This page contains a series of testimonials from open source hardware users and developers about the significance of open source hardware. The goal is to provide the community and the general public with a better understanding of why creators and users value open source hardware, as well as opinions about the personal, practical, political, social, cultural and economic advantages and disadvantages of this practice.
If you are interested in contributing your own please post it on the comments below, post it on the OSHWA mailing list (if you’re subscribed), email email@example.com, or simply add your testimonial to this google doc.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE
Mario Gomez, El Salvador
Almost a year ago I started to become familiar with the concept of the Open Hardware. Personally I have been an advocate for Open Source Software since I started using Linux more than 10 years ago.
Here in my country (El Salvador) we were the most industrialized country on central americas at the end of 60s and beginning of 70s, but political issues and a bloody civil war put a stop to the industries and now we are lagged behind.
However we still have several technical high-schools were people can learn electronics, mechanics, mechatronics and even architecture. I graduated myself from one of this schools. Also, all Universities teach engineering on several fields but few people have the real opportunity to develop solutions using their skills, most of them become marketeers of existing solutions or technical support people in the best of the cases.
From the beginning of the last year I started to write in my blog about small open-hardware projects and via mailing lists and social networks I started to communicate with many people that work in the same.
So in the last year I have found a lot of people working around the country in projects based on Open Hardware solutions, from individuals to schools and universities. At one point, we thought that could be a great idea to conform the Open Hardware Community in El Salvador to share experiences and promote this kind of “philosophy of sharing to create”.
What we found after that was a lot of people working everywhere in the country telling us: “We thought that we were alone on this”, but you see the spark on their eyes when you tell them that they are not alone but part of a community that can help them to materialize their ideas.
For me, the Open Source Hardware is an incredible opportunity to show the world that this country still has a lot of potential and has people capable of create, invent and develop solutions to the problems, this empowers the feeling on the people that we are not just a consumerist country with a lot of social problems but a place were we can create and solve problems by ourselves.
The next step is to tell the people that they need to merchandise their ideas (in a good way). There is a lot of incredible projects on the schools and universities collecting dust that could became live if the people uses Internet to collaborate and show to the world what they are capable of.
From CNCs and 3D-Printers built from recycled parts to automatization systems for the industry you’ll be surprised of all the things that the people is doing here.
As a community our main idea is to give the people the tools so they can share and collaborate with OSHW projects around the world. Now we are just starting with this but we hope that if we accomplish this, there is going to be a complete change of mentality of being a “consumerist” country and become real “producers”.
Alicia Gibb, USA
I love to see and hear about people using things differently than I would have (very much linked to the hacker mindset) – discovering how people use hardware differently than oneself is extremely powerful education and mind-opening. I think kids are great at this, a one year old who hasn’t had a cupcake before, thinks of eating a cupcake very differently that you or I, scale that up to building with Legos, using electronics, ignoring physics, etc. <– That's also not specific to oshw, but oshw helps when you can make the way YOU want to use hardware a reality rather than conforming to a business / culture's way of using hardware.
Matt Dexter, UK
I’m just writing up my PhD in design, which has been about the development of open source medical products.
For this research, the real goal was to explore the implications beyond the traditional open source benefits (copy, transform, modify- though these are still vital), and exploit the distributed nature of open design.
For instance, the traditional methods of participatory design (future workshops, design games, etc) that enable people to genuinely participate in the design process as collaborators (rather than a token effort at consultation) require people to be physically present at a specific time & location.
This presents a serious problem for some people with chronic medical conditions; what if your condition is taboo? What if there are so few of you as to mean you’re geographically remote from one another? What if you’re immunocompromised, and can’t meet other people with the same condition?
In these instances, open design (open hardware) can be used… By exploiting the internet, and collaborative online tools (as well as Distributed Digital Manufacturing) people are empowered to be part of the development process as collaborators… rather than consumers, or consultants of already defined hardware.
In summary- my research was to build a small community of people with Cystic Fibrosis and to collaboratively design open hardware tailored to their lived experience of Cystic Fibrosis.
Tl;dr: open hardware emancipates people to be collaborators in the design process- rather than shut out completely, or consulted to varying degrees of tokenism. Open hardware enables human flourishing by learning new skills to apply to one’s own lived experience, and have a positive impact on their own well being.
Joshua Pearce, USA
We use and develop open source hardware in my lab at Michigan Tech all the time. It has easily saved us tens of thousands of dollars while accelerating our research in solar photovoltaics and sustainability-focused technologies. We are certainly not the only lab to realize this opportunity. The concept of open-source scientific hardware is catching on like wildfire throughout the globe as documented with dozens of examples in the Open-Source Lab: How to Build Your Own Hardware and Reduce Research Costs.
The main advantages OSH has for science are: lower cost, more rapid innovation cycles, less time investment, customization and most importantly control. Those on the “tip of the spear” of their discipline can make scientific instruments that meet their exact needs and specifications to make the next great discovery or improve the latest technology. The worldwide collaboration, which is the hallmark of the open source way, is simply superior at developing technologies. Period.
This is just really getting interesting as we can start to share not only knowledge through papers and data – but also equipment designs and combining that with digital manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing) we can replicate and build on one another’s work much more quickly than ever before. I am confident OSH is going to drive the next great revolution in science and technology. Each OSH design that is shared will help accelerate technology that much faster providing the opportunity to provide enormous real-world wealth for everyone.
