Twenty years ago, even staunch proponents of free and open source software like Richard Stallman questioned the social imperative for free hardware designs. Academics had barely started to consider the concept; the number of papers coming out annually on the topic were less than could be counted on someone's fingers.
Not only has the ethical authority of Stallman embraced free hardware and free hardware design, but so has the academic community. Consider the graph below, which shows the number of articles on open source hardware indexed by Google Scholar each year from 2000 to 2017.
In the last 17 years, the concept of open source hardware has erupted in ivory towers throughout the world. Now more than 1,000 articles are written on the topic every year.
As I previously wrote, Elsevier, the largest academic publisher in the world, is publishing HardwareX, a new open access journal to help accelerate the distribution of low-cost, high-quality open source scientific hardware. There is also the Journal of Open Source Hardware published by Ubiquity Press, PLOS One from the Public Library of Science, and numerous titles from MDPI such as Designs, all of which publish free, open access, open source hardware articles.In addition, many conventional journals are publishing open hardware designs and analysis of open hardware projects. For example, this year more than 120 articles have already covered the open source RepRap 3D printing project. Libre hardware has gone mainstream, with even the authority of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering dedicating a special issue of its magazine to the topic last year.
The curve above appears roughly exponential. This