interface.

Another board with Ethernet and LCD is on the way, PIC32MZ2048 is good candidate to run RetroBSD

Free ESP8266 Workshop – March 7th in Olimex training building


ESP8266 is amazing low cost little device which allow you to run web server on it and to connect embedded devices to Internet via WiFi. We organize free ESP8266 workshop in our training building on 7th of March starting at 14.00 o’clock.

Some of the topics which will be discussed:

  • Where we are with ESP8266 development boards, new boards and plans.
  • How to install all tools necessary for development with ESP8266.
  • How to make your first blink LED program.
  • How to make simple web server.
  • New Arduino style library for ESP8266 with GPIO, ADC, DAC(PWM), SPI, I2C, Serial. Access to the 2MB Flash in Olimex modules for data logging, web pages and more.
  • How to develop with Lua and MQTT with ESP8266.
  • New Plug and Play firmware for ESP8266-EVB with automatic recognition of UEXT modules connected for measurement of temperature, humidity, accelerometer, LCD, etc.
  • How to make web server with secure access
  • Low power modes and battery operation.

Everyone is welcome! If you have project with ESP8266 which you want to share or make lighting talk about please send us e-mail to include you in the workshop program.

ESP8266-EVB is run in production, to be in stock before Christmas


ESP8266-EVB is complete and run in production, we hope to have it assembled and tested in stock before Christmas :)

What we got here?

  • MOD-WIFI-ESP8266-DEV module with soldered connectors
  • Base board with female connectors for accepting MOD-WIFI-ESP8266-DEV
  • Power Relay 10A/250VAC connected with driver to GPIO output
  • User Button connected to GPIO input
  • Power supply jack – 5V input
  • DCDC power converter to 3.3V to supply ESP8266 and UEXT modules with up to 1.5A current
  • UEXT connector where you can connect different modules and sensors from Olimex
  • GPIO  CON3 with 16 pins where all ESP8266 resources are available
  • 4 mounting holes

The price of ESP8266-EVB (which includes MOD-WIFI-ESP8266-DEV) will be EUR 12.00 for single quantity and will drop under EUR 10 for 50+ order.

New Product in Stock: Open Source Hardware Simon-85 game assembled and as kit


Simon-85 is based on the popular Simon says game and check and train your short time memory. It’s sold as DIY kit but also as assembled and tested board:


To run the game you need USB-A-B cable or LiPo battery. In case you want to use battery you may also need charger for it.

Inside the game there is ATiny85 microcontroller with micronucleus bootloader which allow the board to be re-programmed with Digispark’s Arduino IDE. All sources are on our web and you can download and modify the game yourself. No need for external programmers etc.

When power is applied after 5 seconds the four LEDs will flash for a while and the game will wait you to choose difficulties “Level”. There are 4 levels for sequencies of 10-20-30-40 LED blink patterns. Depend on which button you press BUT1,BUT2,BUT3,BUT4 the game will start at the corresponding level. You will hear Super Mario Bros theme and LEDs will blink then the game will start and you have to repeat the LED blink pattern you see.

If you make mistake the game will over and you can start it again. Each time you complete the pattern correctly the game will flash new one which is one more blink longer. Each new game starts with random pattern so you can’t memorize these.

Simon-85 assembled and tested cost EUR 7.95 the kit is EUR 5.95.

Assembling Simon-85-KIT is good way kids and beginners to learn basic electronics components and how to solder.

Radxa Rock Pro/Lite Is OSHW Now!


Tom Cubie is an ex Allwinner software developer who helped a lot in the beginning Linux-Sunxi community with information about Allwinner chips, when the initial Linux support was done.

He together with another Allwinner employee made Cubie Tech startup and start developing low cost Cubie boards with Allwinner chips.

At one point of time Tom become interested in Allwinner direct competitor – Rockchip, but it was problem to implement inside Cubie Tech board with Rockchip as this would cut all connections between Cubie Tech and Allwinner, so he decided to split and made new startup Radxa dealing only with Rockchip boards.

I know that Tom as being Linux developer loves in his heart Open Source, but at the same time he was very afraid to take the final step and move his projects as OSHW as in China everyone copy everything.

It’s common practice when you have successful product other companies to make inferior quality clones, made with lower quality and lower grade components but at lower than your price, and because many people look at China just as low cost source they prefer to buy the lower cost clones than the originals although most of these clones are pure junk, (but hey I got Allwinner board for $12.34 and Arduino clone for $1.23 on Alibaba!). This makes the business in China very difficult and everyone hides his designs and knowledge to have advantage toward the copycat competition.

This is also big obstracle for the OSHW movement in China, if you check on Kickstarter/Indiegogo all projects which come from China and claim to be Open Source Hardware are just marketing and pseudo OSHW they publish just the schematics as PDF file and eventually software sources, and “promise” to release everything when they complete the project … which usually never happens.

Let’s take as example the populart Vocore project which inspired RT5350F-OLinuXino ;) they claim on Indiegogo this is OSHW project : https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/vocore-a-coin-sized-linux-computer-with-wifi

They got funded, produced the boards and shipped them, on their site vocore.io you can read:

You will not only get the VoCore but also its full hardware design including sch, pcb, bom; full source code including boot loader, os(openwrt), applications. You are able to control EVERY BIT of your VoCore

then on download page you have access just to PDF files.

I write all this above just to show you what big step Tom decided to move forward yesterday! He wrote on G+ :


Here is the G+ original post.

Obviously Tom follow my blog posts and after my post yesterday for the differences between Pi and OLinuXino and what benefits OSHW gives to the Business he finally decided to go OSHW for his new Radxa Rock Pro/Lite design (at least looking at the commit timestamp). This is something I just could just applaude! Good work Tom and Welcome to OSHW movement!

Keep the good job going! Sharing the knowledge just increase our power!

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