Open Source Technology Transfer

Everywhere Tech- Technology Transfer

What is Open Source Technology Transfer?

Technology Transfer (…) is the process of transferring skills, knowledge, technologies, methods of manufacturing, samples of manufacturing and facilities (…) to ensure that scientific and technological developments are accessible to a wider range of users who can then further develop and exploit the technology into new products, processes, applications, materials or services. — Wikipedia

One of the greatest promises of open source hardware (OSHW) is in allowing local production of goods when and where they are needed. The open source approach is already having an impact in several areas of manufacturing and encouraging local and distributed production. Everywhere Tech seeks to further this practice across all areas of the productive economy, with a special focus on those with the most pressing needs:

  • Underprivileged communities, which often struggle with poverty while having a wealth of natural resources at their disposal;
  • Disaster areas where goods and services that are normally taken for granted are no longer available and become of vital importance: power generators, connectivity, emergency medical devices, transportation, water testing/filtering devices, etc.

Several obstacles stand between open source solutions and the communities who need them the most: they don’t know that these solutions exist, they may not understand the language the plans are described in, they may not have the appropriate hardware/software to download and read the plans, they may not have the tools and materials nor the skills to build the devices.

The Everywhere Tech project seeks to address these challenges by facilitating open source technology transfer, with a focus on sharing plans and knowledge instead of delivering fully assembled devices/goods. If the knowledge and skills needed to build devices reside within the communities that use them this will ensure: replicability of the devices, longer lasting devices which can be locally repaired, solutions better adapted to available materials and uses.

What are the challenges and how does Everywhere Tech address them?

In order to develop a protocol for open source technology transfer, we began by identifying the components required for efficient and effective replication of open source hardware, namely: designs, production capabilities, knowledge & skills, development & support.

Designs

The challenge
While open source designs are now available for a wide array of devices — and, in theory, enable anyone anywhere in the world to replicate, modify and repair them — there are still several challenges to overcome:

  • Design files may be available in formats that require hard-to-obtain and/or expensive software.
  • Plans and instructions may be not be comprehensive enough.
  • Plans are often not clearly licensed.
  • Technical jargon often makes the plans and instructions incomprehensible for those with no technical training.
  • The languages in which open source hardware documentation is described often represent a major barrier for replication in other parts of the world.
  • More sophisticated files, such as 3D models, commonly require access to computers with powerful processors.

Proposed solutions
We’re currently in the process of identifying standards and best practices for the design and documentation of open source hardware with the specific goal of enabling practical replication, modification, customization, and repair of the devices. The outcome will consist in:

  • The Visual Language for Open Source Hardware – a set of simple icons, grammar and standards allowing for a language-agnostic description of a device or material – inspired by The Noun Project and the IKEA documentation model.
  • A list of recommended file formats, applications and hardware platforms with the lowest possible barrier to entry for the delivery and modification of plans. This will focus on open source software platforms, ubiquitous file formats and applications, and low-cost hardware (eg. Raspberry Pi or cell phone vs. computer).
  • The Open Source Documentation Handbook – a proposed set of standards and best practices for the documentation of open source hardware with a focus on: detailed documentation; accessibility of file formats, software and hardware; language-agnostic build instructions; modularity to enable the remix and mashup of the documentation to create hybrid devices by combining parts of different documentation sets (eg. the code from one project with the electronics or mechanical components from another).
  • The Design for Replication Handbook – a series of best practices for the design of open source hardware with a focus on: modularity, standard interfaces, simplicity, efficiency, low-cost, accessibility of materials/tools, and repairability.

Production

The challenge
Even with designs and build instructions available, the replication, modification and repair of hardware still requires access to tools and materials that may not be locally available.

Proposed solutions
In cases where the required tools and materials are not available, Everywhere Tech intends to work with the interested parties to address import substitution and tech recursion by assisting in the development of local micro-factories; researching alternative materials, tools and techniques; and collaborating on the redesign of the device taking into account local specifications.

Knowledge & Skills

The challenge
In order to build or modify a device, skills such as soldering, welding, machining and operating digital fabrication tools are often required.

Proposed solutions
Everywhere Tech hopes to convey much of this knowledge through entry-level documentation and online tutorials. In addition to these resources, we seek to collaborate with local organizations — such as hackerspaces, schools, Fab Labs, and local shops — which can act as hubs for skills buidling and distribution of open source knowledge and plans to their surrounding communities.

Development & Support

The challenge
Assembling and repairing hardware often requires technical support. In addition to this, solutions and modifications devised locally don’t always make it back into the public pool where they could be of use to others.

Proposed solutions
We seek to address this challenge by ensuring that all interested parties are connected and can provide peer-to-peer support to each other via an international network of producers-users. In addition, we’ll devise a simple process to allow knowledge generated during the technology transfer process to be added back to the public pool so that innovations devised by one community can benefit everyone else. In other words: our focus is as much on delivering open source knowledge as it is on capturing it and redistributing it. This applies not just to the hardware itself, but also to the process of technology transfer, which we see as a collaborative leaning process.