Hardware is a vital part of experiments process and advances in instrumentation have been central to scientific revolutions by expanding observations beyond standard human senses. Although scientists are frequently natural tinkerers, the current supply chain for science hardware limits access and impedes creativity and customisation. Open Science Hardware addresses part of this problem through sharing open designs, which often take advantage of modern digital fabrication techniques. Expanding the reach of this approach within academic research, citizen science and education has potential to increase access to experimental tools and ease their customisation and reuse while lowering costs. A growing number of people around the world are developing and using Open Science Hardware, but a coherent, self-organising community has yet to emerge that could raise its profile and drive the social change within institutions that will increase uptake.
GOSH! 2016 will bring together 50 of the most active developers, users and thinkers in the Open Science Hardware space complemented by expertise from diverse, related backgrounds to seed just such a community. We aim to learn and build together, scoping the potential of the field and planning our way to implement change. This is intended as the first of a series of meetings that we hope to grow alongside the developing community.
Discovery and innovation has long been aided by scientific hardware, for instance telescopes and microscopes played a key historical role in allowing us to view previously invisible worlds, and they continue to expand humanity’s visible horizons from the edges of space to individual atoms. More recently, digital data acquisition has provided novel methods of experimentation at scales that were previously impossible, such as Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, and robotic automation of experiments is speeding up discoveries in areas vital to tackling global grand challenges, such as drug synthesis and molecular biology.
Despite huge advances in technology, many scientific endeavours are being held back by lack of access to hardware for even routine experimental techniques, which limits the ability of groups to engage in the scientific process and particularly groups outside of well funded research institutions. Even with access to existing solutions, customisation of hardware to address individual experimental setups remains challenging, expensive and in many cases impossible, which can restrict creative expression in experimental design and restrain scientific progress.
There is an increasing movement towards open access to scientific knowledge, data, software and open participation in the scientific process: we propose that the application of these principles to hardware may overcome some of the problems described above. Open Science Hardware holds the potential to increase access to experimental tools and ease their customisation and reuse while lowering costs. It may also help democratise scientific practice, increasing the diversity of people with tools to perform research for knowledge discovery and for applications such as education, technological innovation and civic action. Finally, the decentralised production chain enabled by modern digital fabrication methods potentially opens up new markets and business models, for example manufacturing of scientific instruments in countries that experience difficulties importing specialised equipment.
To attain the benefits described above, collaboration is required between hardware developers, potential users and the institutions which govern and facilitate transactions between them, including research institutes, universities and schools, funders, manufacturers, procurement systems, safety and standards organisations. There is precedent for success – open hardware in general has become increasingly popular, driven in no small part by the proliferation of DIYers and makers not only online but in physical makerspaces, hackspaces, FabLabs and other community workshops. The promise of a ‘third industrial revolution’ ascribed to wide access to digital fabrication tools has not yet emerged, but products such as the Arduino open source microcontroller board have spawned huge numbers of hobbyist projects and a substantial number of commercial products, including redesigns and custom versions of the board itself. The Raspberry Pi computer, while not itself an open source project, has again catalysed a surge in demand for low-cost, highly adaptable computing from a wide cross-section of consumers.
These success stories can be characterised as enabling technologies rather than end-point products which broadens their potential market. However, their extensively documented use by scientists demonstrates that demand exists for basic, customisable scientific hardware exists within and outside of laboratories. Substantial contributions to Open Science Hardware come from DIYbio groups and community laboratories, mirroring the role of makerspaces in the growth of open hardware. Other active areas of development within institutional laboratories, startups and NGOs include appropriate technologies, electronics and robotics. However, many projects are poorly documented, unclearly licensed and have little characterisation or calibration data, meaning they are unlikely to be used widely in a research context. We wish to build on this nascent set of dispersed activities to grow a vibrant and diverse community of developers and users of Open Science Hardware. This requires substantial effort, especially to reach the stage of obtaining measurable benefits in terms of access to and use of Open Science Hardware, or at least establishing under what contexts such benefits accrue.
We focus on addressing what we see as the primary barrier to this goal: early adopters are disparate and separated by geographical and disciplinary borders which limit interaction, exchange and community building. This separation limits our ability as a community to collectively overcome further barriers to Open Science Hardware uptake and collaborate effectively, despite obvious commonalities in approach and a need for similar standards, best practices and enabling technologies. Many developers of open hardware for science are highly active internet citizens and share designs and information online, often under liberal licenses, but there a self-organised community spanning the diverse range of disciplines, geographies and motivations mapped out above has not yet emerged
Existing work on open science hardware
Low-cost, open science hardware and appropriate technologies
Development of open hardware for science is an active area and several publications, books and reviews have been published on the topic since the early 2000s (recent examples include Pearce, 2014; Baden, 2015, numerous designs on Appropedia). Here we highlight a few focus areas and successful projects. Biology and microscopy are particularly well-served by designs due to interest in the DIYBio community, with some projects such as Gaudi Labs compiling whole suites of equipment designs. Sensors for environmental monitoring are also popular and initiatives like SafeCast and Public Lab have combined DIY sensing and citizen science within a broader theme of environmental justice. Larger and more complex or ambitious equipment such as deep sea exploration vehicles (e.g. OpenROV) and atomic force microscopes (Lego2Nano) demonstrate the breadth of possible research applications.
