Towards impact: new open hardware community emerging at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

July 2, 2024

The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam recently hosted its first Open Hardware event to support the growing community dedicated to openly sharing innovative technologies and tools. Aligned with the principles of open science, open hardware allows for the creation and modification of physical tools without restrictions so that it can be studied, modified, created, and distributed by anyone, just like open-source software. Today, we will discuss the expectations and promises of open hardware with Sander Bosch, Open Science Coordinator at VU and Ties van Rappard, Business Developer at VU IXA-GO. 

Sharing data, methods, and designs openly 

Open Hardware is directly connected to the idea and movement of open science, of which the common goal is to stimulate transparency, accessibility, and reproducibility of responsible research across all disciplines. This way, scientific knowledge becomes openly available, accessible, and reusable. The new community for open hardware at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam comprises academics and support staff from different disciplines and is open to others.  

Why the initiative of the open hardware community at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam? 

Sander, Open Science Coordinator at VU: “Open hardware, alongside open software, serves as a fundamental pillar of open science. As a university, we play a vital role in promoting open science. Currently, open hardware deserves more of our attention, so we are actively facilitating this emerging open hardware community.” 

In what ways does open hardware contribute to the accessibility of technology? 

Ties, Business Developer at VU IXA-GO: “Open hardware allows researchers to utilize existing innovations, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel. It also provides access to the knowledge and insights gained from these innovations up to that point.” 

How do you see open hardware accelerating innovation in academic and commercial settings? 

Sander: “Open hardware accelerates innovation by allowing researchers to improve the designs and can be improved upon by the collective intelligence of the community. The openness also facilitates relevant research in fields where hardware is typically closed off due to commercial protection barriers, like CPU’s for instance (which are the building blocks of any computer).” 

Ties: “Additionally, open hardware promotes cost-effective solutions like Arduino for instance, an open-source electronic prototyping platform enabling users to create interactive electronic objects.” 

Can you discuss the potential challenges of adopting open hardware in research and development within universities and industry? 

Sander: The challenge with open hardware lies in the need for comprehensive documentation beyond just technical blueprints to enable successful replication. Often, researchers may struggle to rebuild hardware even with that, highlighting the necessity for companies that provide open hardware as a service. Fortunately, new companies are starting to emerge to offer these services, enhancing functionality and accessibility in the open hardware landscape.”  

What is the most inspiring aspect of open hardware to you?   

Ties: “For certain types of research, such as in computer science, an open hardware infrastructure is essential to even begin conducting studies. Research into CPUs, the electronic building blocks of any computer, is currently impossible because these components are completely sealed off due to commercial interests. Open hardware can change that and bring about innovations that will impact developments within academia and industry, and ultimately everyone.”