OSH solutions ranging from personal protective equipment (masks) and ventilators to thermometers supported the global response.
Every week during covid, new winners of the UNDP’s open source hardware (OSH) challenge were announced. In a recent text evaluating their COVID-19 Detect and Protect challenge, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) makes the point that the turn to OSH has widespread impact, and it was most noticeable in lower-income settings.
Open source played a significant role in the innovation response to Covid-19, as has been reported on here on OSOR and on the Digital Response to COVID-19 page on Joinup.
The UNDP partnered with Hackster.io, an online hardware and electronics developer community, and several other tech partners, and launched their OSH challenge. A global community of innovators, designers, inventors and makers responded.
In practice, making open source the basis meant requiring that the innovations must come with proper documentation and resources to enable others to replicate them. This means that the underlying code, design files, circuit board schematics, and detailed instructions were all open.
The UNDP built in a focus on particularly lower-income settings from the outset. The focus on how open source leads to the efficient use of resources was identified as being of particular value. In their evaluation, they state that they “saw the value of using open source to protect these communities and detect incidences, or other aspects, of the disease.”
The UNDP points out that the “speed and spread of the disease, and the similar issues it poses in each country, highlights the usefulness of building on – or replicating – open source solutions.” Speed and scale are according to the United Nations central to benefits brought by open source hardware. In countries where there is a limitation on physical assets and supply-chains are interrupted, OSH accelerated the response.
They state that the need for speed stems simply from the fact that COVID-19 is such a moving and evolving target. The UNDP understood that they were not going to be successful if they ran a programme with week- or month-long development and rollout cycles. Any solutions would be outdated or no longer relevant unless they leveraged open source’s speed and scale.