Tag Archives: Open Source Hardware

Barcelona Fab Market for Open Source Design

Cat Johnson writes about the “Fab Market”, which is an initiative associated with the world-renowned Barcelona Fab Lab. The basic idea is an online shop that sells products to be made at a local Fab Lab. The designs are created by designers anywhere in the world, and are supposed to be open source. The Barcelona group curates the collection, conducting quality control and overseeing the system.

The business model appears to be that you will pay to obtain either the plans (which are supposedly “open source”), or the parts ready to assemble (DIY), or a fully assembled product. The fabrication and assembly are done at your local Fab Lab—supporting the local economy and reducing transport costs. Some of the revenue goes to the local Fab Lab, some to the workers, and some to the designer.

This effort is part of a larger vision of “Fab Citieshttp://fab.city/, which imagines more self sufficient cities that fabricate a significant portion of their goods locally. Even before anything like that is achieved, this idea may be an opportunity for designers and for local workers.

Johnson summarizes the potential of the Fab Market:

Some of the benefits of the Fab Market system are:

  • Engaging and empowering people in the manufacturing process
  • Spreading the open-source ethos of sharing and collaboration
  • Reducing environmental impact of creating and transporting goods
  • Increasing transparency in the supply chain
  • Reducing the time and costs of production
  • Giving talented designers a platform for showcasing and sharing their products
  • Connecting a global community of makers

The big picture for Fab Market is to create a distributed economy based on good design and quality products that are made to last.

This effort joins existing “open source hardware” concepts, all of which are creating a global collection of artifacts for gardening, office furniture, clothing, plastic recycling and housing and homesteading.

In the same vein as Fab Market, Obrary is a global library of open source designs, available for free download (under creative commons).

Looking at Obrary back in 2014, I commented:

Suggested Feature:  One thing I would really like in a service like this would be some way to find local workers who will build. For example, if I need beehives, and I find a design I like at Obrary, and I want to buy one or more.  It would be nice to have a way to find one or more people in my town with the skills and tools, and pay them to do the build. In this case, there might reasonably be a “suggest donation” back to the designers, but most of the money would be in my local economy, supporting families where I live.

“This can be done informally, and I’m sure it will.  But is there a role for something like Obrary in this process?  And if so, how should it be done?”  (Posted September 5, 2014)

Voila! Barcelona is trying to do exactly this with their Fab Market. How can I disagree with something that was my own idea! 🙂

The obvious next step is to integrate and cross-fertilize these “open source hardware” collections. For example, it should be easy to order up anything in Obrary, and the collection in Fab Market should be accessible via Obrary. Ditto for Aker, OpenDesk, The Global Village Construction Kit, and so on.

I think this kind of interoperation should be doable, with a little bit of imagination to make Fab Market, Obrary, and so on part of an open network of catalogs. (Talk to your local librarian about open standards for catalogs….)

Such a development will also make it possible for others to join in with yet other curated collections of open source hardware, possibly with different business models. For example, garden equipment might be discounted for people who are certified participants in local food exchanges.

Note that Fab Market and the other sites are effectively offering their services as expert curators. This means that a consumer can have several options among curators, to get different perspectives. Opening up the curating process will make it possible for bottom up and peer-to-peer “curation”, so anyone can pull together an inventory of designs, and offer them to the global market of local makers.  It is also an opportunity for local makers and builders to advertise their expertise (by referring to the global catalog).

This is an interesting developments. We’ll see what happens in the future.


  1. Cat Johnson, Here’s How Fab Market is Creating a Sustainable Marketplace. Sharable.January 17 2017, http://www.shareable.net/blog/heres-how-fab-market-is-creating-a-sustainable-marketplace

 

Open Source House Building

In the past I bookmarked several “open source hardware” project, including Obrary (machines!), AKER (gardening), Opendesk (furniture), and Precious Plastic (plastic recycling).

I’ll round out the picture with the Open Building Institute, which offers an open source suite of plans for modular buildings. Houses! Greenhouses!

