As of 10/24/09, I am no longer on site at FeF. I would like to thank:
Marcin for giving me the opportunity to excel
Inga for her support
The Review Team: Vinay, Ralf, Lucas, and Jeb
The audience out there listening
Ok, onto the goods. This is the list of things I was supposed to complete. It turned out that most of these were unrealistic to complete in a month and others fell into the category of “learning while doing” which also falls outside of the scope of this project.
Align the Prototype I table in the x, y, and z directions to 1/16″ accuracy.
Demonstrate level of accuracy of x, y, and z motion over the full range of motion of Prototype I by performing and documenting a series of tests from g-code files.
Publish at least some key test files to test replicability by Research Director.
Characterize Prototype I with regards to accuracy and precision at varying speeds and configurations.
Attach torch head to Prototype I.
Demonstrate that slightly over sized 1/2″ holes can be torched out on 1 inch centers in a 12″ piece of 2″x2″x1/4″ square tubing.
Demonstrate that 4 such pieces laid out on the far corners of the table can be torched out successfully to within 1/16″ accuracy.
Demonstrate the same as the last point with 1″, 16 gauge square tubing, but using 3/8″, slightly oversized holes.
Compose and publish g-code and procedure for torching out the gantry of Prototype II which incorporates improvements made in Prototype I.
Develop a business proposal that takes into account work from the last month for the purpose of bringing the project to product release.
Document work as specified in “Documentation”.
What was accomplished was …
Plus lots of documentation, and … sparks!
Here is the final photo that recaps the whole project.
And, because I promised three articles about the nature of open source hardware and business models… it kind of became one… so without further ado, “The Goods”:
Musings Upon the Nature of Open Source Hardware as a Business
“If you’re not making art with the intention of having it copied, you’re not really making art for the twenty-first century.” ~ Cory Doctorow
At the core of any business are a set of core beliefs that it was founded upon. These may be stated or implied through actions, but never the less make up the “personality” of an organization. I believe that change is coming in the way we look at how products come together and the name of that change is free and open source products. Its effecting art, culture, literature, and commerce. Even now there are several articles detailing its history, and what I will be discussing in this article is how the open source movement is relevant to hardware and how to possibly make a living from it.
The key fact is that we aren’t doing anything new or radical with completely opening up the design to the public. Many institutions do this already in academia and research. In some cases they even make money from it. It’s not even novel to try to form a community around a business practice for reducing costs and living better. All these things and more have been tried, found to be successful in some cases, and fail in others.
Most businesses/groups/etc fail.
It is the rare exceptions that are celebrated.
Designing a business model that fits into the lifestyle you want to lead and the overall goals you wish to achieve, reflects your values and what the market and the rest of the world is doing. This makes crafting a business model a bit challenging because when you look behind the curtain, it’s a philosophy of how to run things.
“Put me out of business! Please!” ~ Lawrence Kincheloe
Free and Open source as defined by the Free Software Foundation and Open Source Initiative is really tough to adhere to in a traditional business sense, because a product design licensed under it would not ensure that those who put in the work see economic rewards for their efforts. A good example of this is the RONJA Project. There are ways around this, such as putting the work under a dual license like MySQL does so a company can combine your device with their closed source product. Another method lets individuals work as a contractor who makes modifications to a project for a specific need stated by a customer for a price. The point remains, though, that you cannot directly make money off an open source licensed product by keeping control of the licenses and patents to stifle competition and recoup your losses. This unfortunately removes one of the easiest ways to make money.
However, money isn’t everything. All socioeconomic phenomena are based on the human condition, and because of this, I believe that there are untapped motivational forces that are more beneficial than the desire to gather and collect, which is the fundamental bases of money. Altruism, I feel, has more desirable socioeconomic consequences for a large populace and I believe that Free and Open Source go hand in hand with altruism. So how would this work, what sound business plan uses altruism as its philosophical core? Well, they are many and varied, from charities to research foundations.
