About Open Hardware

From OHO - search engine for sustainable open hardware projects

What is Do it Yourself, Open Hardware and Open Source Hardware?


Do it Yourself refers to the handicraft production of products by private individuals or smaller groups, usually without a commercial background.

The term "open (source) hardware" is based on the term "open (source) software" and refers to technical developments and inventions that are not protected by companies through patents or other protective rights. The developers are often individuals, non-profit organizations, or small businesses who make their knowledge freely available to others.

Open hardware and open-source hardware are often used as synonyms, although open-source hardware usually uses stricter criteria. According to the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) definition, open-source hardware (OSH) is "hardware whose blueprints have been made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, redistribute, and make and sell it and hardware based on it".

The four essential requirements for open-source hardware are:

  • Use: Anyone can use it
  • Understand: All the important information to be able to understand it must be available.
  • Distribute: Anyone can distribute it
  • Improve: Anyone can improve it

In order to fulfill these requirements, complete technical documentation is necessary, because without it, points 2-4 cannot be fulfilled. The technical documentation usually consists of:

  • CAD files
  • Technical drawings, e.g. in PDF format
  • Parts lists
  • Optional: Documentation of electrical and electronic components
  • Optional: software

Application areas of Open Hardware

Open Hardware for Startups and Small Businesses

Problem description

Small businesses, unlike medium and large enterprises, have limited resources for research and development. Therefore, Open Hardware offers this sector in particular a very large potential in terms of innovative power and cost savings. This has been sufficiently proven by numerous examples. Unfortunately, Open Hardware has not yet gained nearly as much acceptance as it has in the area of Open Source Software. Reasons for this include a lack of standards for documentation and quality control.

Our approach

  • In cooperation with other organizations, we developed the world's first standard for Open Hardware, DIN Spec 3105.
  • On www.oho.wiki we have developed the first certification platform for Open Hardware.
  • Furthermore, we have built the first CAD center that focuses exclusively on the technical documentation of Open Hardware projects.
  • We make these systems available to all interested individuals, organizations and companies (free of charge at the moment).

Open Hardware in Science and Research

Problem description

At universities and scientific institutes, immense amounts of money are invested annually in the development of technologies and devices in the field of sustainable development. A large part of this funding comes from public money. However, the use of the research results is mostly reserved for the responsible researchers or the cooperating companies. The research results are only published in excerpts, so that other organizations or companies do not have access to the technical documentation of the developed technologies and cannot replicate or further develop them.

In the context of Open Science projects, attempts have been made for some years to change this practice. However, especially in the area of hardware development, the current state is still that the details of the technical documentation remain under lock and key.

Our approach

  • We support the broad dissemination and usability of publicly funded research results in the spirit of the Open Science idea.
  • The platform provides an easy way for research teams to document the results of their technical developments and make them available to the general public
  • Our documentation standards ensure the completeness and quality of the information provided, which is necessary for replication and further development
  • Going through a review process can help improve research results
  • Receiving an Open Hardware certification according to DIN-Spec 3501 can prove to clients that minimum quality standards for the documentation of research results have been met.

Open Hardware in Development Cooperation

Problem description

In technical development cooperation, thousands of good and mature projects have been realized in the last decades, for example in the areas of:

  • Renewable Energy: Wind energy, hydro energy, solar energy, photovoltaic.
  • Environmental technologies: Wastewater filters, recycling, circular economy
  • Health: Equipment for first aid centers, prostheses, walking aids, wheelchairs
  • Machinery for small businesses: Agriculture, food processing, construction, woodworking, metalworking and many others.

Many of these projects aim to develop relatively simple technologies that

  • can be produced with locally available resources
  • use no (or as few as possible) costly or difficult-to-obtain components,
  • do not require high capital investment.

Most of these projects could theoretically be transferred to other regions and countries without much difficulty. The prerequisite for this is that sufficient technical documentation (i.e., that the construction plans, parts lists and assembly instructions) is prepared for these projects and published in a form that is freely accessible to everyone. However, this happened only in exceptional cases. No real technology transfer takes place.

Our approach

  • We contact development organizations that have completed these projects and ask them to provide us with their existing documentation.
  • Our team of experienced engineers and technicians use the available documentation to create standardized technical documentation for each individual project.
  • In order to give access to this information for as many people, companies and organizations as possible, we publish the documentation in the form of PDF files or videos on various platforms known worldwide, including Wikipedia and YouTube.
  • In 2021 we have documented and published more than 100 projects in the field of development cooperation."

Open Hardware for civil society and social projects

Problem description

Many social projects require certain equipment, machines or technologies. However, they usually have very limited financial resources. On the other hand, they often have volunteers who are able to produce the needed hardware themselves, on condition that they have mature blueprints. Typical areas of application include:

  • FabLabs, Makerspaces, Repair Cafés and Open Workshops.
  • Cooperatives for organic farming
  • Training workshops for students, apprentices or disabled people

Our approach

OHO creates the technical documentation for selected Open Hardware projects and publishes it in the form of easy-to-understand PDF files or videos. These projects are also reviewed and certified by independent experts. Everyone has free access to this information. In this way, we contribute to enabling social organizations from a wide range of sectors to achieve their project goals with the available budgets.

Open source hardware compared to open source software

In open-source software projects, the product and the documentation are identical: the program code is both the end product and the common international language for documentation and communication between developers. The documentation requires only a minor additional investment of time. This is why a large worldwide community has developed in a relatively short time and why open source software is also very successful from an economic point of view.

In open-source hardware projects, product and documentation are two different things: The realization of an open-source hardware project requires craftsmanship, material input, and a workshop. The documentation of an open-source hardware project requires a CAD workstation as well as knowledge and experience in CAD systems. However, only a small proportion of OSH developers have the knowledge and experience of the latter, even these often cannot afford the relatively high additional workload for clean documentation.

This is an important reason why open-source hardware, in contrast to open source software, does not (yet) play a really relevant role socially and economically.

Significance of open source software

Open-source software now dominates many market segments, such as:

  • Apache for web servers
  • Linux with its distributions as server operating systems
  • WordPress as CMS and for blogs
  • The CMS classics Typo3, Drupal, and Joomla
  • PHP as a programming language for web servers
  • etc. etc.

Significance of open source hardware

In contrast, open-source hardware has only a few "lighthouse projects", which have virtually no influence on society as a whole, for example

  • Arduino
  • 3D printers such as RepRap
  • Laser Cutter Lasersaur
  • Tabby OSVehicle
  • Prosthetic Hands by OpenBionics'
  • Wikihouse

There are a few important reasons for this.

What are the problems of Open Source Hardware?


There are several reasons for the lack of importance of open source hardware:

Problem 1: Documentation

Most open-source hardware or DIY projects are not documented at all or documented incompletely. A complete documentation of a technical solution includes e.g. CAD files, technical drawings, parts lists etc. The creation of these documents is time-consuming and sometimes also requires specialised knowledge, for example in CAD systems. Therefore, it is often neglected in non-commercial projects. However, a lack of documentation means that the projects can neither be used by others, nor copied, nor further developed. There are no synergy effects, the different developments cannot be networked or build on each other.

Problem 2: Licensing and copyright

The number of Do it Yourself projects exceeds the number of Open Hardware projects many fold. Many good projects are not published under free licenses that allow other people to use and develop the projects freely.

Problem 3: Publicity:

OSH and DIY projects are often published on small unknown websites in only one language. For those interested in searching in other languages, those projects are untraceable, also because sometimes inappropriate search terms are used. As a result, they are often only found by a small part of the potentially interested network.

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