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New HardwareX journal

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I saw this interesting post on ECOLOG HardwareX, a new open access journal published by Elsevier, established to promote free and open source designing, building and customizing of scientific infrastructure (hardware).  Eli maybe this is a home for some of your cool toys  :)  

Greetings from the Editor-in-Chief of HardwareX

Scientists have always made their own equipment. As anyone knows that has done this the traditional way – from scratch or trying to decipher a photocopy of a hand-drawn diagram in a monograph – it is a non-trivial exercise. Although this ancient art is still practiced, the majority of experimental scientists now purchase their equipment, generally from proprietary vendors. This has helped science advance, while at the same time pulling back the reigns of progress because of the exorbitant price of scientific equipment. Low volume scientific hardware is not able to benefit to the same degree from economies of scale as has more common consumer items. At the same time, if a scientist purchases a proprietary tool, the warranty is often voided if the tool is adapted or improved for a novel experiment. Millions of dollars of scientific hardware sits in the corners of labs all over the world collecting dust because proprietary vendors no longer offer support for their products due to a litany of reasons including:

1- lost key technical staff,
2- planned obsolescence of equipment to sell new models,
3- stopped supporting software to run their old hardware as operating systems have changed,
4- they have canceled making specific products, or
5- in the worst case, simply gone out of business.

Worse, as proprietary tools often create vendor lock-in, some dishonest vendors hold science hostage with critical upgrades until enormous ransoms are paid. All of this creates risk for active research scientists as they try to determine the best equipment investment for their hard-earned research funds. In the past, there was really only two choices: invest blood, sweat and tears developing your own equipment or rely on commercial hardware.

Today, there is a third, much better path: fabricate scientific hardware released under free and open source licenses* using digital manufacturing techniques. HardwareX has been created to help accelerate this third path.  With the rise of digital manufacturing it is now possible to fabricate custom components for shockingly little money using tools like the self-replicating rapid prototyper (RepRap) and its various perturbations as a 3-D printer, laser cutter, or PCB mill. Simultaneously the field of open source electronics has expanded rapidly and now  inexpensive minicomputers, microcontrollers and electronic prototyping platforms are available for a few dollars. This has resulted in an explosion of open source scientific hardware, which generally costs only 1-10% of commercial proprietary tools with identical functionality. Scientists can thus make the exact custom tool they need for a new experiment with a minimum investment of time and money. The quantity and diversity of tools enable the creation of entirely open source labs. Following the open source evolutionary path, free scientific hardware is proliferating rapidly as scientists and engineers make progressively more sophisticated tools available for the scientific community.

Our work is not done, however, just because a tool is open source does not make it good enough to use for real science. There is a desperate need to have high-quality source of the state-of-the-art scientific tools, which have been validated and tested to produce precise and accurate results. In addition, these validated tools must come with all the design files (e.g. bill of materials (BOM), instructions, firmware, CAD, and software) to build, operate and maintain them effectively. HardwareX fulfills this need. In addition, rather than bury hardware tools that may be relevant to many disciplines deep in the specialty literature, HardwareX provides a central free repository of proven designs. Finally, it provides scientists a place to receive academic credit for the hard work involved in the development of high-quality scientific instruments.

I believe we are on the verge of a new era when you read of  the latest advance in your sub-discipline and then follow a link to HardwareX to download the equipment plans. You can use them to recreate or perhaps improve upon the low-cost scientific open hardware alternative and then you may push the next breakthrough. By sharing, we all win and science moves faster than it ever has before.

Submit your manuscripts today.

Thank you,
Joshua M. Pearce

* These licenses ensure that if someone uses your designs and improves upon them they are obligated to re-share their improvement with you and the rest of the world under the same license. This can provide earlier sharers with huge benefits as other scientists and engineers from all over the world improve equipment effectively for free.

You can find more info about HardwareX here:

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