On the coattails of the rise of intellectual-property and economic monopolies, the Open Source movement (including open source hardware) is thriving, expanding public access to knowledge, culture, and tools. Advocates have opened up everything from software to science, media to politics … and, of course, data. Now we even have an emerging model in which to implement and develop this openness, as Michel Bauwens describes in the following video:
As Alastair Parvin of WikiHouse puts it, “This increased access to knowledge is hugely important … It acts as the foundational infrastructure on which we can start to build a whole new economy.”
“Open” stands as a definitive yet diverse movement, void of historic or cultural stigma, under which many disparate but synergistic disciplines are sharing, collaborating, and innovating. I’ve been fortunate to document some radical examples of this movement working with WikiLeaks and Open Source Ecology (OSE). At OSE, I was exposed to the challenges and triumphs of developing the physical side of open, known as Open Source Hardware. Currently I’m working with former OSE members at the Open Tech Collaborative to develop hardware.
Here are 10 of the most promising Open Source Hardware projects that might just save the world:
Open Source Hardware Project #1. Agriculture: FarmBot
We live on a planet experiencing exponential population growth. Everybody needs to eat, so many companies are working to make agriculture as efficient as possible. Problem is, they’re all proprietary (or “closed source”). So Rory Aronson, founder of FarmBot, is taking on the challenge of opening up agricultural technologies so we can all start to grow our food as efficiently as possible.
Open Source Hardware Project #2. Waste: Precious Plastics
Commercial recycling operations are great, but often the applications for recycled materials, especially plastics, are limited. So Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Dave Hakkens recently showcased a series of open-source machines he’s developed for repurposing waste plastics into new and useful things. Now anyone can build a local micro-recycling center to service her (and her community’s) needs.
Open Source Hardware Project #3. Housing: WikiHouse
WikiHouse is an open-source construction. Users can freely download a series of files, purchase a bunch of plywood, and cut the designs out using a CNC router. The pieces all snap together like a giant puzzle (with instructions) and you can even cut out wooden mallets to help knock the joints together. This project is lowering barriers of entry to house building, so almost anyone can do it.
Open Source Hardware Project #4. Ecology: Open Source Beehives
Bee colony collapse is a crisis we’ve heard a lot about over the past several years. Many people are aware, but there are very few grassroots solutions on the table. The OSBH project is helping citizens prevent bee population decline by bringing sensor-enhanced bee conservation into their backyards. Confession: I’m one of the founders of this project, but I really believe in its significance; otherwise, I wouldn’t be putting all my energy behind it.
Open Source Hardware Project #5. Connectivity: Particle.io
With all this talk of “The Internet of Things” there needs to be a piece of hardware that connects your technologies to the Internet, right? And it needs to be open-source so you can change it to suit your needs. That’s where Particle.io comes in. This Arduino compatible board lets even non-programmers start to make their hardware smarter.
Open Source Hardware Project #6. Environment: Public Lab
Since our governments and corporations have become as corrupted as they are powerful and democratic process is in many ways broken, the time has come for citizens to look after our own environment. Public Lab is facilitating this movement by developing open-source hardware tools to generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health.
To utilize some of the open hardware designs out there we need reliable digital-fabrication tools that bring them from the digital into reality. These two projects give us considerably cheaper access to these tools in the increasingly important areas of laser cutting and CNC milling.
Open Source Hardware Project #8. Clean Energy 1: The Gasifier Experimenters Kit
Ever wonder if you could turn you compost (or biomass) into energy? With this open source gasifier kit from All Power Labs, you can. This kit, available at multiple levels of energy output, can help you to lower your carbon footprint, while lessening your waste output. As an Open Hardware company, APL offers their kit for sale but give the plans to make it yourself for free!
Open Source Hardware Project #9. Clean Energy 2: Zenman Energy
Since energy production is one of the major issues of our time, here’s another open-source energy project coming at the solution from a different angle. Zenman Energy has been working tirelessly to develop a cheap solar concentrator for you to harness power from the mother of all energy resources, the sun. Check out what even a mall solar concentrator can do here.
Open Source Hardware Project #10. Transport: The Tabby
The Tabby is an open-source electric car designed by the team at Open Source Vehicle. According to the team, the whole car (once you have the parts) can be assembled in only an hour. This is a relatively new project and one to keep an eye on for sure.
Two Important Notes
First of all, the projects listed above could indeed contribute to saving our problem-embattled planet, but they will do so only if we take advantage of what this community is giving us and support their efforts. You can do this by contributing your skills and expertise to improving what’s out there, by taking that liberating leap into the unknown and building one yourself, or by donating your money. Oh yeah — and you can also share this article!
Second, a number of needed hardware devices are not yet open-source. For example, I could not find a well-documented open-source water filter for this article (although the knowledge is out there). I would encourage readers to think about what they can offer. What knowledge could you open up? What designs could you share? We are all part of this ecosystem, and we all benefit with every contribution.
It’s easy for me, or any author to write the words “blah-blah will save the Earth,” but doing so is a different story. The organizations I have seen operating in this arena have struggled, sweated, and sacrificed to make these things available to us. Now it’s up to us to put these open designs to use, and in so doing, to move our civilization forward within the Earth’s limits.
Tristan Copley Smith is a visual storyteller and organizer working in the open-source, government-transparency, and sharing-economy movements. Currently based in the U.S., Tristan helps to spread disruptive ideas, organize and coordinate projects, and cultivate productive communities. He is currently Communications Director at the Open Tech Collaborative. As a filmmaker, Tristan has worked extensively with WikiLeaks, Open Source Ecology and 38 Degrees. He enjoys engaging people with new ideas and helping galvanize forward-thinking movements around the world. Tristan holds a BA in film production from Bournemouth Film School and is currently founding an investigative video network called TAPin. His work can be found at openpixel.cc. Follow Tristan on Twitter@trizcs.
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