For me, I intend to build a business that holds at its core, the desire to generate and disseminate technology and information as quickly as possible. To build a community of collaboration and noncompetitive behavior. I envision a company that is an open book that doesn’t trap customers, which is on an equal footing with its customers for a fair and balanced relationship. Lofty goals indeed, but so are the rewards.
“Start simply by simply, starting.” ~ Lawrence Kincheloe
The easiest and arguably the most important feature is to build a place for a community to develop and interact. Because primarily, I am interested in doing hardware development I want to develop tools to help make collaborative hardware development possible for a wide range of different products. I envision hosting projects ranging from home made kilns to advanced robotics, with everything in between. Having and running such a website could be a source of ad revenue as well as a way to build business contacts and a community of collaborators.
Second on the list is to develop a market place for people to sell goods and services. To take on contract work and to offer up manufacturing services for different projects. Not everyone has the ability, time and tools to make any open source project, and this would be a great way to get people comfortable contributing their time to a project they are passionate about while still getting positive reinforcement through traditional capitalistic means. The key is not to “sell out” but to build attractive bridges between ideals and reality. For myself, I would in theory have some sort of manufacturing capability and could offer to build products and bill for my time. This would also be a good place to put up a market front for dealers to sell products they make that are open source in nature.
Third, is how to manage investment and community growth. Growing can be difficult, and businesses have a development life cycle just like any other living thing. When the processes that keep it running break down, it ceases to be. Because this is a loose knit community, building trust is very important. Also, because having capital and pre-orders can mean the difference between having the resources necessary to build a new product and not, there is a lot of potential for micro-investments in interesting products for a marginal price reduction. This is similar in concept to the Open Source Hardware Bank idea which allows producers take advantage of bulk purchases and guaranteed orders and generates incentive by consumers to fund projects they like. Balancing a community that’s motivated by both more traditional rewards as well as social rewards through working together with a community isn’t easy. It will be difficult to be the trusted middle man and still take part in the community. An example of a company that does this well is Valve Software and their Steam gaming platform. Valve sells their successful Half-Life 2 video games but also digitally distribute games from many other vendors. I would go one step further and open up the inner workings of the company for interested parties to view. The goal is to build trust, and to make sure the community knows that the people managing their market infrastructure can be trusted to remain unbiased. I believe the rewards for such behavior will be great.
“Can’t Buy Me Love” ~ Paul McCartney
One glaringly obvious flaw in all of this is the practical side of needing to eat and live in a comfortable lifestyle. I’ve already established a business model based around good will and fuzzy feelings, but open source doesn’t guarantee you any sort of income. If you make a contribution, you don’t necessarily get a monetary reward for the work. So take a deep breath with me and learn to love living a fulfilling life by making enough to live on but not enough to get rich with. It is possible to be a great systems designer and integrator, or an expert in tractor building which could be sold as a service based contract job where you can apply what your good at directly to a problem. However, being a great designer doesn’t mean you can sell yourself and your designs, and so your brilliance might not get rewarded by people who use your designs to solve contracted problems. There are potential ways around this problem of evaluating collaboration by some sort of individual metric, but I think that discussion should wait for another essay.
However by embracing open source, there is a lot of potential for people to combine resources to slash the most pressing needs such as food and shelter. Therefore leaving any income to go towards things that a person wants to be comfortable. Open source can help develop cheap house building methods, labor free farming techniques, and products that are unique and innovative that evolve and are valued in a fluid working free market. As innovations build on past success, these get wrapped up in future releases, which benefit everyone. It just won’t make you a millionaire, and may require community living styles to reduce costs and labor. For many though, the benefits of communal living are more than just economics, its about the community itself. Its all about fitting the business model to the philosophy and life style of those who wish to participate. Its not for everyone, but it doesn’t make it any less valid.
The below links were a source of inspiration and perspective.