Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Open Source Tools and Open Hardware License

Unlike the Gnu Public License (GPL) for software, there aren't really that many widely used open-source hardware licenses out there. The best one I could find was from TAPR (link at right). It seems like this will be good enough as long as all the designs have the Open Hardware License (OHL) identification on them.

The next hurdle was finding free tools with which to design various parts with. We basically have three kinds of data for the overall design:
  • Documentation text
  • 2D/3D drawings of physical objects (like battery racks)
  • electronic schematics for the wiring diagrams
In order to collaborate with other open-source contributors, I've started a Google Group to share messages, design files and write documentation using WYSIWYG web pages. I'm hoping the user-editable web pages will be similar to a Wiki in that any contributing member can edit them. I'm going to start with this as the documentation tool.

While I don't necessarily like using a commercially provided tool, Google Sketchup is really cool and allows people to quickly create 3D objects with annotated dimensions. The software is free from Google and it runs on both Microsoft and Macintosh operating systems. I've found that many people in the EV community prefer MacOS over Windows, so hopefully this tool will engage Mac owners too.

As far as an open-source schematic tool, the best one I could find was Kicad. This runs on both Windows and Linux and the source code is protected under the GPL open-source license. I haven't found a free EDA tool that runs on both Windows and MacOS, but the open-source nature of Kicad should allow it to be ported to MacOS in the future.

Although Google Sketchup and Kicad both store files in a proprietary format, official releases of the Civic EV kit will contain (as required in the Open Hardware License agreement) files in a commonly readable format such as .PDF Several free .PDF writers exist that I can print to just like a regular printer.

You may have noticed that I've included a bunch of new links on the right to help people get more Civic EV resources. My next step is to get the structure of the Civic EV Kit Google Group set up and invite several key people in the Civic EV community so we can get this ball rolling. I'll also be talking with folks at the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association on Thursday, so perhaps I can find some experienced people there to join as well.

While I'd like to share this information with everyone, sometimes too many "cooks" in the EV "kitchen" might cause more chaos than it's worth, so I'll probably limit the number of contributors on the Google Group for the time being.


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