Interview: Guaudilabs, the Pocket-PCR

| January 18, 2024

Interview: GaudiLabs

Urs Gaudenz has been part of hackteria and similar open source hardware communities for a long time. Nine years ago, he started GaudiLabs, a “desktop manufacturing” company that is selling open source hardware produced in small scale. One of these products is the Pocket-PCR machine.

by the Open make team, Urs Gaudenz. Copyright to the authors, distributed under a CC-BY 4.0 licence.


Banner image: GaudiLabs logo, used with permission

Interviewee: Urs Gaudenz

Interviewers: Robert Mies (TU Berlin) & Moritz Maxeiner (FU Berlin)

Transcription and editing: Diana Paola Americano Guerrero, Robert Mies, Fabio Reeh, Moritz Maxeiner, Urs Gaudenz & Julien Colomb

screenshot of the interview

Screenshot of the interview.

The Pocket-PCR in a nutshell

real Pocket-PCR machine

Photos of a real Pocket-PCR machine.

Hardware products

Pocket-PCR: a USB powered PCR (polymerase chaine reaction) machine for 5 samples at a time.

Hardware maturity

It’s mostly used educationally and from hobbyists doing it at home. It is not certified. A new product to do quantitative PCR is in development.


None known (it is different for other GaudiLabs product)

The project

Project start

At some point, there was always the question if you can make a viable business from open hardware and how to distribute it. I was interested on going a step further and not just doing the blueprints and collaborative development, but also go into a company and try to distribute and develop the product to a point where it’s a commercial product.

How did you start GaudiLabs, what relation does it have with Hackteria?

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Project process

I kept the completely open character of the hardware and by this I kept the collaboration with other people in the world. Around eight years ago, I started GaudiLabs, which is a node in the network. It’s sometimes described as desktop manufacturing.

Always when I develop, I spend 80% of my brain on how to develop something that is easy to produce, manufacture and ship.

I think, the closed way of working is just the default. It’s not much reflected and not the best way to do it.

Sometimes, I leave something half finished in the hope that it can motivate others to take it up and finish it or develop on it.

Could you give an overview of how many products you have commercially distributed?

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What is the price range of the OpenDrop products?

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Hardware importance

GaudiLabs is a node in a bigger network and in the community. I spend a lot of time going to hackerspaces, festivals, and meeting communities. This is what I like to do and where I like to be, and where I like to meet people and talk about things.

From 100 projects, I think one or two are good to go into the production and sales part.

By producing and selling the hardware, it develops to a more mature level than by just experimenting with it.

Could you describe the overall process on the technical level and project level? How is the community still involved?

Major issues

There are always a lot of constraints like: is it going to work well enough? If it works, the next questions are about compliance with the regulations. Is it affordable and can it be manufactured in a reasonable way?

If it’s in the community, it’s more about give and take. We work together and collaborate

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Have you come across some bottlenecks in processes and how did you resolve them?

Successes and failures

I usually say, as a joke, open source is my competitive advantage. This is what makes me much faster, better connected, easier to work with, with the customer also.

You can gain a lot by doing open source: you have lower transaction costs, you don’t need to fight with lawyers or do the protection of intellectual property, you can freely share documents and freely talk about everything you do.

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The hardware

You mentioned two products, the OpenDrop and OpenTheremin, can we stick to the OpenDrop? Or do you suggest another product?

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We could stick to Pocket-PCR. Is this product market ready or are you selling it already?

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Could you shortly explain the working mechanisms and different implemented technologies of the machine?

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If it’s market ready, do you have a certification for the devices?

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What were the intended outputs of the hardware development at the start in terms of publications, prototypes, documentation, and the learning process itself?

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How is the device structured regarding the mechanical, electrical and software part?

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Research outputs

Publication strategy

100% of what GaudiLabs sells is open source online. Sometimes, I have PDF files and different kinds of information on my website. I use GitHub basic functions, and I push my stuff there. I try to push it early and often.

A lot of people get to my company through the scientific publishing.

Did you publish the project findings in relation to the hardware?

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Do you share testing data on GitHub, or was it is merely about the device itself?

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You mentioned GitHub as your main publishing platform, why did you choose this platform?

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Did you run into any barriers while using GitHub?

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Academic outputs

We have a publication with a friend, Mirela Alistar, about an early version 1 of openDrop.

I don’t really write papers. There’re some papers I am co-author and they get mentioned.

You didn’t publish the hardware in journal?

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Are you aware of the hardware Pocket-PCR being built, produced, or modified by others independently of your work?

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The Pocket-PCR has a lot of components. Did you implement some existing technology or design the whole device from scratch?

Hardware components

I’m using the same basic design as Adafruit Feather M0. Adafruit is an open-source company that does a lot of cool software, like display drivers.
As mentioned earlier the idea of doing the small-scale heat blocks came from Yanwo, the engineer from Oslo.

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Local production

Pocket PCR sells and there is not too much support that I have to do. It costs below 100€ which was the aim.

What was successful about the Pocket PCR and what wasn’t?

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Work Coordination

It takes years of promoting, developing, and selling it until the first one or two people start contributing. It really needs to be an established and well working product or project until people join you to collaborate.

Have you had contributions like that in the past?

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What made you start to work on these projects with GaudiLabs?

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Maybe I should rephrase it a bit. How did GaudiLabs start as a business?

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How many people are working in GaudiLabs today?

Core team and community

On the payroll, we are three or four people now and in all part time.

I sometimes contact people, sometimes people contact me and sometimes it just happens.

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Do you give them some share of your revenue? How do you pay them for a particular development?

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How do you find these people, or do they find you when you give them development contracts?

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Could you say how the people who’ve been involved closer in GaudiLabs have benefited from their work in GaudiLabs?

Personal gain

I like to meet people and talk about things.

Whenever possible, I ensure that the collaboration is mutually beneficial.

Sometimes I hire people for a job when I can

Sometimes people get a lot of inspiration from what I’m doing. They can be inspired to do something similar or to do the same.

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I’m basically living and working from sales and profit that I make from the sales. I usually don’t get grants or cultural funding with the company.

Can you live from this business?

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