New Policy Brief on Open Hardware for Science

The Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program has released a new policy brief advocating for government policy support of open source hardware in science. The brief looks at recent developments in government policy surrounding open hardware, highlights the unique ability of open hardware to accelerate innovation and reduce costs, and addresses implementation challenges. Download the policy brief, and read the complimentary series of articles hosted by the Journal of Open Hardware.

New Report on the OSHW Community COVID-19 Response

The Wilson Center and NYU’s Engelberg Center have released a new report entitled Stitching Together a Solution: Lessons from the Open Source Hardware Response to COVID-19. The report examines how the open source hardware community came together to produce lifesaving medical equipment at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the role of government authorities in that process. It finds that although some parts of the government tried to facilitate the community, in most cases there was a mismatch between what the government expected and what the OSHW community was doing. Nevertheless, the OSHW community significantly augmented the availability of medical supplies through their grassroots response. The report also provides lessons learned and recommendations to help the community and government agencies better respond to future crises together.

OSHW Community Survey 2020

In 2020 we conducted the third OSHW Community Survey (see 2012 and 2013), which collected 441 responses. All questions were optional, so you may notice response counts do not always add up to 441. In particular, a number of individuals didn’t feel comfortable with the demographic questions. We ask these questions as part of our efforts to promote diversity in the community, but these too were optional and anonymous.

A few highlights from this year’s survey compared to the 2013 survey:

  • The portion of people coming to open source hardware from open source software increased from 14.6% to 23.9%
  • In 2013, 42.8% of respondents indicated they have worked on or contributed to an open hardware project. This jumped to 85.6% in 2020.
  • While 2013 showed a plurality of people using blogs to publish design files, this year’s survey shows public repositories as the most popular option. The increase in people with open source software experience and improvement in repository collaboration offerings may be contributing factors.
  • This year’s survey shows a large increase in attendees for the 2020 Open Hardware Summit. This is likely due to 2020 being the first virtual summit. Although it was moved online due to unfortunate circumstances, the virtual platform offered the upside of greatly expanding the audience.
  • A small gain in the community’s gender diversity was seen, with those identifying as either female or other making up 18% of respondents, compared to 7% in 2013.

Interested in more granular results for any of these questions? Reach out to us at

How did you first get involved with open source hardware?

Have you ever used open source hardware products?

How do you use open source hardware products?

For the open source hardware products that you use, how important were each of the following criteria in your decision to use and open source hardware product?

For situations in which you’d like to use an open source hardware product but currently use a proprietary one instead, how important are each of the following factors in preventing you from using an open source product?

Have you ever used others’ open source hardware designs to…

Have you ever worked on or contributed to an open source hardware project or design?

What year did you first begin working on or contributing to open-source hardware projects or designs?

On average, how many hours per week do you spend working on or contributing to open-source hardware projects or designs?

Why do you work on or contribute to hardware projects and/or designs?

For hardware projects or designs which you decided to open-source, how important were each of the following criteria in the decision?

Have you ever…?

Tell us more about how you publish and document your open source hardware. Have you…?

What licenses have you used to release hardware files?

Do you use the Open Gear Logo on your hardware?

If you use the Open Gear Logo on your hardware, why do you use it?

Do you know about the OSHWA open source hardware certification program?

Have you ever used the open source hardware certification program?

Why did you use the open source hardware certification program?

Why haven’t you used the open source hardware certification program?

Does any of your income come from open-source hardware?

How much of your income does your work on open-source hardware represent?

In 2019 what was your total personal income resulting from work on open source hardware?

Does your open source hardware related income come from…

Did you attend the Open Hardware Summit in…

Demographic Questions

Regarding your work with hardware, do you consider yourself a…

Are you a member of a hackerspace/makerspace?

How old are you?

Do you identify as:

Do you consider yourself to be:

What is the highest level of school you have completed or the highest degree you have received?

What’s your primary work status?

The Open Hardware community is made up of many creative individuals coming from diverse backgrounds. Which fields would you consider your areas of experience?

Open Source Hardware Community Survey (2013)

Catarina Mota and I put together an updated version of the annual Open Source Hardware Community Survey. Here’s a summary:

Our goal is to arrive at a better understanding of who we are as a community, why and how we use/make open-source hardware, and how our practices and numbers are changing over time. For this purpose, we are asking all those who use and/or develop open-source hardware to please respond. The aggregate results will be made publicly available after the survey closes. By publishing your responses, we hope to provide the public with insights into the practices and experiences of the people involved in open-source hardware.

Please help us understand the open-source hardware community by taking the survey.

You can also check out last year’s results.

