Robotics for the Streets: From Outreach to Education to Research

Robotics for the Streets: From Outreach to Education to Research

Dr. Carlotta Berry

Engineering has a diversity problem. It has for a really long time. Despite many years of programs and interventions, the number of Black and Brown people pursuing degrees in engineering has remained relatively flat. It is more than just a broken pipeline, it is an obstacle course with pitfalls, daggers, darts, and detours that lead to dead ends. People are lost at every step of the journey due to lack of a sense of belonging, no mentors and role models, not being able to see the relevance of the work they will do, and how to relate it to real world applications. My purpose here is to propose we devise more novel and innovative approaches to get more minds, hands, and eyes on STEM.

Engineers solve the problems of a global and diverse community so they must reflect that community to come up with the best and most unique solutions. When this doesn’t happen, there is the potential for bias, discrimination, and injustice to creep into our technological solutions.  In recent years, we have seen artificial intelligence technology used to falsely identify the perpetrator of a crime, eliminate women candidates for job interviews and inaccurately identify individuals most likely to reoffend. 

As an Open Hardware Trailblazer fellow, my approach for doing this is to remove the barrier to knowledge and resources for all ages. I want to be for others what I did not have as an engineering student. Show them that they can be what they can or cannot see with a bit of diligence, dedication, and discipline. Remove the barrier that keeps some individuals from ever seeing themselves in this field and make it more accessible.

A robot is a mechanical system that uses electronics and software to achieve missions and tasks in the world, it connects several disciplines. Therefore, one of the greatest benefits in using robots for open-source hardware development is the fact that it is used for multidisciplinary collaboration. The documentation of robotics projects can be generalized to academics in engineering, computer science, human computer interaction, informatics, sociology, psychology, and cognitive science. Since my area of research focuses on controls, software development, kinematics, as well on electronics it touches on many such fields. In the past, academics have used robotics to teach design, controls, physics, mathematics, mechatronics, and programming so the opportunities are endless. In addition, since robotics is taught in so many different ways with no standardized curriculum, this is one way to unify the community around best practices. By having a shared repository online, users will be encouraged to not only consume content but also contribute their innovations.

This multi-pronged approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in STEM technology will meet people where they are. Through a repository of social media posts, videos, lectures, assignments, labs, code, workshops, and curricula, it lowers the barrier for educators and users. By documenting and disseminating the use of open-source platforms for research, it will illustrate to academics that it is not necessary to raise massive amounts of money, purchase expensive hardware or get patents to make an impact.

In conclusion, my work as an open hardware trailblazer fellow will illustrate to universities and academics that there is more than one way to produce and share intellectual property. It will cause a paradigm shift that illustrates that there is just as much intellectual merit in producing open source hardware as there is in getting patents or publishing in journals, conferences, or technical magazines. In addition, using open source hardware will produce greater visibility for universities as well as yield broader impacts for the STEM community. By exploiting these non-traditional avenues for disseminated projects, it will enable a more diverse segment of the population to engage. In this way, open source hardware creates more diversity, equity, justice, and inclusion in STEM. For example, individuals who cannot afford a college education, will now benefit from some of the knowledge garnered from engaging in open source hardware projects that would have previously only been accessible to the university community. It is my hope that by promoting and using STEM to make connections with various communities and bring more people to STEM, we will change the face of STEM and diversify the profession.

Why you should use Free and Open Source Software to design your hardware

When you design hardware, it is very likely that you want to share your design files with others. At the very least, you may want to open your files and edit them in the future. This blog entry explains the advantages of using Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) if you want to make sure you always have access to your files.

Layout of a circuit using KiCad, a FOSS tool to design Printed Circuit Boards

Commercial not the opposite of FOSS

‘Commercial software’ is not the opposite of ‘FOSS’. The opposite of ‘FOSS’ is ‘proprietary software’.  A proprietary program is one for which you do not have meaningful access to the source code. You can buy support for FOSS, and then it’s commercial FOSS. In fact, many argue that it’s a winning combination: you avoid lock-in situations because it’s open-source, but you contribute to the sustainability of the project and you don’t expect people to work for free, which unfortunately is often the case with open-source projects. 

