The rise of open hardware at TU Delft
The growing community that is Delft Open Hardware wants to help students and researchers make their hardware projects open source and reproducible. As one of the first university-organised open hardware initiatives, they hope to share their ideas and practices and inspire others to build a larger global community.
New on the scene
Although open science is familiar in academic circles, the concept of open hardware is a relatively new one. Open hardware projects are hardware projects that are documented and shared online openly for free so that others can contribute to them or use them for their own purposes. At TU Delft, the open hardware story has a grassroots beginning. When Jerry de Vos started a master’s of Integrated Product Design (IDE) in 2018, he wanted to be able to work on open-source projects. But, one of the first things he had to do was sign a form saying that his master’s project would belong to TU Delft, and any patent that might result would have his name on it. “I wasn’t really a huge fan of the patent way, but at the time there was no other alternative,” he said.
Looking for something different, de Vos and a small group of like-minded people began having weekly lunches to talk about open-source projects. This evolved into doing some small events and workshops, all on a voluntary basis. Things became more official when TU Delft Open Science programme took notice and offered support for the open hardware initiative. De Vos was hired to lead the effort and has been working to help researchers in the process of making their hardware projects open. “If they have questions in the process, we discuss what the different options or licenses are within open hardware and when it makes sense and when it doesn’t,” he said. He works closely with a group of students and staff, including Data Stewards, to advance this programme.
For a while now we’ve been saying this is important for TU Delft, but now we actually combined these values and our knowledge of open hardware with an actual educational module and that’s something I am really proud of.Jerry de Vos, Research Hardware Engineer
First Open Hardware Academy
Aside from workshops and guest lectures, the team wanted to combine the different initiatives into one cohesive bundle for people interested in making their project open hardware. The result was the Open Hardware Academy, a ten-week programme in which participants learn about project management, documentation, community building, prototyping and licenses for open hardware among other topics. The first edition of the academy ran this year from August to October, resulting in nine completed projects.
Open to anyone, participants ranged from students to researchers at TU Delft and included people from as far away as Germany, Cuba and Mexico. Materials were provided online and a weekly virtual discussion brought participants together to discuss relevant topics. “For a while now we’ve been saying this is important for TU Delft, but now we actually combined these values and our knowledge of open hardware with an actual educational module and that’s something I am really proud of,” said de Vos. “It’s also interesting to see that most of the projects had some sort of connection with a more sustainable world, or a better place for the future so that’s really nice to see.”
After seeing a flyer at the Library, master’s student Nanami Hashimoto registered for the academy. For her project, a bicycle anti-theft device, she wanted to create something that could emit a warning sound when a theft attempt (vibration) was detected and even track the location via GPS if the bike got stolen. “I managed to create the first prototype of the anti-theft device,” said Hashimoto. “I learned a lot about how to get started on my own project, gather necessary information, publish open hardware products, etc.” She noted that learning about the open science community in general was a big plus, adding another perspective to her own future vision. “I want to say that open hardware is for everyone. All you need is some idea of what you want to create and the motivation to learn new things. The idea does not have to be huge or complex. If you have any interest in open hardware, I would highly recommend joining a future edition.”
Nanami Hashimoto and her bicycle anti-theft device
Another participant, PhD candidate Nemo Andrea, enrolled in the academy after hearing about it from the Data Steward in his faculty. “Even as someone with a bit of familiarity with open-source software — of which some aspects and considerations overlap with open hardware — there was still a lot of interesting material, as hardware has its unique set of challenges,” he said. Besides learning more about good practices, techniques, and standards in the field, a lot of progress was made on his project SpotiStation, an accessible music player intended to enable people with cognitive or physical disabilities to enjoy music on their own. Realising the first release of his project was made possible by directly integrating aspects from the course materials, but also by feedback from other course participants. “Everyone will have a different level and area of expertise, so there is a lot that can be achieved together,” he said. “It's also a nice opportunity to build a bit of a network.”
The future of open hardware
The field of open hardware is growing by the year, but according to de Vos, TU Delft is one of the first to implement something like this. Last year he gave a talk at the Open Hardware Summit about how Delft Open Hardware got started. Learning that other universities were interested in the concept, de Vos said they plan to make their materials freely available so the course can be self-paced or run a localised version anywhere in the world. Discussions about the next academy are underway, with consideration for making it more focussed on TU Delft students. True to their roots, they still host a weekly lunch meeting on Fridays, mostly online, where people can talk about projects. “If people are interested, the easiest thing is visit the website: tudelft.nl/open-hardware and join the Telegram channel. We invite people to find out how they can build meaningful projects that make the world a little bit better.”