What is “Hardware for Good?”

With the recent rise of developments such as 3D printing, computer aided design (CAD) software, and makerspaces, the cost of prototyping and manufacturing hardware products at low volume has plummeted, allowing at-home innovators to develop solutions faster, cheaper, and more conveniently than ever. As barriers to entry continue to drop, there is significant opportunity to leverage the “Hardware Revolution” for environmentally sustainable, large-scale social benefit.

Hardware for Good encompasses everything from wearables (e.g. Fitbit and Google Glass), assistive and medical technologies, to devices that improve agricultural productivity, to smart home systems that improve energy efficiency and safety. As these hardware solutions continue to grow and develop, so too are the opportunities to harness them for social good.

The Challenge

The challenge for this category is to either: a) describe plans to develop an innovative hardware technology, or b) design a technology-led solution that uses an existing hardware/product in a novel way. These solutions should solve a major societal need, have high potential for impact, and/or improve the lives of individuals. Applications may focus on a wide range of areas, including: health, assistive mobility, education, responses to natural and manmade disasters, household and commercial robotics, economic opportunities for low-income communities, and beyond. Applications should seek to maximize environmental sustainability by incorporating the concepts and values of sustainable design, circular economy, and life-cycle assessment. Students are not required to produce a physical prototype by the Full Proposal deadline, but they must submit a blueprint, sketch, or model in their final submission.

Examples of innovative proposals that fit this category include (but are not limited to):

  • A physical medical innovation that promotes effective diagnosis or treatment.
  • Light installations that increase pedestrian interactions and foot traffic into urban spaces for safety purposes.
  • A smart home technology that measures water and/or energy levels to encourage more efficient usage.

ATTENTION: Special “Hardware for Good” Criteria

There are additional opportunities and requirements for applicants in the Hardware for Good category. All applicants in this category should carefully read the instructions below:

  • Sustainable Design and Circular Economy Criteria: Teams submitting Pre-Proposal Round applications in the Hardware for Good category are called upon to increase the impact, marketability and environmental responsibility of their innovations by addressing how their project incorporates sustainable design and circular economy principles. This element will count toward 10% of the team’s overall pre-proposal score and will be an additional section in the application webform. Refer to the Contest Rules for more detailed information.

  • Sustainable Design and Circular Economy Criteria (Accounts for 10% of overall score for Hardware for Good category applicants only)

    The extent to which the hardware innovation incorporates sustainable design principles (with a focus on the innovation’s energy use, effect on the health/pollution of air, water and soil), and how the innovation’s design incorporates the concept and values of the circular economy (with a focus on the sourcing and recyclability of materials used).

    • The Sustainable Design and Circular Economy Criteria will count toward 10% of the overall Hardware for Good pre-proposal score. It will replace the “Category Fit” criteria listed above.
    • The Sustainable Design and Circular Economy Criteria responses will be limited to 250 words and required in the webform section of the application (text box). Applicants therefore do not need to include this section in the main body of their 3-page pre-proposal (.pdf upload).
  • Enviro-Design Overview Workshop (Encouraged): All teams participating in the Pre-Proposal Round in the Hardware for Good category are strongly encouraged to participate in Enviro-Design Overview Workshop, tentatively scheduled on Monday October 22, 2018. Refer to the Events webpage for updated information. This workshop will introduce sustainable design and circular economy principles that will help Hardware for Good teams succeed in the first round of the Big Ideas Contest and will help their innovations maximize environmental efficiency and impact.
  • Spring Enviro-Design Intensive Workshop (Required): All teams selected to advance to the Full Proposal Round in the Hardware for Good category are required to participate in a 2-hour Sustainable Design Intensive Workshop, scheduled for Sunday, February 3, 2019. Refer to the Events webpage for updated information. This workshop will help teams further incorporate sustainable design and circular economy principles in their innovations, maximizing the innovations’ environmental sustainability and marketability, and helping teams succeed in the Full Proposal Round of the Big Ideas Contest.


The “Hardware for Good” category is open to all matriculated students across the 10-campus University of California system, as well all matriculated students from Makerere University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Multidisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged.   For additional information about general contest rules, timing and how to apply, please refer to the Contest Application Requirements.

Past Projects

BCAPI (UC Berkeley)

BCAPI (UC Berkeley)

Tabla (UC Berkeley)

Tabla (UC Berkeley)

Nuestra Agua (UC Berkeley)

Nuestra Agua (UC Berkeley)


The Autodesk Foundation invests in the most impactful people and organizations using the power of design to create a better world. It is the first foundation to focus investment exclusively on the people and organizations using design for impact.

The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US, and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries.