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R E S E A R C H   R E P O R T
The Promise and Pitfalls of Open Source in Robotics
Open source technologies provide a low barrier to entry and foster communities of contributors accelerating advancements
By RBR Staff

In the software world, the open source movement consists of a relatively small but passionate community of developers. Though open source operating systems, such as the various Linux distributions, have not achieved high rates of adoption on desktop platforms, a variety of libraries, tools, and embedded Linux systems have become essential elements of software development on all platforms—from personal computers to mobile phones to robots. Because open source technology has grown so integral to research and development, many robot developers, both commercial and academic, are turning to open source models for their software and even hardware.

Open Source—An Overview
“Open source” generally means that a product—often a piece of software—is released in full, including source code or other fundamental design elements, under a license that enables anyone to use, change, and share it. The types of licenses vary in the end user’s obligation to the open source community; under a GNU General Public License (GPL), for example, a piece of software that a developer changes or adds to for a project must be released under an identical license—meaning that if the software was originally free and all source code was available, so must all the new work be free and available for use.

Licenses such as this can limit proprietary usage. On the other hand, under a BSD license (originally for the Berkeley Software Distribution of Unix), software that is developed using open source code can be released under a more restrictive license, allowing newly
developed code to be kept proprietary.

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