The problem with proprietary tools

The most important issue with proprietary tools is the dependency on an external entity, typically a software company, to be able to open and edit the content you created to begin with. We are so used to accepting this that we don’t see anymore how unnatural it is. Imagine you kept a hand-written diary. Some of these diaries come with a lock for privacy reasons. Now imagine that every time you wanted to open your diary you had to ask a company for the key to the lock. The company could ask you for regular payments to continue giving you the key every time you asked for it, and if you stopped paying you would not have access anymore to the years of content you might have already written in those pages. Even if you were willing to pay, the company could go belly-up, or their priorities could change, and you might lose access to your diary. Sounds ludicrous, right? Yet, this is what we accept every time we generate content using a proprietary tool. The current trend for design software to be ‘in the cloud’ and for licensing to be subscription-based gives tool providers even more control over who can access files and when.

But my EDA vendor gives me this super-good deal!

Some people invoke low prices of a given proprietary Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tool as a reason not to worry too much. Versions of the tools with limited capabilities are sometimes even available for free! EDA vendors can give extreme discounts to users as part of their commercial strategy. For example, academic institutions often get very good deals because vendors know that these tools have a steep learning curve and once a user has developed the muscle memory to be super-efficient, they are very likely to ask for the same tool in their next job, which may be in a company paying the full standard license fee. 

Does that mean that you are safe provided you work in an academic institution? Ask people working there, and you will find out that changes in the strategy of EDA providers (for example as a result of new management) can easily result in abrupt license fee increases. The feeling of helplessness in those cases is hard to describe, especially if you already have a huge number of designs done with that tool.

Zero or very-low license fees create the illusion that you will not lose much if you have to change tools as a result of a price increase, because you never paid them much to begin with. This may be true unless you and your colleagues have invested a big effort learning the tool and creating content you may not be able to access again. For example, a single PCB design might have taken hundreds of hours and multiple iterations to be completed; you might still have the Gerber files for production, but if you need to make a small modification, there is a significant cost to starting the whole layout project again.

If, on the other hand, you think that you may be willing to accept a steep increase in fees to be able to keep access to your files, I have bad news for you: your EDA vendor may be doing that very calculation for you as you read this. One cannot blame a commercial company for wanting to make more money. That’s what companies do. Whether your interests and theirs are aligned enough for you to purchase a proprietary license to their software is for you to judge. At this point it is worth noting that many users absolutely want to pay in exchange for the assurance that they will get technical support if they need it. This is a reasonable expectation when one uses a tool for important design work. As I mentioned earlier, it is very possible to buy that kind of support for an open-source tool. It is also an excellent way to help the project, funding software development work while maintaining the benefits of FOSS. Proprietary licenses typically conflate two aspects which are largely independent: the ability to open and edit your files on one hand, and the support if anything goes wrong on the other. You can certainly get the latter without compromising on the former.  

Call to action

Every designer wants to be able to share designs with their future self. If, in addition, you are designing Open Source Hardware (OSHW), your motivation to use FOSS should be even stronger. Open-source tools are sometimes lacking in features and quality. This may be partially explained by the fact that developers are often volunteers who join a project to ‘scratch their own itch’. As a result, conceptual integrity and user experience may get less priority than they should. You can help develop a good open-source tool in your domain (mechanics, electronics or other) in many ways. Contributing code, helping fund development or steering these projects to make them more organized and scalable are just some of the ways people are already doing this. In software development, many of the best tools are open-source. Awareness of the importance of FOSS in guaranteeing easy sharing and absence of lock-in is a first step. This blog entry, necessarily limited in scope and depth, is meant to raise this awareness. A longer version, describing Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design to make things more concrete and tackling the important subject of file formats, is available here. So, what next? If you would like to discuss further and see how we can get organized and reach critical mass in this important endeavor, feel free to post your questions, ideas, suggestions, etc. in the OSHWA Forums. Let’s make FOSS the standard way of sharing OSHW designs!

