Open-source medical devices are already available, even if they are not marketed as such. Table 1 shows a summary of the 10 devices that were compared in this paper. Evidently, open-source offers a solution to the high costs and slow pace of innovation of medical devices currently. Off-the-shelf healthcare sensors are available that can be connected to cheap embedded computers, and it is easy to construct practical systems that can be used for inventing new clinical applications that work. Rapidly achieving sophisticated results that would have been impossible only a year or two ago transforms one’s attitude to medical devices: it is interesting, rewarding, and stimulates creative innovation.
There remain many challenges for open-source hardware in healthcare. Medical devices need to be regulated, and this can be time consuming and expensive, but still quite manageable for an open-source project. Crowdfunding is one way of getting the funds together to apply for certification. There are successful open business models for open-source hardware, making it possible to invest in them as commercial entities. Finally, note that while open-source hardware does not use patents for intellectual property protection, open-source hardware companies generally do use trademarks to protect their brands and to assure a level of quality in the products.
Table 1 Summary of project comparison
|Project||Estimated cost to build||OSHW license used||Microcontroller/platform used|
|MyOpen||$250||GNU public license||Blackfin DSP|
|e-Nable||$350||Creative commons attribution non-commercial||Arduino|
|CT scanner||$300||GNU public license V.3||Arduino|
|Fechko’s peristaltic pump||$170||N/A||Raspberry Pi or Arduino|
|Wijnen et al’s syringe pump||$97||Creative commons attribution share-alike||Raspberry Pi|
|e-Health sensor platform||$500||Unknown||Raspberry Pi or Arduino|
|OpenBCI||$450–$800||Creative commons share-alike||Arduino or ChipKit|
|DIY blood pressure monitor||$50||N/A||Microchip PIC|
|Nightscout xDrip||$60||N/A||Pololu Wixel|
|DIY, do-it-yourself; DSP, digital signal processing; N/A, not applicable; OSHW, open-source hardware.|