The OBI system is open source, collaborative and distributed.
Our focus is on low cost and rapidly-built structures that are modular, ecological, and energy efficient.

Assembled by an international crew, the web site is basically a repository of plans and instructions that are free for anyone to use. The plans are quite ambitious. If the slides are an indication, they aspire to not only have plans for modular houses, but also for operating a building company and for processing and supplying building materials.

To date, the collection is limited, containing only some initial contributions. It is still a pretty impressive resource, as far as it goes.

I’m not sure exactly where you can use these designs (you have to have land and, in many places, planning permission), but if I wanted to whip together a DIY greenhouse I might well look to OBI for plans.

As with the rest of the “Open Source Hardware” universe, it is increasingly the case that the basic knowhow for taking care of humans is easily available via the Internet. That was actually the low hanging fruit, and most of the technology has been around for half a century or more. (Compressed Earth Blocks are not exactly new technology.) Furthermore, the highly touted “Open Source” License is a bit of a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. It simply is not the case that this knowledge was out there but locked up by proprietary licenses.

Of course, the OBI folks know this. They also sponsor training and “Workshops”, which they characterize as twenty first century “barn raisings”—“social production”. From the distributed everywhere-and-nowhere of the Internet, these affairs happen in a real physical place, and people have to actually go there and spend a few days actually doing it.

There is obviously plenty of room to expand this facet of the offering. Their roadmap for 2017 includes the launch of intriguing sociotechnical elements such as “Training Program”, “Enterprise Manual”, and “Materials Production Facility”. I look forward to see these, and to see how they are put into practice. If the quality remains consistent, this will be a very interesting collection.

(You can find a pointer to their Kickstarter campaign on their website.)

Open Source Hardware: AKER – Simple garden kits

AKER – Simple garden kits that snap together without tools in just minutes.

In out Age of Makers there is a burgeoning “Open Source Hardware” movement, publishing digital plans and executable files for everyday goods, including furniture and even farm machinery.

This sociotechnical development exploits the “downloadability” of digital fabrication files and the availability of local maker spaces, creating variations on “digital libraries” or peer-to-peer services. The services are being wrapped in plausible business plans for sustainability, directly selling kits instead of plans, and creating networks of local shops who will build and install for you.

AKER, (“Simple garden kits that snap together without tools in just minutes.”) is another such Open Source Hardware project.

Focussed on urban gardening, the product line includes compact soil boxes, a chicken cage, and a beehive. All are cut from plywood and snap together. Simple, cheap, and effective.

The GroWall is a wall-mounted planter system. From AKER.

These designs are available for free from github to make it yourself with a CNC router which many maker spaces have available to the public.

AKER is a global network of designers who distribute their works through this channel. AKER hosts on line “reviews” of designs that are in development, enabling feedback and collaboration, There is also an AKER Distribution Network which delivers cutout kits directly to you from local or at least regional makers.

This is becoming an important “design pattern” for low cost furniture and similar manufactured items: digital designs suitable to be built in a maker space are published as “open source hardware”. There is opportunity for designers to get their (probably not commercially viable) designs distributed, and there is an opportunity for makers to create a local business delivering and installing these products.

Obviously, this is not a path to massive riches, but it does seem like it may be sustainable, and create jobs everywhere.

AKER is also directly aimed at “greening” cities, enabling local food production in urban settings. This distribution model also is relatively “green”: designers “ship” the design to you or to a local shop. The main input will be plywood, along with modest amounts of fuel and power to run the router and move the raw and cut pieces. This is pretty minimal, especially compared to long distance shipping from a large factory.

While Open Source Hardware is becoming a reasonably green way for designers to manufacture and distribute their ideas, it is also important as an open repository of know how. AKER does a pretty good job of this, providing not only the digital files but also instructions and other know how. In coming years, we shall need to work hard to sustain and, when necessary, archive, these Open Source Hardware projects.