Economic savings for scientific free and open source technology: A review
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Both the free and open source software (FOSS) as well as the distributed digital manufacturing of free and open source hardware (FOSH) has shown particular promise among scientists for developing custom scientific tools. Early research found substantial economic savings for these technologies, but as the open source design paradigm has grown by orders of magnitude it is possible that the savings observed in the early work was isolated to special cases. Today there are examples of open source technology for science in the vast majority of disciplines and several resources dedicated specifically to publishing them. Do the tremendous economic savings observed earlier hold today? To answer that question, this study evaluates free and open source technologies in the two repositories compared to proprietary functionally-equivalent tools as a function of their use of Arduino-based electronics, RepRap-class 3-D printing, as well as the combination of the two. The results of the review find overwhelming evidence for a wide range of scientific tools, that open source technologies provide economic savings of 87% compared to equivalent or lesser proprietary tools. These economic savings increased slightly to 89% for those that used Arduino technology and even more to 92% for those that used RepRap-class 3-D printing. Combining both Arduino and 3-D printing the savings averaged 94% for free and open source tools over commercial equivalents. The results provide strong evidence for financial support of open source hardware and software development for the sciences. Given the overwhelming economic advantages of free and open source technologies, it appears financially responsible to divert funding of proprietary scientific tools and their development in favor of FOSH. Policies were outlined that provide nations with a template for strategically harvesting the opportunities provided by the free and open source paradigm.