Brief History of Open Source Hardware Organizations and Definitions

As the open source hardware community grows it has become increasingly common for researchers and reporters to ask us about the history of the movement. However, this is a difficult question to answer since open source hardware’s history is made of many stories, the stories of people, companies and organizations all over the world who, over the last decade or so, chose to work openly and share their knowledge with others. Given the difficulty in identifying and describing all the contributions to the movement, we decided to tackle a smaller task: the history of OSHW-related organizations and definitions, which is now available on the OSHWA website.

We are well aware that, in our attempt to describe the main contributions, we may have gotten some things wrong or missed important details, so we’d also like to invite the community to help us not only perfect this draft, but also keep the history alive by adding new organizations and important events as they unfold. For this purpose, we created a google doc to be edited collaboratively.

Open Source Hardware Documentation Jam

The power of open source hardware lies in the ability to build upon others’ work and good documentation is the key to making this happen. We believe that documentation best practices can increase contributions to open source hardware projects significantly. For this reason, OSHWA has partnered with Open Source Ecology and Everywhere Tech to host a collaborative event to arrive at an open source hardware documentation platform based on a set of shared standards. Read more about the event and register at

Open product development has the potential to transform the economic system by making widespread collaboration possible. If there are easy mechanisms for viewing and updating open product documentation, products can evolve rapidly under the hands of many contributors. However, several obstacles often stand in the way of contributions and improvements. Below is a list of problems and possible ways to approach them.

  • There are no unifying standards or best practices for creating high quality documentation. Beyond the excellent work done by Phil TorroneDavid Mellis and Nathan Seidle for open source electronics, there is no clear description of what should be included in OSHW documentation in order to facilitate the replication, modification and repair of all types of OSHW. The internet has many disconnected pieces of open source hardware documentation, but much of it suffers in quality or clarity. Clear guidelines for taxonomy and structure can help address this. We propose an initial set of standards and guidelines to be debated and refined.
  • Documentation for OSHW projects is dispersed across many platforms, websites, wikis and blogs. As the number of projects grows it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find them. We propose a taxonomy to identify both hardware and documentation modules, which may lead to an online OSHW repository.
  • No clear definition of scope exists. While open source electronics has become one of the most visible facets of open source hardware, there is much more. The scope of open source hardware, and its best practices, should include items such as medical devices, houses, cars, and washing machines.
  • Lack of standard formats, clear organization, and technical jargon makes it difficult for the layperson to understand existing documentation. The goal of an improved documentation platform is to enable anyone, at all levels of expertise, to study, reproduce and improve open source hardware.
  • Language is a barrier for the dissemination of open hardware plans. We propose that all textual descriptions be linked to Google Translate and that a Visual Language for OSHW be developed to describe fabrication procedures – see The Noun Project and IKEA’s assembly instructions as examples.
  • There’s no simple way to remix and mashup hardware. We propose a modular approach to open source hardware documentation that would facilitate remix, mashup and branching.
  • Derivative work is difficult to track. Taking into account that OSHW is developed mostly by iteration and derivation, the number of branches of any successful OSHW project is significantly higher than what is typical of OSS projects. Given the proliferation of derivatives and lack of clear information about each, it has become difficult for users and developers to identify and decide what branch of a project to replicate or derive from. We suggest that a dashboard be adopted by all open source hardware projects containing essential information about each version or derivative, such as: name, brief textual description, hi-res images, hardware and software version, attribution, open source label (indicates which parts of the hardware are open source), status brief (honest description of the state of the hardware, software and documentation), changelog, dependency (what other hardware is required to run/use the hardware), compatibility (what it’s compatible with), genealogy (information on the hardware’s origins, derivatives and replications), etc. In addition to this overview about the hardware itself, we also suggest that adoption of a build dashboard containing information on difficulty level, cost, as well as time, tools, space and skills required.
  • Lack of appropriate software for designing, displaying and sharing plans makes collaborative development difficult.
  • It’s difficult to update and evolve open source hardware designs due to documentation dependencies – one small alteration affects several other components of the documentation.
  • Documentation is time-consuming. A clean, easily accessible platform would facilitate this. If the barriers to contribution are low and a universally-understandable format is developed, then combined micro-contributions of numerous developers can make the arduous task of proper documentation tractable.
  • Unclear licensing and fear of infringement of intellectual property (IP) rights discourage people from producing documentation. Documenting involves reuse of content from other sources. If people do not understand IP licenses or have little understanding of their own IP rights to use content, they may be afraid to contribute documentation. A clear how-to on open hardware documentation IP Issues, as well as a legal support framework, can mitigate this.