In the education space, initiatives like Backyard Brains aim to use open hardware to teach neuroscience while projects like OpenLabTools and Centro de Tecnologia Acadêmica develop tools as an educational research exercise for engineers in addition to educational tools in their own right. Open science hardware has clear potential to be useful in low-resource settings including labs in the global South. Some initiatives have already started in Africa, for example Teaching and Research in (Neuro)science for Development in Africa (TReND in Africa) have organised numerous workshops and extended teaching courses on making open labware, including a recent course in Addis Ababa.
This work is gaining attention in the scientific press and some government agencies have begun engaging, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange. Activity has been building over the last five years and is ripe for bringing together disparate people and initiatives while being careful not to duplicate previous efforts, but instead to amplify and increase their impact.
Open hardware community building, socio-technical and legal tools
There have been substantial developments in open hardware in the last five years that have sought to standardise the movement and provide socio-technical and legal tools to promote development. The Open Source Hardware Definition (2010) builds on the Free Software Definition and subsequent derivations to lay out the principles of what constitutes open hardware. There have been attempts to produce an Open Hardware Roadmap (although the website no longer exists) and a membership organisation called the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) has been established to manage the definition, promote best practices and organise an annual Open Hardware Summit covering all aspects from licensing to education to manufacturing and business models.
We have reviewed previous instances of the the Open Hardware Summit and consider that GOSH! will complement this event through focusing on science-specific issues and targeting a different audience where we do discuss generic issues around open hardware. This is also true of other communities in the general open hardware space, such as the Open Design and Hardware Group at Open Knowledge and local open hardware user groups, many of which are OSHWA chapters. We are not aware of any other organised global group with a specific focus on open hardware for science.
In terms of legal tools, Open Hardware Licenses have proliferated and several comparative projects have characterised the legal options for sharing open hardware (reviewed in Katz 2012), although many developers use licenses designed for software or general copyrighted content. We will build on this work to look at any specific issues to address within scientific hardware or particularities in the context of licensing for developers in academic institutions.
Social studies of open hardware
As a primary goal of our project is community building, we will be mindful of related work from social sciences, including studies addressing the transformative potential of open hardware from a critical perspective. While we aim to promote openness we are aware that our proposed benefits have not yet been borne out and therefore retain an open mind on the potential for change and particularly democratisation. Prior to GOSH! 2015, further work will be undertaken to pull together insights from social research and we indicate here the types of work that we will draw on in the broad-view discussion sessions and in formulating a roadmap and post-workshop actions.
Science and Technology Studies offer a lot of insight into how open hardware communities more broadly already operate. In one example, Powell (2012, 2015) examined open source contributions to communication hardware and the development of the CERN Open Hardware License. She critiqued opportunities for democratization of production, governance and knowledge exchange and points out that while standards and licences can help to coordinate and align communities, they can lead to models for open sharing of knowledge being overlooked, particularly at the boundary of several communities of practice. Powell also discusses the interplay of adaptive authority from the community versus constitutive authority of institutions, such as CERN and the organisations that many of our attendees represent. This and related work can be linked to the scientific context to help explore governance structures for the community that we hope to grow out of the event.
While the workshop is aimed at individuals, interaction with institutions such as universities and companies will be necessary to progress open science hardware. Input from economists, innovation and management studies among other areas will be helpful here. Previous work has examined similar challenges in e-science and open science. In one example, David (2004) highlights micro- and meso-level incentive structures created by the existing legal and administrative regimes as the root of most social challenges in developing collaborative e-science. Incentives in open science were recently reviewed by Friesike & Schildhauer (2015) with similar conclusions. CERN and other institutions have successfully been persuaded to adopt a positive stance on open hardware so we hope to learn from attendees at the workshop as well as published literature the elements required to work successfully with institutions and build on this knowledge during GOSH! 2016.
By maximising the diversity of participants we hope to encompass a broad view of open science hardware and visions for success. One aspect of this will be proactively engaging groups from the global South. Social research is already happening such as an OCSDNet-funded project to understand Open Hardware and Citizen Science in Nepal, Indonesia and the Philippines led by Hermes Huang. It is vital to understand the different contexts of hardware developers and users within different disciplines and regions in order to prioritise activities within the community we hope to develop and this will feed into discussions on a roadmap.
The related work described above has and will help prepare the groundwork for the workshop and follow-up activities, ensuring that we are progressing the community and taking full advantage of existing knowledge and lessons already learned in open hardware and related fields.
Baden T, Chagas AM, Gage G, Marzullo T, Prieto-Godino LL, Euler T (2015) Open Labware: 3-D Printing Your Own Lab Equipment. PLoS Biol 13(3): e1002086. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002086
David, P. A. (2004). Towards a cyberinfrastructure for enhanced scientific collaboration: Providing its ‘soft’ foundations may be the hardest part.
Friesike, S., & Schildhauer, T. (2015). Open science: many good resolutions, very few incentives, yet. In Incentives and Performance (pp. 277-289). Springer International Publishing.
Katz A (2012). Towards a Functional Licence for Open Hardware. International Free and Open Source Software Law Review, 4(1), 41-62.
Pearce, JM (2014) Open-Source Lab: How to Build Your Own Hardware and Reduce Research Costs, Elsevier.
Powell, A. (2012). Democratizing production through open source knowledge: from open software to open hardware. Media, Culture & Society, 34(6), 691-708.
Powell, A. B. (2015). Open culture and innovation: integrating knowledge across boundaries. Media, Culture & Society,