Open Hardware supports US Industry, Jobs, and Public Wealth

A circuit board being assembled at Adafruit, a US open hardware company ()

This blog is part of a series on open hardware and key messages for public policy. Read the introduction and access other #OHpolicy blogs .

By Woodrow Wilson Center

Open Source Hardware (OSH) is emerging as for rapid innovation and cost reduction for various sectors of industry. Companies with OSH products have already proved commercial viability and excellence, especially in science and technology. Adafruit, a company that sells open source electronics, generated in 2016. In 2014, Adafruit was companies and . The open source 3D printer RepRap’s design was adopted to create one of the largest 3D printing companies in the world, . In addition to their commercial success, both Adafruit and RepRap’s OSH serve as building blocks for new products, and thus are foundations for new industries, businesses, and audiences. For instance, Safecast, a mobile Geiger counter, is built using Adafruit’s .

Not only does OSH support industry, but it can generate US jobs. To start, OSH enables , where small batches of customized products are fabricated locally. Distributed manufacturing of open source hardware met , when traditional supply chains failed. Beyond COVID-19, decentralized fabrication centers near academic and research institutions could locally manufacture specialized scientific hardware, instead of being produced in a centralized, offshore manufacturing plant.

OSH also has the potential to create service industry jobs to address principal challenges with OSH: these tools need to meet standards and quality control. This is especially true for scientific instrumentation, where calibration to standards are essential for reproducible and repeatable experiments. Additionally, OSH often requires in-depth technical knowledge to modify designs and customize tools. , such as the review performed by , would ensure OSH for science meets quality specifications, while creating jobs for validation labs and standards organizations. Jobs would similarly be generated through selling trainings, installations, technical support, workshops, and other to assist researchers and users lacking certain technological skills for OSH, as has driven many jobs and revenue generation in the Open Source Software(OSS) industry. , a prominent OSS company, has been able to acquire over $1 billion dollars in revenue from providing service for open source products.

The success of OSH companies is partly due to their ability to innovate and improve their products, faster. By making the design files to hardware open source, in the development and testing of a product. The inventor of RepRap described the open source community as key to resolving issues while developing the tool, stating “.” With more hands on deck for troubleshooting, OSH companies like RepRap are saving time and money in the validation and testing of their products.

Companies using OSH are more resilient to market changes. Proprietary tools can fall into “,” where they rely on filing suits against copiers who infringe their IP rights. Open source, on the other hand, motivates industries to continually remain in tune with market trends . As a result, open hardware companies consistently bring more novel, up-to-date products to market. Furthermore, . Using the publicly available design files, customers are free to build, modify, and sell the tool to meet their personal needs, creating new markets and industries. This feature is especially pertinent to scientific instrumentation, as many customers require hardware for diverse research applications and very specific experiments. This is demonstrated by , which sells open source biosensing kits and tools. The products appeal to a larger market of users than proprietary versions, due to their versatility in meeting different research goals. OpenBCI has also inspired the innovation of new products, such as OpenBCI-compatible .

In addition to supporting industry innovation, OSH helps industry save money, driving down the product costs for consumers and increasing finances to invest in new products. OSH is typically not patented and other Intellectual Property (IP) rights, other than trademarks are permissively licensed using standard legal tools. This . by leveraging previous OSH designs and with parts of development being outsourced to contributing volunteers, spanning from retired engineers to hobbyists. Finally, open sourcing a product can . As individuals contribute to open source projects, they tend to form community through virtual forums. These forums can serve as a place for people to answer each other’s questions and resolve problems. The community and online tools generated from open source projects also provides and , reducing costs for advertising and market research.

OSH’s ability to reduce costs, accelerate innovation, and create new jobs would benefit all sectors of industry, but above all transform STEM. From these benefits, it is evident that OSH is an extremely valuable asset to US industry, the economy, and the public. With policy support along the way, the opportunities are limitless in how OSH will continue to strengthen the US as a global leader in industry, STEM, and beyond.




Journal of Open Hardware, an Open Access initiative run by the Global Open Science Hardware community and published by Ubiquity Press.

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Journal of Open HW

Journal of Open HW

Journal of Open Hardware, an Open Access initiative run by the Global Open Science Hardware community and published by Ubiquity Press.

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