Open-source software has proven that users are sometimes the best designers with products like the Linux operating system and the Firefox browser. The next logical step is open-source hardware, a movement that is gaining ground in design circles. For instance, Chuck Messer at Tackle Design in Durham, North Carolina has developed an open-source jaundice light for developing countries using blue LEDs that can be manufactured for $75 (versus $3,000 to $5,000 for a similar piece of hospital equipment). And he is also involved with the Open Prosthetics Project, which is trying to bring back an updated version of the popular World War One-era Trautman Hook. Similarly, there are efforts to create open-source computers, cars, telephones, and 3-D printers. There is even a venture-backed company called Bug Labs trying to apply the concept to the commercial realm with what sounds liek open-source consumer electronics. As Fred Wilson, an investor in Bug Labs, cryptically puts it:
The thing about Bug is that it's not anything like the iPhone. It's closer to Ning. It's all about what people will make with a Bug, not what a Bug is when it comes out of the box.
The buzz around open-source hardware is just going to keep getting louder because it is an idea whose time has come. Bringing the culture of participation to physical products is a natural evolution of the open-source, DIY world we are now living in.
What open-source hardware/products would make the most sense to build a business around? Comments are open.