TV-B-Gone: Not Your Average Open Source Success Story
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TV-B-Gone: Not Your Average Open Source Success Story
by Sam Dean - Nov. 04, 2008Comments (8)
There is an interesting story regarding open source hardware making the rounds today. Have you ever heard of TV-B-Gone? I hadn't, until today. It's an invention from Mitch Altman that works like a universal remote, except that it has only one purpose: turning off any TV that is on anywhere, especially in public places. Admittedly, this device could easily get its owner killed during the fourth quarter of a football game in any number of watering holes, but there is a notable open source twist to the story. As Mitch Altman himself reports at the Make site, after he initially invented the TV-B-Gone device, he joined forces with his brother, a patent attorney, and applied for a patent. He also reports that within weeks the TV-B-Gone device was a hot seller, and got covered in many media outlets. Soon after this, he decided to open source everything from the board layout to the firmware source code, giving rise to a huge number of hacked and tweaked TV-B-Gone devices and kits. Altman explains:"I knew about open source, of course, but never considered it viable for hardware until going to my first hacker convention. There I met people who are very critical of patents and other forms of intellectual property law. They see these laws as obsolete and obnoxious. Individuals who want to hack cool ideas to improve upon them and share their results are often preyed upon and silenced by corporate lawyers protecting their clients’ patents. Paradoxically, this stifles the creativity that patents were supposed to encourage. This point of view was an eye-opener for me."So what were Altman's open source results? "Hacks increased the product’s popularity, resulting in more sales and more people around the world experiencing the satisfaction of turning off TVs," he says. "Also, since there was an army of TV-B-Goners who emailed me with ideas on how to improve upon my initial design, the next versions of TV-B-Gone remotes were considerably better than the original."Who says hardware can't benefit from the open source model? Altman's story is an interesting example of how many unusual things can benefit from community contributions. I'm not so sure about his next project, though: The Brain Machine. Sounds like a good way to induce a seizure.
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by Kanchana Wickremasinghe on Nov. 05, 2008Interesting story. There are similar stories coming up in the Open Source hardware space, yes it is interesting how the hardware designs can be made open source for the benefits of a whole community.
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by an anonymous user on Nov. 05, 2008"Have you ever heard of TV-B-Gone? I hadn't, until today."
I guess you are not someone who follows the tech press then? If you did you know that earlier this year Gizmodo got themselves banned from the CES show for pulling this:
It blew up big all over the internet because it was the first year bloggers were allowed press passes to the show and this happened.
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by an anonymous user on Nov. 05, 2008That's right - Gizmodo acted like a middle school dicks - people can get fired over shit like this, and they just thought it was all shits and giggles!
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by an anonymous user on Nov. 05, 2008People can get fired over TVs being turned off by a third party?
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by an anonymous user on Nov. 05, 2008These kind of devices are really old, been around for years in wrist watches etc.
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by Barack Rocks on Nov. 05, 2008Wow - This could be a dangerous. Can you imagine turning off a TV in a sports bar in the final seconds of a close game - Terrorists could use this to disrupt the fundamental American way of life!!! ;)
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by cloudy on Nov. 05, 2008Yes, what Gizmodo did at the CES was pretty mean spirited, especially when they kept repeatedly switching off. Reminds me of those jocks with laser pointers acting up. First time, once maybe it's a bit funny and we can all have a laugh... but after a few times pretty stale and humorless.
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by cloudy on Nov. 05, 2008BTW, Sam how did Altman open source the design after getting the patent? Did he withdraw the patent? Not sure how he went about...
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