Genesis of the open.make project.

| August 31, 2021

On September 1st the Berlin university alliance project Open.make: toward open and FAIR hardware has officially started. Three labs that work together for the first time will collaborate and design a social and technical infrastructure, in order to foster open and FAIR hardware publication and recognition. In this post, we will describe how the idea was developed over a short period of time following the publication of a BUA call.

A two months process

Between January and February of this year, the open.make team was created, the project was developed and the application was written. In response to the a BUA call for open science and quality insurance, both Robert Mies (TU) and Julien Colomb (HU) wanted to work on an open hardware project. The embryonic idea of the latter was well complementing the more mature project of the former. With the support of their respective PIs, Prof. Jochem and Prof. Larkum, they started combining their objectives and knowledge. The addition of a practical approach via Tim Landgraf and his doctoral student Moritz Maxeiner’s (FU) expertise, gave a final touch to the project bringing in additional highly complementary resources.

Technology used

The project approach was debated in video conferences and asynchronously on the online drafts. Emails were used to organize meetings and search for external partners. These drafts were written using a markdown-based approach via a GitHub repository, which was synchronized with an document. The idea was to produced a well-formatted pdf file from that document using pandoc. Because the submission portal accepted only text (and not our nice pdf), we moved to google doc for the last changes in the application text.

Personal experiences

Julien Colomb:

In December 2019, I got a reminder email from the open science officer of the Neurocure Cluster of Excellence about a BUA call for open science. I started thinking about a fitting project, as I found the granting scheme interesting. I thought that open hardware would be a good fit for the call and started to look for collaborators, connecting with people I knew from the field. Finally, an internet search for open hardware berlin got me to the open!next project homepage, and I contacted its project manager Robert Mies, with an embryonic idea. He was also planning to prepare an application for that call, and its plan was not very far from mine: it sounded like a perfect match (and it was). The rest was only nice discussions and hard work. Interestingly, it was only at the first internal project pre-kickoff meeting (at the TU Berlin, Institute for Machine Tools and Factory Management) that we met together in the flesh.

Robert Mies:

When the BUA published the call, we were fully stretched on prior commitments at the TU Berlin. However, it was very close to our ongoing activities and we felt very tempted. A few days later, Lukas Winter from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) called to stress that it was a great opportunity to work together even though they were not eligible for funding and could only act as an external partner. So, we both took part in a very helpful information session by the BUA and discussed different angles how to address this very specific and theoretic, yet application-oriented call.

The next question was about finding the right partners to create a small team around the concept. As the year of 2020 was coming to a close, we deferred the search to the new year. By chance, Julien contacted us in early January and it became clear very quickly that he possessed critical knowledge on open data publishing, combined with a broader mindset for free and open source culture. This was an extremely pleasant surprise. Moreover, Julien mentioned a former colleague Tim Landgraf who had more recently become a junior professor at the FU Berlin – and was working on open hardware prototypes. Conversing together about the project idea and the open hardware policy at Tim’s lab, it turned out that we could all agree on very strongly aligned goals.

From there, we met via Zoom on Friday afternoons for an hour to align on the proposal writing. A central aspect was partnering. In the last years, Julien and I had both been following the online forum of the Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH), a natural ally for the project and started reaching out to them as well as other possible external partners. One very important link was with the Open Hardware Observatory e.V. a new spin-off association in Berlin from the OPENNEXT project (coordinated by the TU Berlin) that was just being founded. Shortly before the deadline, we also sent the abstract to Dr Jürgen Christof, head of the university library at the TU Berlin and our partner Wikifactory. They all gave us a positive response and it made us confident that we were on the right track. In May this year, the BUA communicated the good news that our effort had actually paid off.

Moritz Maxeiner:

Having defended my master’s thesis at Tim Landgraf’s Biorobotics Lab with a focus on applying machine learning to the behavior of fish I became a research assistant there in March 2020 and have been working there first as a member of the Hiveopolis project, and later also as part of the Electrofish project. In my free time I’ve contributed to several FLOSS projects over the years and am familiar with the problems inherent to proprietary software. Near the end of 2020 Tim - knowing my involvement with FLOSS - mentioned that he was looking to collaborate on an open hardware project, to which I expressed substantial interest in participating. Later on I was invited to participate in the drafting of the BUA project proposal and have been working on Open.Make with Julien on Robert since.

What about the project content ?

Stay tuned for future blog post or read the application itself on the GitHub repository.