When most people think about Open Source Hardware (OSHW), they tend to bring up images of quirky hobby projects held together by duct tape and tangled in a mass of wires. And while this is admittedly a part of OSHW culture, it is only a small fraction of OSHW's reach and potential.
Where most people see tape and a prototype board, OSHW tribe members see the future. Built on the shoulders of the Radio Shack (see great article on Wired which I found through Upverter blog) and DIY movements of the past, we now have a unique opportunity to demonstrate OSHW to be something radical, life saving, and revolutionary—especially in places where commercial electronics are too expensive or are not suited for local conditions.
After reading SEED Magazine's article 'Licensing patents for the developing world' and their importance for innovations in nutrition and medicine, I started wondering what role OSHW will play in addressing these issues.
The article talks about using the Global Responsibility License (GRL) and Public Intellectual Property Rights for Agriculture as key tools for innovation and improved knowledge sharing in developing countries. While they potentially represent huge steps in the right direction, OSHW can also support these efforts once it proves itself as a viable large-scale technology solution. OSHW has a lot of advantages for NGOs, not the least of which are its use off-the-shelf components, openness and adaptability, and access to large knowledge-bases. Not to mention the thousands of expert enthusiasts all around the world willing to lend a helping hand.
For example, imagine what simple, cheap micro-controller based, and easily replicable sensor networks could do for agriculture in rural developing areas. And since OSHW designs can be altered, improved, and reconfigured based on very slight changes in the environment, it is perfectly suited for the unique situations in these areas. Moreover, OSHW has the ability to work outside of traditional business hierarchies and processes.
The specific implementations are a point for discussion, but it's clear that OSHW has the potential to have a huge impact on social projects and in the developing world.
InMojo supports the Open Source Hardware Definition v1.0