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Open Hardware, Robots, Technology

Open Hardware: community-focused commerce

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Open Hardware summit

I finally got round to watching some of the sessions from the Open Hardware Summit thanks to UStream.

There were some fantastic presentations, and it was nice to put a voice (if not a face) to some of the companies and people I’ve been reading about for the last few years (and latterly writing about on this blog).

I enjoyed the presentation from autonomous seafaring robot developers Protei and the presentation by CERN to introduce an open hardware licence. I’ll put some links to the video of these presentations underneath this post.

Of the sessions I’ve watched so far – I’m only around a quarter of the way through – the clear theme that has developed is one of having fun within a community of like-minded folk.

Tim O'ReillyIt rather echoes the thoughts of Tim O’Reilly. The opening keynote was from the team behind Arduino. The programmable platform is now used in everything from DIYDrones and MakerBots to DNA Sequencers and Google Android products.

For a detailed look at the story of this incredible startup, watch the documentary elsewhere on my blog.

Community was placed at the centre, right from the very start – Massimo Banzi

The team started with the end-user at the heart of what became  its business.

David Mellis, the MIT-based member of the team described how the community informs every aspect of the organisation. The products are designed to enable interaction, sharing and collaboration.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Instructables founder Eric Willhelm. The project sharing website – recently bought by 3D design software firm Autodesk – started with the emphasis on fun.

Willhelm used – indeed still does make kite surfers – he shared designs with his friends and that seeded the idea for the platform. Again he talked about the need for fun, to imbue users with a sense of community, a desire to share. He emphasises this with the company’s informal internal motto:

We are a site for 13-year-old boys of all ages and genders – Willhelm

He explains it far better than I can, but essentially that time when enthusiasm and the thrill of trying something new dominates your life. Nothing demonstrates this more powerfully than the very large, very active community of Kinex Gun builders.

So passionate are this group of young makers that they have co-opted a piece of CAD software to help create ever more elaborate toy weapons. There is even a monthly, community coordinated challenge.

Watch the presentation. Clearly we have moved past the digital native, we are now firmly in the generation of the Open Hardware Native – co-creation is almost second nature to these kids.

As Willhelm says this generation has a huge head start on designing and open source hardware. They are the computer geek kids of the 70s. There was a post written recently after the retirement of Steve Jobs that Open Hardware is where the next Gates, Jobs, Wozniak are going to come from. Watch this presentation and it’s hard to disagree.

Then Bunnie Huang from Chumby gave his presentation on the future direction of the movement. In Huang’s eyes, we are on the verge of big things.

In the beginning hardware was open in the 1960s stuff came with schematics, instructions for repair, you could build yourself. The Apple 2 reference manual had full schematics – allowed people to play. Today the most complex diagram tells you how to sit in front of your computer.

But Huang reckons we’re on the verge of going back to the 1960s. Consumers want to be able to look beneath the hood, to tinker and play. Companies are recognising this and putting communities at the centre of their thinking.

Inspirational is a word that often seems a little schmaltzy, but these speakers were inspirational. Time and time again the message was have fun build for yourself and for your community of like-minded people.

Make your products from passion rather than a desire to make money, the money will follow. What’s not to like about that?


Arduino keynote – starts at around 9 mins in. Watch with the presentation slides

Instructables presentation – 1hr 02 mins in

Chumby presentation – 1hr 19 mins in

Open Hardware Summit website

Protei and Cern Presentations can be found on the Ustream OHS channel page



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