For several years now, Google has been developing a new open-source operating system of an amorphous nature, dubbed Fuschia, and now the company is calling for outside developers to contribute to the project.
Backend plumbing? — It's never been clear what the intention behind Fuschia is — executives at Google have vaguely suggested that it's meant to "push the state of the art in terms of operating systems" and that its learnings may be incorporated into other projects. Codenames for several smart home projects, like the Google Nest Hub, have appeared in Fuschia's code before they were announced, suggesting the OS may be designed specifically for internet-of-things hardware — though Fuschia wasn't ultimately used in the production versions of those projects.
Fuschia is based on a microkernel, a type of lightweight operating system that provides for only basic operations. Android and Chrome OS are heavy codebases, probably too resource-intensive for a lightbulb with a low-powered processor. It makes certain sense to have a microkernel-based OS solely for that purpose.
As spotted by The Verge, Google's announcement calling for contributors says that it has "created new public mailing lists for project discussions, added a governance model to clarify how strategic decisions are made, and opened up the issue tracker for public contributors to see what’s being worked on.”
Free labor — Even though Google has been noncommittal about Fuschia becoming a commercial endeavor, today's announcement makes it hard to believe it doesn't have some bigger plans for the OS. Android is similarly an open-source project, with outside developers, including those from smartphone makers, contributing improvements and bug reports that Google ends up rolling into the production build.
Most of the developers that have any influence on Android's development are employees of Google — outside community members can't really take over the project and move it in a direction not endorsed by the company. The contributions are really free labor, in a sense. The same thing goes for Chrome, where Microsoft contributes changes to the browser now that Edge is powered by that project. Why pay 5,000 people when you could get 10,000 people to do more for free? Fuschia might be Google's next project in this vein.