Jorge is unavailable as promised in the last letter, so it’s Chuma here.
While I’m knee deep in Kickstarter fulfillment, I’ve been thinking about open source a lot more having released the design files for wonda (the math toy I designed) under a Creative Commons license, for now to backers in the campaign and subsequently to everyone. I think that there is a feasible business model that falls somewhere between free, open source and paid, patent-protected and today’s letter is an effort to share this.
Stay with me, will you?
Attn: Hardware Lagos is running the ‘State of Nigerian Hardware Survey‘ and two respondents could win $50 Adafruit gift certificates.
Things I Enjoyed Reading
The RepRap movement is 10 years old. In 2008, Adrian Bowyer and Ed Sells at Bath University assembled the first 3D printer made of parts that were 3D printed from a replica of the same printer design. They released the files for that 3D printer under a GPL license to a community of hackers (that became RepRap.org) who iterated with the design and made many different improvements. One of them, the Mendel by Josef Prusa, is the most shipped 3D printer in the world. Popular commercial companies like Ultimaker and Makerbot developed their designs based on RepRap models and in Ultimaker’s case released their first design, the UM1, on Github.
For something completely meta, Dave Hakkens created the Precious Plastic machines about five years ago. Completely modular and completely open source, the machines: a shredder, an extruder, a compression and extrusion machines, can be assembled on a bench in different configurations and take plastic refuse from shredding to molding to either new 3D printing filament or new forms. The community has since grown to over 40,000 people in over 30 countries who list the products made from the system for sale in a bazaar style on the community page.
Moving to products, digital canvases are a niche product for art lovers but products like Depict ($899) and Meural ($595-695) are well designed but out of the reach of a section of the market. Canviz offers a DIY list of parts you would need to make one, while offering their software for $40.
In this paper, Joshua Pearce examines different open source hardware (libre hardware, in his words) models and recommends different approaches for uptake, particularly within the scientific community. He posits (and I’m inclined to agree) that distributed manufacturing will bring open source hardware mainstream, but it will require manufacturing tools and software to be user friendly such that an average consumer could use it. Star Simpson definitely agrees.
While open source may not be as strong on the continent, some interesting developments have happened recently:
In April, Cape Town hosted the Advanced Open Labware workshop organized by TReND in Africa. In two weeks, scientists from universities across Africa developed low-cost laboratory tools for carrying out their research ranging from spectrophotometers to electrode pullers in an environment where sharing was the default. Without access to high-end equipment for research work it is imperative that researchers on the continent run their own experiments with tools they can build; TReND which stands for Teaching and Research in Neuroscience for Development attempts to fill this gap and is run by the volunteer effort of scientists (and medical doctors) who work with engineers and fund workshops such as this one.
Almost simultaneously, the Africa Open Science & Hardware Summit was ongoing in Kumasi. While TReND is scientist-focused, AfricaOSH is more open with their mission of building a community around open source on the continent. Thomas Mboa described the summit as a renaissance of the craft industries that are widespread in many countries, a sentiment captured by the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform. The next summit, although not announced yet, is going to hold in East Africa; plenty of time to get involved.
Two points come to mind when I think about open source hardware:
the increase in value of industries when an open source (and learning) community grows within. For the commercial drone industry, that community was DIYDrones founded in 2007 by Chris Anderson who then co-founded 3D Robotics. That type of transition [from maker to entrepreneur] is typical of a growing industry/market within hardware and has been seen in additive manufacturing, and soon in the small satellite industry.
how much patents cost vs the revenue projection for a company. Statistics show that 97% of patents generate less revenue than what they cost to obtain and while this is no doubt skewed by companies who file 100s of patents a year that they never use, a very basic utility patent in the US will cost about $1090 (minus attorney fees). At the point were getting a patent actually matters for a startup the funds to do so are typically required elsewhere.
I think a middle ground exists: where total access is given to complete design files in exchange for attribution and royalties with the Patent Office in charge of regulation, akin to what holds in the publishing and music industries. Since IP law builds on copyright law, it shouldn’t be such a stretch.
Resha Laser might be the most popular open source (hardware) project out of Africa. Conceived by Moushira Elamrawy, the laser cutter was prototyped by her team over the course of a year in Cairo and was celebrated at Fab 10. While the documentation hasn’t been improved recently, its simplicity in having no base as part of the tool set it apart as well as the ability to send 2D drawings to it through a mobile phone.
Tweets of the Month
Couldn’t decide on one tweet so we have two this month.
If you’ve ever wondered why USB B is the standard connector for printers:
It was designed with two different cable ends so you would never connect one host to another. It’s a cable keying strategy and it prevented this before micro or mini became avail. They are also more mechanically stable than other options.— Matt Berggren (@technolomaniac) June 6, 2018
When Particle announced their release of remote diagnostics on their IOT modules, Avidan Ross of Root VC had this to say:
Most hardware dev platforms don't have remote diagnostics. Software devs take all their awesome tools for granted. #inthesnowuphill #bothways https://t.co/Rz9VdsRd6i— Avidan Ross (@AvidanRoss) June 6, 2018
If you’ve enjoyed this letter, please share on Twitter or forward within your network. I recently found out that the pronunciation of my name in kinyarwanda means knife or iron which was suprising, so as they say in Rwanda: