Dangerous Prototypes is 2 years old this month. We updated our about page with a bit of history and answers to common questions.
What do you guys do?
Dangerous Prototypes makes a new open source hardware project every month. We like to make hacking and development tools, but we make toys and obscure internet-influenced art too.
We don’t have a pick and place like SparkFun or Adafruit, we don’t stock or sell any of our projects. All our stuff is manufactured and sold by Seeed Studio in China. We get a quote for 100 and 500 of our project, order stock, and set the retail price. You can too using their Propagate service.
What is open source hardware?
Everything associated with our projects is available to reuse and remix in your own projects. Not just the files for circuit boards and source code, but also the project documentation, illustrations (and original source files), blog posts, and more. We even publish the ‘product integration’ package we use to manufacture the hardware – use it to make and sell your own.
Open development? The opensourcie-ist?
A lot of people are riding the open source wave and releasing projects under an open source license. We try to step it up a notch. 99% of our development is done online in forum public forums, our in-progress projects are documented on a public wiki, and the latest files are available for anyone to download.
Even if you live open source, there might be a knee jerk reaction to helping competitors sell your project before you finish it. First, it’s never happened. Second, we welcome it! We’re small and will never finish all the projects we start, if someone wants devote their time and expertise to complete a project for us, why would we turn that down? We’ll even send them the PCB for free.
What’s a free PCB drawer? Why do you give away your PCBs for free?
The Free PCB Drawer is literally a desk drawer with all our extra PCBs in it. The boards are listed in an online store and they’re available free with a coupon code. All PCBs are mailed anywhere in the world free of charge. Every time you finish one, we send another with our unlimited free PCBs deal. PCB coupons are given away three times a week, and to any motivated hackers.
If someone is willing to devote the time and effort to source parts and build one of our projects, we want to make sure they have a PCB. This includes in-progress, not-yet-for-sale prototypes. If you want to help us test and finish a prototype, even if you’re a competitor, we’re thrilled!
Why open hardware?
We like to make things and write about them. Having fun is the goal. Making a couple bucks from that is a hoot. Who knows how long it keeps up. When the open hardware start-up fad is over, we’ll still be hacking and writing about it.
Open source licensing is just a formality. We had fun doing something, that was the goal. We shared it because we like to write and show off. If you want to do the same thing or build on it, there’s no reason to start from scratch. It doesn’t detract from our enjoyment.
Aren’t you scared someone is gonna take ur stuffs?
We think that would be awesome! We’re such a small operation we could use the help. If someone wants to invest resources in popularizing our project, why would we stop them?
Beyond that, who is going to do it? None of the main open source players with pick and place machines will touch a design without permission. If an idea is brilliant, it’s negligible for anyone to remake it from scratch after you disclose it, you need a patent for that kind of protection not a copyright.
Keep in mind that only the files that contain a hardware design are copyright. You can’t copyright a circuit. If someone wants it they will hire someone (in China, at $20 a day) to reverse and redo it anyways, and then you get nothing.
Really? What if Bus Pirate clones appeared on eBay, undercutting your price?
That happens now! Check it out. We get some good ideas from them! It’s a great way to expose the Bus Pirate name, but it’s not worth our time to troll eBay, put orders in boxes, and walk to the post office. Yuck. They perform a valuable advertising and promotional service for us. Really! We’re so proud of this.
What if SparkFun started selling their own Bus Pirate clones? Wouldn’t that hurt your business?
Yup, that happens too! SparkFun sells a knock-off (and by that we mean not the original, but their own PCB version). We supported their customers for free for a long time. Eventually SparkFun insisted on sending us a royalty. They didn’t have to, we’d still let them make new designs sans royalty.
There are days when it isn’t great to compete with SparkFun for Bus Pirate distributors, but how long would it take us to build that distribution network? And it’s contributed so much to the Bus Pirate being a popular project.
Open source philosophy? Is the open source model sustainable?
During our first interview as Dangerous Prototypes we were asked a philosophical question about open source. We did our best to give an answer, but it was mostly a wash. The bottom line: there’s a lot of visionary people who can speak to the philosophical questions, but it’s not us.
Dangerous Prototypes can best serve open source on the applied side. We try to make open source tools that help make more and better open source stuff. We try to make cheap tools that compliment existing open source software like WinLIRC, SUMP, OpenOCD, urJTAG, etc. We want to encourage development of more open source by putting hardware into the hands of capable software developers who wouldn’t/couldn’t source parts and solder their own PCB.
We do our best to use open source tools and platforms whenever possible, but free is usually good until there’s an open source equivalent.
Will you design something for me?
We’re always open to project ideas and suggestions, but we don’t do custom engineering.
Who are you?
For a long time it was just Ian, soldering everything on the kitchen table. Ian still solders every prototype on the kitchen table, but about 8 paid contributors help with the blog, servers, PCBs, and business stuff. We’re decentralized and global – coming from Asia, Europe, and North America.
How did you get started?
Seeed Studio offered to make the Bus Pirate in quantities as low as 20. Ian was skeptical that it would even sell the minimum.
The first batch of Bus Pirates were produced and sold as a fundraiser for Hack a Day. It was a lot of fun, so Ian started Dangerous Prototypes to sell future projects.
Since then we’ve released a project about once a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on production delays. Blog readership continues to grow, sales are great, and a few projects have distributors worldwide.
It wouldn’t be possible to get our projects without Seeed Studio. We’d still make them, but only diehard hackers would build them. Seeed makes it possible for anyone to get a copy.
We also draw endless inspiration from the kit business how-tos and presentations put out by Adafruit Industries.
Where are you?
DangerousPrototypes.com is copyright 2011 Where Labs, LLC. 208 Pine Street, Muscatine, Iowa, 52761, USA. Phone: (563)223-8762.
Some rights reserved.
Will you do an interview or be in my study?
Thank you, we’d love to! Let us know how we can help. We’ll add a link to your project here.
- Open-source hardware suits kitchen-table start-up @ EDN
- Dangerous Prototypes: An Open Source Hardware Project A Month @ HotHardware
- Open Source Hardware Fostering User Entrepreneurship: Empirical Evidence from Arduino Users Master’s Thesis by Remo Abbondandolo, Faculty of Economics, Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi