Assessing the Impact of Open Source Licensing Applied to Hardware
In this early part of the RepStrap project there is one question that I’ve struggled with the most.
What do you buy and what do you make? To make things more difficult things start to blend together given one has the right tools.
Although I have access to a machine shop and could turn the heater barrel myself — I decided to buy one via eBay for $15. I’ve also tracked down the nichrome wire, insulation, and some plastic — allowing me to do some experimentation with the extrusion process. To drive the heater I’m going to use a pulse-width modulated (PWM) signal to switch MOSFETs to connect and disconnect the heater coil from 12V. This board requires some terminal blocks for connecting wires, and one MOSFET, resistor, and LED — along with a power supply and something to create the PWM signal.
Use the Bill of Materials (BoM) to generate a parts list and buy these parts from various suppliers. Solder these parts onto protoboard or etch a circuit board to solder them onto.
Buy the circuit in kit form. You can buy various individual components and individual bare circuit boards as well as a “mostly assembled kit” in which all of the more technically involved steps have already been done for you — i.e. programming the microcontroller, any surface mount solder connections.
Buy an entirely assembled kit.
I’m most likely going to go with a mix of items one and two — unless I find out that the mostly assembled kit is cheaper (economies of scale and such)…
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want." — Anna Lappe
Think about the kind of stuff you see in Big-Box stores, microwaves, coat hangers, clothes — everything for surprisingly low prices. (Check out Charles Fishman’s The Wal-mart Effect or watch the “The Story of Stuff" if you want to get an idea of what I’m talking about). Ultimately the environment suffers, and so does the labor used to get the labor to you.
One of the big paradigm shifts we’ve had in America is the shift from the sale of goods to the sale of services. One of the best examples of this is Interface, the carpet company that now sells modular carpet tiles that are maintained free of charge under the terms of a rental agreement.
With the open source approach to licensing hardware we are shaking off the last vestiges of the old economy. Information is free — it always has been — and provides us the much needed understanding of the true cost of the stuff that we buy and sell everyday.
“Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto that, “By proletariat is meant the class of modern wage labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live.” This diagnosis is essentially correct; it is a commonplace that people with resources can quite easily use them to acquire more, but people without have to try exceptionally hard to get anywhere, and most of them never do. Marxism then goes on to say that the way to fix this problem is for the proletariat to seize the means of production by revolution, which is a good candidate for the all-time worst-idea in human history. Whenever it is applied the main things produced are corpses, and in the last hundred years the body count from this idea’s application was even worse than that from Nazism. So the Marxist prescription, unlike its diagnosis, is plain wrong. Its prognosis also turns out to be wrong - it predicted that the revolution would happen first in the most industrially-advanced nation (Britain at the time), whereas in practice Marxist revolutions tend to happen in countries making the transformation from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. So Marx’s marks were 33% - not very good. But keep his correct diagnosis in mind, and read on.
Firstly, and most obviously, exponential growth: all current engineering production generates goods in an arithmetic progression. Sometimes this is very fast; suppose an injection moulding machine makes plastic combs at the rate of 10,000 an hour. Suppose further that a self-copying rapid-prototyping machine can make one copy of itself a day, and also just one comb. After merely 18 days, the rapid-prototyping machines will be making more combs than the injection moulder, assuming people give them house-room. Self-copying rapid-prototyping machines can multiply exponentially and so can the goods they produce. No technology other than self-copying can do this, and exponential production growth is the fastest that is mathematically possible (which is why all living organisms use it). At one machine per day, after one month there would be a machine for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Raw materials might be a bit of a bottle-neck, of course.
So the replicating rapid prototyping machine will allow the revolutionary ownership, by the proletariat, of the means of production. But it will do so without all that messy and dangerous revolution stuff, and even without all that messy and dangerous industrial stuff. Therefore I have decided to call this process Darwinian Marxism…”—
Adrian Bowyer 2 February 2004 (Last updated 18 March 2007)