Open Source Hardware is an opportunity for Synthetic Biology research – the DocuBricks approach by Tobias Wenzel
There is a lesson to be learned from the incompleteness of commercial assembly-set documentations: Open Source Hardware is more than an assembly instruction. It is also about documenting design files and decisions along its functionality and in a modular fashion, complete with testing and calibration instructions. A good documentation enables the project to grow and improve without the doing of the inventor. Only in this way most projects can enfold their benefit well to society and technology companies. To be sure, documenting a hardware project is not easy and requires time. For this reason a handful scientists at the University of Cambridge (including the author), all with a background in technology and biology, recently started the DocuBricks initiative. DocuBricks is an open source and free software that makes documenting hardware and usage procedures easier. The name is a reference to modularity in the same way as Lego or BioBricks. As the name suggests, the editor part of the software guides the user through a modular documentation structure with relevant fields in a standardised, yet general format. The user can create a hierarchy of documentation bricks, explaining their function, implementation and assembly while referring to a parts library. The result is a XML document and a folder with construction and media files that is displayed with the viewer part of the software (a style sheet and script to enable interactivity).
I spent time looking at gEDA and Eagle when I wanted to get back into hardware hacking for my own ends; but neither did I really click with. On the other hand, a mere 10 minutes with Kicad and I knew I had found the tool I wanted to work with long-term.
An open-source laser sintering printer has been used to print intricate 3D objects from powdered plastics and biomaterials. The system costs a fraction of equivalent commercial systems and could give researchers a DIY technique for working with their own specialized materials.