A certification logo with the UID crossed out

Revoking Certification for mini:: hardware family

Today OSHWA is revoking the certification for the following hardware:

mini::bike DE000107
mini::lab DE000106
mini::base DE000093
mini::pit DE000096
mini::grid DE000095
mini::out DE000094

We are taking this action because the documentation is no longer publicly available and the parties responsible for the hardware have indicated that they are not in a position to republish it.  The absence of the documentation was brought to our attention by a member of the open source hardware community.

In the past, we have fully removed decertified hardware from the certification directory. However, this time we are keeping the listing in the directory and making two changes:

  1. We are adding “(revoked)” after the hardware name to make it clear that the hardware is no longer certified.
  2. We have updated the documentation links to point to versions of the documentation OSHWA archived at the time of certification.

This second change is possible because OSHWA started archiving documentation as part of the certification process a number of years ago. This archived documentation is usually stored privately. OSHWA does this, in part, in order to avoid creating an alternative (and not updated) documentation archive that competes with the creator’s active documentation. In cases where the documentation is no longer available and OSHWA has an archive copy, OSHWA will add documentation for decertified hardware to as part of the decertification process.

An effective certification program requires ongoing monitoring of certified hardware, both by OSHWA and by the larger open source hardware community.  OSHWA prefers to work with responsible parties to resolve problems with certified hardware and views decertification as a last resort. 

We discuss the decertification process in more detail in our blog post about the first decertification.  You can learn more about the certification program on the certification page and certification FAQs. Finally, if you have questions about the certification process, or want to report a problem with a piece of certified hardware, you can always reach out to

Congratulations to the Open Hardware Trailblazers

OSHWA recently announced a call for Open Hardware Trailblazer Fellows. Thanks to the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, OSHWA is taking a giant step towards expanding open source hardware in academia through the Open Hardware Trailblazer Fellows initiative. The one-year fellowship provides grants to individuals who are leading the way as open source hardware expands into academia. The fellows will document their experience of making open source hardware in academia to create a library of resources for others to follow.

The call was incredibly competitive. We received truly amazing submissions. The fellows were chosen by the program’s mentors and an OSHWA board selection committee. 

Congratulations to the Open Hardware Trailblazer Fellows!

Dr. AnnMarie Thomas is a Professor at the University of St. Thomas, in the School of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) and the Opus College of Business (Entrepreneurship.) She is the director of the Playful Learning Lab, a multidisciplinary undergraduate research group focusing on the intersection of K-12 education, art, and technology. She is the co-creator of Squishy Circuits, and author of “Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation.” She served as the founding executive director of the Maker Education Initiative, and is the co-founder and executive director of OK Go Sandbox. Current collaborators include Metro Deaf School and the Minnesota Children Museum.


Dr. Carlotta A. Berry (she/her) is a professor at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Dr. Berry has always been an advocate for multidisciplinary robotics education as well as diversifying STEM. As part of her efforts, she co-founded the multidisciplinary minor in robotics and Rose building undergraduate diversity scholarship and professional development program. During her recent sabbatical, she also co-founded Black In Engineering and Black In Robotics non-profit organizations and started an educational consulting company, NoireSTEMinist®. She has degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering from Spelman College, Georgia Tech, Wayne State University, and Vanderbilt University. Dr. Berry has given extensive service to her community and profession through FIRST robotics, VEX robotics, Girl Scouts, IEEE and the American Society of Engineering Education. She has numerous awards for her work and was recently recognized as an ASEE fellow and TechPoint Foundation For Youth Bridge Builder.

Dahl Winters (she/her) has been a leader in science R&D and technology initiatives with over 15 years of experience in IT and systems development services. She brings a wealth of expertise with strengths in big data, artificial intelligence, and innovation strategies for research and development. Dahl obtained her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Duke University where she received the Reginaldo Howard full-tuition scholarship for academic merit and leadership. She also holds a Master of Science in Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she was a predoctoral fellow of the National Science Foundation. She is currently completing Ph.D work in Systems Engineering from Colorado State University. Dahl is also an active member of the OpenAir Collective, a community of over 700 volunteers working to advance carbon removal policy and R&D.