Despite the enormous promise of OSH, there are obviously vested interests whose monopolies risk being overrun by faster innovation from the open source community. I see OSHWA’s most important role being to protect small OSH players from the oppression of monolithic organizations bent on maintaining the status quo.
Tiberius Brastaviceanu, Canada
I am a developer of OSH and one of the main contributors to the Open Value Network (OVN) model.
In my opinion, OSH is a revolution – economical and cultural. The open source movement creates a lot of value for society and destroys value for classical economic entities (corporations who operate on a closed model relying on intellectual property). This errodes the capitalist model and some people are very worried about it. They perceive open source (OS) as a menace. I am predicting an IP war between OS communities and classical economic entities, similar to the one we’ve seen in the realm of culture (the copyright war).
Some classical entities are starting to accept the fact that OS(S and H) is there to stay and are trying to adapt their value capturing model. They are redefining their mission from R&D, production and distribution to network facilitation and management. In order to preserve their power, they create innovation platforms (crowdsourcing and others) and outsource production, while they nurture and fiercely defend their brands. This is part of what Michel Bauwens calls netarchical capitalism, a new form of feudalism.
On the other side of the spectrum, we see the emergence of the p2p movement, what I call the multitude movement. This movement creates p2p infrastructure for co-creation of value and its distribution.
The main difference between a platform and a p2p infrastructure is that the latter allows the individual to control his own output and turns the means and processes of value creation and distribution into commons – no one owns them but everyone has access to them (see also nondominium and nondominium agreement). Platforms introduce a strong dependency between those who own and control them and those who use them.
The problem with OS is that it still doesn’t have a clearly defined and tested model for value capturing. Most OS projects are gift economies, meaning that contributors don’t necessarily expect immediate tangible rewards from their involvement. DIY communities have no production and distribution capabilities. For that reason, OS still maintains a relation of dependency with capitalism. The great majority of those who contribute to OS projects get their basic needs from their activities in classical organizations, corporations or others. Since corporations have manufacturing and distribution capabilities they often fill in the gap and commercialize OS(S and H), and sometimes even make it proprietary or obscure it by integrating it into proprietary technologies. This creates friction between OS communities and classical entities, which are seen as individualistic, opportunistic, and even predatory. Fortunately, the OS movement is developing and testing its own means to capture value (see more on this post).
OVN is a radical model that is designed to make OS economically independent from capitalism, to turn it into a powerful economic engine. SENSORICA is, in my opinion, the most audacious pilot project. As OS becomes economically viable and even more powerful than classical models it will induce cultural transformations. Sharing, transparency, openness, ethics, sustainability, etc. will become predominant values, because they will drive social production. In other words, commons-based peer production depends on these values in order to function properly.
The open product is superior to the closed product. I argue about this in this post. But we are still at the beginning of the adoption cycle of OSH. People don’t trust the OSH products because they still don’t believe that decentralized OS communities cannot insure quality and can service a product. We’ve seen that with OSS before. Moreover, it is still very hard to establish value exchanges or relations of co-creation or co-production between OS communities and classical companies, because OSH is usually incompatible with classical business models based on control and secrecy. We are clearly experiencing that with SENSORICA. These relations are important if we want to transfer value from the old economy to the new. Some of us are working on interfaces between classical entities and OS communities.
Although OSH communities that are setup as DIY communities of gift economies don’t seem to have problems to attract participants, OVNs like SENSORICA do experience some problems. In other words, introducing the notion of revenue into the equation, while keeping the OS nature of the product, seems to have a negative impact on participation. I think that is mainly due to the fact that people don’t understand the model, the value accounting system, and/or don’t trust it.
We also have problems getting Universities to participate in open innovation. We are developing strategies and tactics to convince them of the economic advantage of open innovation. I believe that the main problem is their lack of understanding and of trust in the new models for capturing value.
When it comes to R&D funding, OSH has a lot of trouble attracting capital from governments or private entities. Lack of understanding and of trust are probably the main factors. Crowdfunding can compensate, but it is not enough. We have developed different tactics to get funding for our OSH projects, but it is not always easy.
Joost Hermans, the Netherlands
Personally I am not a developer nor a user of open source hardware (oshw), but I am a strong believer in the potential of this development. People call the possibility to design and create products to customize your own life the next industrial revolution and I am convinced that this is an accurate description of what we can expect. In a world in which people are able to customize the products they use every day and share their ideas, we will be able to develop new concepts and look at problems from a different perspective. Through trial and error we will be able to develop products which will be reduce waste as well as costs and will contribute to aesthetics and ergonomics. I am really looking forward to the moment when I will have a 3D printer and will become an amateur designer.
Matt Maier, USA
“How much would a prostetic hand cost?”
“How much did your own design cost?”
“I dunno, like, ten bucks.”
This is the kind of improvement that’s possible in technology when you don’t keep secrets. 3D printers have been around for decades, which means a simple, writs-activated prosthetic hand could have been manufactured on 3D printers and sold for $50 a long time ago. But nobody did that because it was more profitable to just keep everything a secret and make people pay through the nose for a proprietary solution.
Open hardware allows the actual lowest-cost solution to be widely shared. It means that the people who actually NEED the lowest-cost solutions can just provide for themselves instead of waiting for the market to maybe deliver it, eventually…for a price that takes advantage of their need.
All of those zeros in the price of commercial prosthetic hands have nothing to do with the inherent technology. They’re a reflection of how much people are willing to pay when they need a new hand. Open hardware removes those zeros, reduces prices by orders of magnitude, simply by negating the price that can be charged for secrets.
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