From Bits to Atoms: Open Source Hardware at CREN


Publication History

Received: March 3, 2020
Revised: January 19, 2021; September 6, 2021; April 21, 2022
Accepted: May 7, 2022
Published Online as Articles in Advance: Forthcoming
Published Online in Issue: Forthcoming


Although considered a relatively recent phenomenon of the past decade, open-source hardware (OSH) is already influencing commercial hardware development. However, a common belief is that the greater economic cost and complexity of hybrid digital objects (i.e., digital objects with both hardware and software) precludes their development with open-source methods traditionally used for software. We study a sophisticated OSH named White Rabbit initiated at CERN and developed through a vibrant and heterogenous open-source community. Our findings show that the assumption that hardware and software require fundamentally distinctive development and production modes should be replaced with a more nuanced differentiation characterized by three main attributes describing an object’s composition: embodiment, modularity, and granularity. Taken together, these three attributes determine how a hybrid object is developed throughout its evolution in an open-source community. Our research provides several contributions. First, we offer a more nuanced view of the consequences of material embodiment of hardware. Once considered a simple deterrent to open-source development, we describe how economic cost is subordinate to more influential aspects of an object’s physical layers: as the open-source community modifies the object to accommodate the operating requirements of diverse physical instantiations, such modifications can be incorporated in the logical design covered by the open-source license. Additionally, we show how embodiment, modularity, and granularity evolve through the object’s evolution, and how this maturation subsequently affects development modes. We trace the implications of our findings for hybrids and digital object conceptualizations in IS research, open-source development, and more broadly, and normative implications for OSH in scientific and commercial computing.

Additional Details
Author Laia Pujol Priego and Jonathan Wareham
Keywords Open-source, open-source hardware, hybrid objects, digital objects
Page Numbers
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