5 Ways to Make Money with Open Source Hardware

Surprising Ways to Use Science for Extra Income

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Ever wonder whether it's possible to build a company around products that can be freely copied, modified, and re-distributed by anybody else, anywhere else? By now it's clear that individuals and organizations can -- and regularly do -- make money with open source software. But, do the same rules of business and strategies for financial success apply to open source hardware?

Open source hardware is defined by the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Statement of Principles v1.0 as "hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design."

In other words, the idea is to ascribe the same types of freedoms to physical objects as open source software licenses grant to virtual ones. And that means that there are many ways to make money with open source hardware ... you just need to think about the goals and needs of this particular community.

  1. Make and Sell "Stuff"

    The most obvious way to make money with open source hardware is to create something and then sell it. While open source hardware community members generally want to do the "making" part themselves, consumers would like to have the finished products without lifting a finger. In other words, if you're willing to do the work, they're happy to pay you for it!

  2. Write Something

    If you're a master hardware hacker, share your knowledge! Of course, it would be great for the community if you devoted your life to teaching the tricks of the trade for free, but that might not always be financially possible. So, if you're short on cash but rich in skills, writing a book or articles for trade magazines or even getting paid to blog about open source hardware can be a great way to earn some extra income.

    To get started, find out what's of interest these days by following open source leaders on Google+, Identi.ca, and Twitter.

  1. Create Accessories

    Things like BeagleBoard and Arduino are well known, but the open source hardware community needs more than that to survive. From breadboards and cases to patches and t-shirts, there are a lot of ways to create and sell periphery that will have people talking.

    If you're an engineering wizard, like Limor Fried (aka "Lady Ada"), you could turn your inventions into an entire industry. Or, if your skills are more along the ThinkGeek lines, then you could use on-demand print services like CafePress and Zazzle to create everything from open source hardware-themed apparel to coffee mugs, bumper stickers, and more.

  1. Consult

    With the tools of open source hardware hobbyists finding their way into increasingly complicated, professional, and commercial spaces, the world needs experts. And large companies, in particular, are generally happy to spend money on experts ‚Äčif the experts can really help the companies get over major hurdles.

    One of the best ways to get recognized as a leader in the field is to actively participate in an open source hardware project. The more you can demonstrate your expertise, the more likely you'll be to get approached for a consulting job.

  2. Start a Hackerspace

    One thing that sets open source hardware apart from open source software is the toolset required to complete the projects. From 3D printers to CNC laser cutters, the equipment can be expensive and take up a lot of space.

    Hackerspaces provide environments where open source hardware enthusiasts come together to share tools and ideas and to do work as a community. But, a well-run hackerspace takes planning. From securing the location (and lease) to buying and/or renting equipment, getting the utilities up and running, and maybe even buying insurance in case of accidents, hackerspaces take a lot of time and effort. In fact, it can easily be a full-time job and a source of income for you ... if you have the right managerial skills and interest.

    The open source hardware movement is about community and sharing. And while your motives really shouldn't be driven by profit, done right, you can make money doing something you love while still contributing positively to the cause.