The human race has a moral responsibility to share knowledge during crises. While this statement is obvious to the open hardware community, the COVID-19 crisis is showing the world just how important collaboration is to finding efficient, effective, and available solutions. We are seeing in real time that open source hardware works.

This is not the first disaster to prove this point. During the Fukushima disaster an open source geiger counter helped collect and publish data useful for communities. We are seeing a similar open source trend in the shortage of various forms of medical equipment (aka hardware) with COVID-19. 

Medtronic has put a license on their ventilator design that institutes a share alike clause (albeit with limits on time and usage). While their efforts don’t fit squarely into the Open Source Hardware definition, (you have to sign up to access the files), it shows the world that in the face of disaster, normally closed companies do find the benefits of open sourcing helpful. Likewise, it is wonderful to see Ford leveraging an open source design to increase the manufacturing capacity of face shields. 

We are encouraged to see medical supply guidelines posted and online groups created to rally around open sourcing solutions. There is an Open COVID Pledge with regard to Intellectual Property. There are a tremendous number of researchers and makers creating open source projects to help keep us safe. It’s been amazing to see the life saving collaboration across the world, including the first two OSHWA Certified projects, the Creator Transfer Chamber and Reamima. Please keep it up! Movement toward openness and sharing will benefit humanity.

A Word of Caution

While the open source movement is receiving extra attention, it is important to remember that open source is not a replacement for quality control or regulatory approval. Open source is a powerful approach to creating, sharing, and improving hardware but it does not automatically create hardware that works in all situations or complies with relevant regulations. When you release open hardware make sure to include the quality control and other standards that apply to your hardware so that others can use it appropriately and responsibly.

Why Open Source 

The response to the COVID-19 crisis has vividly illustrated the power of open source hardware. The open source approach to hardware development has allowed people all over the world to come together and collaboratively design, test, and improve hardware. Hardware can then be manufactured where it is needed rather than built and shipped causing additional strains on the global supply chain. And perhaps most powerful of all, as we’ve seen with the Medtronic design, open hardware can be quickly modified to fit locally available parts and conditions. 

How to Open Source your Hardware

Open sourcing your hardware means you’ll post your design files openly on the internet with the intent that people will be able to copy, modify or build upon your design and sell it. Our checklist can help make sure that you are taking all of the steps necessary to truly open source your hardware. While putting files up on the internet is an important step in open sourcing your hardware, it is also important to make sure you have documented and licensed your hardware in a way that allows others to use, modify, and improve your hardware. The open source hardware definition flags potential pitfalls, and the open source hardware certification program provides many examples of open source hardware done to the Open Source Hardware Association’s standards. Questions on how to open source your hardware? Drop us a line: info@oshwa.org

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