Jonathan Balkind (he/him) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he co-directs the ArchLab. His research interests lie at the intersection of Computer Architecture, Programming Languages, and Operating Systems. Jonathan received his PhD and MA from Princeton University and his MSci from the University of Glasgow. He is the Lead Architect of OpenPiton and its heterogeneous-ISA descendant, BYOC, which are productive, open-source hardware research platforms with thousands of downloads from over 70 countries worldwide. Jonathan was a Class of 2018 Siebel Scholar and recipient of the Gordon Y.S. Wu Fellowship in Engineering. Since 2021, he has served as a Director of the FOSSi Foundation.

Kevin Eliceiri, Ph.D., is the RRF Walter H. Helmerich Professor of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is an investigator in the Morgridge Institute for Research and member of the UW Carbone Cancer Center. He is also associate director of the McPherson Eye Research Institute and director of the Center for Quantitative Cell Imaging. His laboratory (known as the Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI)) is a biophotonics research group dedicated to the development and application of optical and computational technologies for cell studies. They are contributing lead developers to  several open-source imaging software packages including FIJI, ImageJ2 and μManager. His open hardware instrumentation efforts involve novel forms of polarization, laser scanning and multiscale imaging. Eliceiri has authored more than 260 scientific papers on various aspects of optical imaging, image analysis, cancer and live cell imaging.

Manu Prakash (he/him) is a professor at Stanford University. He is a physical biologist applying his expertise in soft-matter physics to illuminate often easy to observe but hard to explain phenomena in biological and physical contexts and to invent solutions to difficult problems in global health, science education, and ecological surveillance. His many lines of research are driven by curiosity about the diversity of life forms on our planet and how they work, empathy for problems in resource-poor settings, and a deep interest in democratizing the experience and joy of science globally.

Miriam Langer (she/her)  is a professor of media arts/cultural technology at New Mexico Highlands University, an Hispanic Serving public institution in northeastern New Mexico. Miriam has been a professor of multimedia & interactivity with a focus on cultural technology at NMHU since 2001. In 2005, she initiated a partnership with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and has since worked with cultural institutions (museums, historic sites, national parks and libraries) around New Mexico (and elsewhere) to use emerging technology and open source solutions for these organizations. Since 2005, 268 projects have been completed at 62 cultural institutions. She is one of the founders of the Museduino, along with Rianne Trujillo, Miles Tokunow, and Stan Cohen – an open hardware platform for responsive exhibits and installation art. Her partners for this fellowship are Rianne Trujillo, instructor of software design and co-developer of the Museduino and Becca Sharp, an MFA student in Cultural Technology.,

Shanel Wu (they/them) is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder researching smart textiles, wearable electronics, and sustainable futures for these technologies. They are a member of Laura Devendorf’s Unstable Design Lab in the ATLAS Institute at CU Boulder, contributing to the lab’s open-source weaving design software, AdaCAD, and open textbook for prototyping smart textiles. Devendorf is Wu’s PhD advisor, and will also be a partner on the fellowship, representing the lab’s introduction to open hardware. Wu received their Bachelor of Science in Physics from Harvey Mudd College, with a focus on applications to computing technologies. Of note, they also became a self-taught fiber artist during their undergraduate years, which informs their current research focus on textile-based circuitry and fabrication. Whether their hands are working with yarn, solder, fabric, or silicon, Wu embraces an open-source philosophy as a way to meld STEAM and community-driven social justice. 

Zsuzsa Márka (she/her) is a scientist at the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory. She works on the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) project, the experiment that in 2016 announced the first direct detection of gravitational-waves. At Columbia University, Márka led the project that built the LIGO and KAGRA timing distribution systems, key subsystems for instrument control and gravitational wave data acquisition. Márka works with members of the Columbia Experimental Gravity group on various aspects of gravitational-wave multimessenger astrophysics with a special focus on joint high-energy neutrino and gravitational wave searches. She is also involved in the development of new technologies through the Columbia BioOptics Group with a focus on combating disease transmitting vectors via optical and acoustic technologies and a murine model of neurodegenerative diseases.

