First there was open source software. Then came open standards, open architecture, open access, open data, open knowledge, open communities… and now we have open source hardware. Open source hardware is just one more component of the ever growing 'open source' culture movement.
Open Source Hardware (OSHW) is a term for tangible artifacts -- machines, devices, or other physical things -- whose design has been released to the public in such a way that anyone can make, modify, distribute, and use those things. See http://freedomdefined.org/OSHW
Open source hardware gives people the 'freedom' to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs. See video on Open Source Hardware at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0HOgcbtmws
The open source hardware design (e.g. mechanical drawings, schematics, bill of materials, integrated circuit layout data), are all released in accordance with generally accepted open source practices. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_hardware
Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware.
As you can see from the current List of Open Source Hardware on Wikipedia, there are hundreds if not thousands of open source hardware projects springing up around the world related to the design and development of electronic equipment, machines, tools, energy solutions, robotics, automotive technology, and more.
The design and development of open source medical equipment is one of the most logical next steps to be taken. Open source hardware in the healthcare arena will eventually hopefully lead to the assembly of many of types of medical systems that will substantially improve health care quality while lowering costs of medical care.
* Check out the List of Open Source Hardware Projects on Wikipedia, especially some of the open source biotech hardware projects, e.g. OpenEEG, OpenECG , Open Prosthetics, and OpenPCR.
Selected 'Open Hardware' Links
Finally, the emergence of a robust open source hardware community composed of individuals and organizations from industry, academia, and government will be needed in order to succeed in effectively addressing and overcoming the many challenges that will need to be faced over the coming decade(s).
Have you gotten involved with an open source hardware project in medicine? Tell us about it.
Selected Videos on 'Open Source Hardware'