Why the open source hardware will change the Science

A year has already gone by the   launch of openQCM and there are many things to tell. When we have tried as private company, the way of the open source by launching one of the first scientific analytical instrument in the world completely open hardware, we would never have imagined this level of success. We designed the OpenQCM for a market sector that we thought very restricted: the Quartz Crystal Microbalance.

The evening of the launch we had sold more than 8 devices, and at the end of this year we have sold hundreds of products in many countries of the world and especially to the most important research institutes and large private companies that we had not taken in account. Before the launch, I would have called a success the overall sale of 30 units!


Basically, that which is born almost on a bet, has become an unexpected and very important component of our business …. to such an extent to lead us to take up this new road in a more systematic way, with the design and the realization of new open-source scientific products, that we will launch soon through the openQCM platform.

The fundamental reason why I write this is to share our experience and to encourage those who want to see their new product realized. Novaetech, the company that we founded more than 10 years ago, was born with the purpose of delivering services and custom systems for the research world. We started our adventure in the field of aerospace, and then we have differentiated our business over time. These activities have allowed us to achieve a number of prototypes, which were supposed to be turned into real products. Unfortunately, the dream often must face the reality, especially if one works at a national context such as our country, Italy, where to invest the money on an idea is nearly unimaginable.

Throughout these years, we have contacted and met countless potential investors in order to find the necessary resources for the realization of a first prototype. Indeed, every time we have found locked doors …. and in the meantime our prototypes kept closed in a drawer or relegated to extremely limited and specific applications and uses. After all, our company did not have enough resources to get to start production or even distribute new products.

At the same time, the international economic crisis has had as consequence the contraction of our turnover, risking to drift a decade of hard work. It was in these circumstances that, at the end of 2014, we have decided to change strategy thinking it would be better to loan our ideas to the rest of the world rather than keeping them closed and unused, perhaps forever … and this was a winning move!

I have always been a fan of the open source concept, and among early adopters since the beginning of the ‘90s with Linux. I remember how the discovery of a different way of thinking about the software, through an open approach to share and develop, was at that time revolutionary and at the same time exciting and thrilling. Then, in the last few years, this concept has been extended to the hardware, with benefits and implications that even today I think it is difficult to understand.

The Open Source / Open Hardware strategy is and will become more and more an important resource in the world of research and business, especially for small companies like ours, as well as for individual Makers, Designers, and Research institutes and even, I believe with certainty, for the large companies … and the corporations have shown us a willingness to use open source technology!

In these days, we are seeing the establishment of a shared Manifest for Open Hardware in the field of science.  The access to Open Source scientific instrumentation will bring down the gap between the richest countries and those that, at the present, have no chance to devote large resources to research. All thanks to a growing team of people involving makers, scientists, engineers, programmers …. a movement that starts from the base and results in an overturning of the concept: “I invest only where there the market is.”

A movement that is involving even openQCM device, which, with the help of researchers and users, has led us perfecting the device and planning the release of new versions with more features and performances. Many researchers, in fact, have not merely used the openQCM device, but also actively contributed to the future development. They have provided basic information, creating an increasingly broad base of testers. Today we can say, thanks to them, that openQCM device works better than our preliminary expectations and that there is still much work to be done, no more alone, but with the community that has grown with us in the last year.
I conclude with an encouragement to those who not yet started this type of adventure. Do you have an idea? Try it and you will see that so many people across the network certainly are expecting an idea to come out … and this will help you with the support and cooperation characterizing an open movement.