Congrats to our Trailblazers in Academia Mentors

Congrats to our mentors for the Open Hardware Trailblazers in Academia Fellowship. Our mentors will be selecting the fellows (along with our board panel), guiding the fellows through our process, and reading the fellows’ work. We are super excited to have them on board and thank them for their commitment to open source hardware!

Mentors (in alphabetical order by first name):

Brandon Stafford

Brandon is an engineer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, USA. He grew up north of Boston and spent a lot of time building tree forts and skateboard ramps as an adolescent. After a degree in English and a few years of teaching high school math, Brandon went to grad school in mechanical engineering.

Since grad school, Brandon has worked at the Stanford Robotics Lab, Mindtribe Product Engineering, and as a consultant for various renewable energy startups. For five years, he ran Rascal Micro, a startup building small computers for art and science.

At Tufts, Brandon teaches hands-on courses in electronics (ME 30) and mechanical design (ME 93-DF).

César Garcia Saez

Bio: César García Sáez. Speaker and researcher specialized in digital fabrication, Internet of Things and maker movement.

Host at La Hora Maker, a podcast in Spanish focused on Maker Movement and digital fabrication. Co-founder of Makespace Madrid. FabAcademy graduate at Fablab León. Madrid Mini Maker Faire organizer. Co-founder of Madrid IoT meetup group. Exhibitor and speaker at European events like European Maker Faire, FabFestival (Toulouse). Author of the books “Digital Fabrication, maker movement and the future of work”, “We need to make (almost) everything – A social and education look at Fab Labs and the maker movement”.

Appointed by COTEC Foundation, focused on Innovation at a national scale, as Expert in 3D Printing for Societal and Economical impact. Mentor at European Social Innovation Challenge.

Before switching roles to my current position, I worked at System Administrator for 14+ years at Madrid City Council. I won the first ever intra-entrepreneurship innovation challenge for public workers in our city, using a design thinking approach.

Chris Chronopoulos

Bio: Chris serves as the Director of Instrumentation at the recently launched Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics, a non-profit research lab focused on fundamental neuroscience with a commitment to Open Science practices. In this role, he manages a team developing instrumentation hardware and software, ensuring that it meets the evolving needs of scientists while also adhering to open source standards, so to share tools widely in the spirit of scientific collaboration.

Chris is also president and board member of Interstitial Technology, a public benefit cooperative and consulting firm that develops open source technology as a force for good, with a focus on environmental sustainability and human rights. Through Interstitial, he has carried forward a number of hardware projects into OSHWA compliance, and also spoken at the Summit on the topic of Open Standards.

Before this, he was an engineering project manager at LeafLabs, which developed one of the first Arduino-compatible ARM dev boards (the Maple) in addition to subsequent open-hardware projects.

Clarissa Redwine

Bio: Clarissa is the Grant Program Manager for the Decentralized Wireless Alliance, leading ecosystem development. Before joining DeWi, she was a Fellow at NYU Law focused on open source hardware, led Kickstarter’s Design and Tech outreach strategy across the US, and served as Program Manager for the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator.

Elizabeth Hendrex

Bio: Elizabeth Hendrex is the CEO of Great Scott Gadgets. Her leadership and hands-on approach help with financial oversight, process improvements, logistics coordination, and people management. She has been an integral part of helping GSG grow in its mission to put open source tools into the hands of innovative people since joining the team six years ago. Elizabeth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Technical Communication as a non-traditional (single parent, career-changing, working adult) student at Metro State University of Denver. She chose this path because of her interest in technical writing and aviation technology, and shortly after discovered a passion for open-source hardware that would become her career. When she’s not at her desk, she’s probably driving the kids around, practicing yoga, watering the orchids, or learning a new song on the guitar or keyboard.

Huaishu Peng

Bio: Huaishu Peng is an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science department at the University of Maryland, College Park. His multi-disciplinary research interests range from human-computer interaction, mixed reality, and robotic fabrication. He builds software and machine prototypes that make the design and fabrication of 3D models interactive. He also looks into new techniques that can fabricate 3D interactive objects. His work has been published in CHI, UIST and SIGGRAPH and won Best Paper Nominee. His work has also been featured in media such as Wired, MIT Technology Review, Techcrunch, and Gizmodo.

