Robert A. Heinlein
Northwestern Localist asked an interesting question in response to the column Homebrew Production is Coming.
How many years are we from designing and building our own farm equipment, transportation, etc. etc.? This kind of technology makes massive centralized government control less viable.I happened to know the answer is zero, which sent me searching for something I vaguely remembered, and that led me to the today's column. While Northwestern Localist won't be printing up a tractor on a RepRap machine any time soon, his question goes far beyond that, to the concept of shared knowledge.
In the past, books could provide the knowledge necessary to design and build a tractor, but from there he would have been on his own, with his choices limited to designing and building a tractor from scratch or buying a tractor from some taxed and regulated organization with the capital to manifest that knowledge as a factory mass-producing tractors and the rationale to be sure that tractor would need replacing in a few years.
The Open Source movement, which started as a way for programmers to share code to accomplish particular tasks in the electronic world, has expanded to encompass similar code to accomplish particular tasks in the physical world. The implications for the future go far beyond the RepRap machine we examined in Homebrew Production is Coming; even far beyond the farm equipment Northwestern Localist asks about. But let's start there, with Open Source Ecology, a network of farmers, engineers and supporters building the Global Village Construction Set. Check out this description.
Open Source Ecology is a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters that for the last two years has been creating the Global Village Construction Set, an open source, low-cost, high performance technological platform that allows for the easy, DIY fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a sustainable civilization with modern comforts. The GVCS lowers the barriers to entry into farming, building, and manufacturing and can be seen as a life-size lego-like set of modular tools that can create entire economies, whether in rural Missouri, where the project was founded, in urban redevelopment, or in the developing world."A life-size lego-like set of modular tools that can create entire economies." If that doesn't set a brushfire in the mind of any entrepreneur, tinkerer, futurist, localist or agorist who reads it, I don't know what could. Except perhaps their estimate that these repairable machines will cost 1/8th the cost of comparable commercially-produced machines, with all their problems associated with planned obsolescence and long-term parts availablity.
In this video from a year ago, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski and organizer of Open Source Ecology explains the concepts that drive the project.
This video provides a two-minute tour of the Global Village Construction Set. They've added an additional ten machines to the plan since the video was made.
For those who want more, all 124 of Open Source Ecology's videos can be found here.
Now that we've answered Northwestern Localist's question, it's worth noting that open source isn't limited to building entire villages. In the field of 3D printers, for example, besides the RepRap project, there's MakerBot, which produces 3D printers, kits, and parts, all based on open source designs. Thingiverse is an open source site that allows for sharing of designs that can be created on 3D printers, and TinkerCad provides free on-line software that can be used to create those designs. The three sites combine to create a complete open source ecology for 3D printing.
If you're not the hardware type, you can probably find a fabricator at 100kGarages who's willing to take your project from design to completion and send you the finished product.
100kGarages.com is a free resource for getting custom products made, just the way you want them. Makers, designers and digital fabricators (we like to call them Fabbers) -- all are welcome here. Our mission is to help you connect, collaborate and create custom items!Other open source projects span the spectrum from media to robotics. The Open Source Initiative is a non-profit dedicated to building bridges among different constituencies in the open source community. They include education among their initiatives . Other open source education organizations include the Open Source Education Foundation, Open Source Textbooks K-12 and the California Open Source Textbook Project. The Kahn Academy, with over 3000 videos online, and MIT OpenCourseWare, with over 2000 courses available, are other free education sources, although not strictly part of the open source movement.
Let's say you have a CAD file for a cool design and want to find a fabber to make it, this is the place for you. If you're looking for CAD/CAM projects to maximize your investment in digital fabrication tools, you should sign up as a Fabber and offer your services. People with established businesses who use CNC routers, laser cutters or 3D printers of any brand are welcome to sign up as 100kGarages Fabbers.
Electronics open source projects include the Arduino and Open Electronics among others. Sites such as Make Magazine and TED are packed with ideas that adopt readily to the open source concept.
For those who are nervous about striking out on such projects on their own, you'll find that all of the sites listed have an active and friendly user community, more than willing to assist the uninitiated in exploring their particular field.
As Heinlein's quote points out, a broad skillset is a uniquely human accomplishment. By sharing our own knowledge and building on the knowledge of others, everyone benefits. Open source leverages knowledge by allowing us to share physical manifestations of concepts that before could only be shared through the printed word. The open source movement, initially anchored in the world of bits and bytes, has expanded to offer a new world of freedom of information that is rapidly encompassing the physical world as well.
...and that's all I have to say about that. Author's Note: The series continues in The Homebrew Production Model. Here's a Table of Contents for the Phoenix Society series of posts.