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Open Hardware, Technology

So, I see a theme developing…

According to a podcast I listen to, you can add weight and validity  to any argument by beginning sentences with the word So.

So, I can see a theme developing. I’ve written a couple of posts based around some ideas on the future direction of Open Hardware.

The RepRap; Image from RepRap wiki

On Sunday I listened to an interview with Adrian Bowyer, inventor of the RepRap 3D printer. Adrian who writes about the RepRap project here and has a personal blog here  was talking about the potential future impact of personal fabrication.

Adrian, like Bunnie Huang and Bill Thompson from Click or speakers at the Open Hardware Summit thinks we’re on the verge of something big, something disruptive.

Adrian makes an interesting comparison with web retail. The web allowed retailers like Amazon to move up the supply chain, to become wholesalers to the public, rather than just web-based storekeepers.

He quotes an example of printing out a spare part for his daughter’s car. It took 30 minutes to design a bonnet release for a car. The printing process cost less than 5p. The part from the manufacturer would have cost around £25.

For the first time owners of these machines can not only create spare parts for their own 3D printers, but can also follow the example of Amazon – cut out the middle man, create their own products.

He says: The scale is still small and the project is still young, but it has some interesting possibilities.

Every mini-revolution is a consequence of technological change and he says we’re on the verge of another. The classic example he says  is  the almost compete destruction of industry which makes photographic film. Tha industry has almost totally been swept away thanks to the emergence of digital cameras. To underline the point read this story in the FT (might need to register), in 1997 Kodak shares were $94.25, last week they were $0.78.

He thinks the RepRap could do the same with manufacturing and invention. echoing the thoughts of Bre Pettis who says that technology has lowered the barriers to entering the hardware and manufacturing market.

Where the interview gets really interesting is when he’s asked whether this type of technology is taking us down a new path

“You don’t just short-circuit supply chain and industry but you can also short-circuit idea of money itself, virtually no money has changed hands itself,  just a few numbers moved electronically between bank accounts. This could be even more radical and interesting.”

“It is the case that with every technical change, people who made the old thing are damaged by that change. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. We need social measure to mitigate the impact this might have, but it can’t say shouldn’t have it or we’d still be paddling down rivers in canoes made of bearskins.”

You can still listen to the interview here for the next seven days (about 20 mins in) hopefully it’ll also appear on the RepRap blog too. It’s definitely worth a listen.

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