Jinger Zeng

Bio: Jinger Zeng is currently the contest manager at Prior to joining Hackster, she was the community manager of the PX4 open source drones community, and the founder of hardware company Dronesmith Technologies. She is an active advocate in the open hardware space, and have a wide range of experiences in working with different stages of companies from startups to corporates, academia, manufactures, and organized events from meetups to developer summits. 

Joshua Pearce

Bio: Joshua M. Pearce received his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. He then developed the first Sustainability program in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and helped develop the Collaborative Applied Sustainability graduate engineering program while at Queen’s University, Canada. Then he was the first Richard Witte Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and a Professor cross-appointed in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the Michigan Technological University where he inaugurated and was the faculty advisor for the Michigan Tech Open Source Hardware Enterprise and ran the Open Sustainability Technology Research Group. He was a Fulbright-Aalto University Distinguished Chair and is a visiting professor of Photovoltaics and Nanoengineering at Aalto University as well as a visiting Professor Équipe de Recherche sur les Processus Innovatifs (ERPI), Université de Lorraine, France. He  is the John M. Thompson Chair in Information Technology and Innovation at the Thompson Centre for Engineering Leadership & Innovation. He holds appointments at Ivey Business School, the top ranked business school in Canada and the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Western University in Canada, a top 1% global university.

Call for Participation: Mentor Committee 

The Open Source Hardware Association ( OSHWA) recently announced our Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship. The one-year fellowship provides $50,000 or $100,000 grants to individuals who are leading the way as open source hardware expands into academia. The fellows will document their experience of making open source hardware in academia to create a library of resources for others to follow.

OSHWA is recruiting open source hardware professionals and practitioners from both inside and outside of academia with diverse backgrounds to serve on the mentor committee.  The committee will review applications, make recommendations on fellowship awards, and advise fellows through their year-long Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship.  The mentor committee will work with the OSHWA board selection committee, two non-voting members of the Sloan Foundation, and two non-voting staff members at OSHWA to recommend fellow applications. 

The mentor application is due March 30th.


  • Read, reflect on, and discuss the fellowship applications. 
  • Work with the OSHWA selection committee members to recommend a list of applicants to the OSHWA board. 
  • Attend virtual and in-person meetings through the course of this grant as determined as a group.
  • Read the guidelines / best practices / case study or other documentation written by your fellow and offer suggestions throughout the year.
  • Mentor, offer suggestions, and be a sounding board to a paired fellow throughout the year.


The mentor application is due March 30th.

The mentor committee will be appointed by an OSHWA board selection committee. Mentors will be given a $5,000 stipend. Travel for proposed in-person personal meetings will be covered by OSHWA.

Thank you to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for their generous support of this program.

We’re Launching a new Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship

The open source hardware community has exploded since the first Open Hardware Summit way back in 2010.  In just over a decade we’ve seen open hardware in space and under the sea, hardware made of electronics and hardware made of yarn.  This growth has been fueled by the open source hardware community clustered in companies, nonprofits, basements, research organizations, and hackerspaces.  

Today, thanks to the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, OSHWA is taking a giant step towards expanding open source hardware in academia with our new Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship program.  The Fellowship is the culmination of the Higher Education program we announced at the 2020 Summit, and builds on the information we learned from the survey of the academic community in 2021. The program recognizes open source hardware community members as they succeed in academia, supporting them as they make it easier to follow their path.

The one year fellowship provides $50,000 or $100,000 grants to individuals who are leading the way as open source hardware expands into academia.  Documentation is key to open source hardware, and these Fellowships will support the development of documentation for how to successfully make open source hardware work across a broad spectrum of academic environments and departments.  

You will find the full RFP below.  The application form is here.  Fellowship applications are due April 7th, and this time are limited to applicants with a demonstrated record of success using or supporting open source hardware in US-based academic settings.  If you have questions, please email

Request for Proposals: Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship

The Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) invites applications to its Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship. The one year Fellowship provides $50k or $100k grants to individuals who are actively leading the development and application of open hardware within universities. The goals of the program are to recognize and connect a peer cohort of these leaders, and to create a library of resources representing best practices in open source hardware in academia. The Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship recognizes academic leaders in open hardware, providing support for those leaders to share how they have done their work, and supports the production of documentation and best practices to make it easier to expand open hardware at academic institutions more broadly. Fellowship applications are due April 7th.

Background and Approach

Open hardware is accelerating the pace of research in academic settings.  Three open hardware Journals have come of age in the past five years.  The Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH) is transforming the development of open hardware scientific equipment.  Open hardware’s use in academia has become an area of study in and of itself.   

However, many academic institutions are not yet aware of open hardware techniques and do not actively support their adoption.  The Fellowship program will raise the profile of existing open hardware work within academia, and make it easier for others to take similar paths.

Applications should identify existing efforts to expand the use of open hardware within an academic setting, and outline proposals to grow and document those successes. OSHWA’s definition of success within the context of the Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship focuses on the academic context. While that can include commercial success, more relevant success is tied to professional advancement, awards and other recognition for contributions, or hardware created. We expect to fund meta-level research on hardware, but not the production of hardware directly.

Networks and communities can be helpful when embracing new territory.  Fellows will be part of a cohort, creating a network focused on growing institutional support and expanding the impact of individual projects. The Trailblazers Network is designed to:

  1. Recognize existing leaders
  2. Give those leaders tools to expand their work
  3. Encourage the leaders’ institutions to recognize and value their work
  4. Identify and accelerate the development and dissemination of information about developing open hardware within the context of universities 
  5. Leverage diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice initiatives to broaden the community of open hardware practitioners at universities 
  6. Pair leaders with industry mentors to share knowledge when applicable

What to expect if you’re accepted as a Fellow

The purpose of this funding is to give the Fellows the time needed to document their work with open source hardware in a way that allows others to adopt similar techniques. All Fellows will attend regular virtual meetings with their Fellowship cohort, including two in-person meetings with travel costs paid for by OSHWA. Fellows will be introduced to mentors or collaborators from industry with relevant expertise. The Fellowship will build a beneficial network to share work being done, ask questions, and gain feedback from each other. Each Fellow’s documentation will be a valuable piece of the resource library produced within this Fellowship. 

Example Questions and Outputs

Example questions that could be answered as part of the Fellowship include, but are not restricted to: 

  • What documentation practices help academics share and disseminate their open hardware projects?
  • What makes hardware more replicable in academia and what is missing from current documentation standards?  
  • How do various fields of study approach problems, such as licensing, around open hardware in their departments and what are common threads seen at other academic institutions?
  • What is the business case of open hardware in academia and how has open hardware developed in academia thus far?

Example outputs could include, but are not restricted to: 

  • A guide or playbook for how a specific successful open hardware project was created in academia and lessons learned that can be extrapolated to Fellow academics. 
  • A case study and blown out diagram to describe every piece of meta information that goes into the creation of open source hardware. 
  • A case study of metrics that could be used by departments to determine a person’s contributions to open source hardware and how those might fit into service criteria
  • A how-to guide for talking to tech transfer offices and deans about opening up IP for hardware

Fellowship funding is not intended to fund new technical development of individual hardware projects. Applications that ask for funding hardware development costs will not be funded. Furthermore, Fellowship funding is not intended to fund tools for developing hardware. Proposals for building tools such as documentation platforms will be considered out of scope.

Upon completion of this project, the work from the Fellowship will be compiled into a physical or digital library of resources which may include books, guides, instruction sets, maps, or diagrams. These resources will be disseminated more broadly to help people create and advocate for open hardware at their academic institution. 

We welcome applications from individuals affiliated with all kinds of departments and institutions ranging from Engineering to Arts and Sciences to Business Schools, and from R1s to primarily undergraduate institutions. 

Fellowship applications can cover the costs for multiple people working together as teams, but each application must specify a lead Fellow. For example, we imagine that Fellows might be faculty but that the Fellowship will fund work conducted by students.


Open source hardware’s diversity is one of its strengths.  As such, we encourage applicants to interpret “projects related to open source hardware” broadly and creatively. OSHWA defines open hardware broadly, and invites applications from non-engineering or -science disciplines.  People who are eligible to hold funds at their academic institution are eligible to apply to this Fellowship. We have attempted to make the initial application process relatively brief in order to encourage experimentation.

That being said, applicants should have a demonstrated record of success in the use and/or support of open source hardware in academic settings.  They do not need to be project leads, however, they do have to be in a position of leadership sufficient to develop and implement the proposed project. Since this program is designed to help create examples for others to follow, we also value a demonstrated interest in mentoring or other types of community leadership.  We recognize that opportunities for community leadership are not equally distributed and therefore understand that term broadly.  

By applying, applicants are indicating that they have the time and capacity to implement their proposed program, participate in regular Fellow cohort meetings, and document their work so that it can serve as a guide to others. Applicants are also indicating that they understand that all work created as part of this program will be made publicly available under a Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 license, or a similarly permissive license, and open hardware referenced meets the guidelines set forth in OSHWA’s Open Hardware Definition.

Awards will be disbursed as unrestricted gifts to the academic institution and are not intended for overhead or indirect costs. OSHWA expects the main expenditures will be allocated to personnel.


Applicants should use this form to submit their initial applications. OSHWA will then invite finalists to present a more detailed proposal. For questions or additional information, please email

OSHWA believes that the open source hardware community is strengthened by its diversity and, as such, encourages people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, persons with disabilities, and people at intersections of these identities, from across the spectrum of disciplines and methods, to apply.

Estimated Timeline 

  • Application Deadline: April 7th
  • May 2022: Fellows are selected and awards are announced
  • June 2022: Initial in-person Fellow meeting
  • August 2022: Fellows present on their in-progress research
  • November 2022: In-person Fellow meeting with cohort
  • December 2022: Fellows present on their in-progress research
  • May 2023: Final presentation of research outcomes


How long do we have to conduct the research?

The Fellowship is a one year program.

How many grants are being awarded?

Eight in total: Five $100,000 grants and three $50,000 grants.

Who can receive the $50,000 grant vs. the $100,000 grant?

If you meet the requirements sent forth in the Eligibility section of this RFP, you are eligible for either amount. We expect Fellows given $100,000 will have longer or multiple outputs. 

Can I use this for summer salary?


I’m a postdoc, can I apply?

Yes, if you are able to receive academic institution funds, or partner with someone who can. 

I’m at a community college, can I apply?

Yes, as long as you are able to hold funds at your community college.

Can I use this to make this [really cool hardware project]?

No, but you can use these funds to document how you were able to make a project open source.

I have an open hardware project that isn’t completed, can I apply?

Yes, but keep in mind that funding is not intended for hardware development. 

I would like to use the Fellowship to manufacture existing hardware, distribute it, and then evaluate how it is used by others in a way that would advance open hardware in academia, is that okay?

Yes, this is acceptable, as long as the primary contribution of your work is the evaluation and advancement of open hardware in academia. 

Can I apply for the funding with a partner at my or another institution?

We encourage you and your partner both to apply for the Fellowship separately, but you can mention that you’re hoping to partner with another institution.

I am based at an institution outside of the United States. Can I apply?

After careful consideration, we have limited the first round of the Trailblazers Fellowship program to US-based institutions.  

This was not a decision we made lightly.  OSHWA is an international organization for the international open source hardware community.  Our goal is to be able to extend this program to members of our community around the world.

However, the Trailblazers Fellowship is also a new program for OSHWA that involves coordinating a number of people and institutions in ways that we have not done before.  We hope that limiting the first round of the program to US-based institutions will make it easier for us to learn and be well positioned to expand the program in the future.

I have another question! Where can I ask it?

Email Alicia Gibb at with any further questions.

I’m interested in being a mentor instead, how do I do that?

Please view our mentor committee post here. Applications to mentor will be due March 30th.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to consider this Fellowship. 

Thank you to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the program funding to make the Open Hardware Trailblazers Fellowship possible.