Catalyst Conversation: Open Source Hardware and 3D PrintingJan 05


What if anyone could make anything?

The Global Catalyst Group discusses Intelligent Materials, Open-source Hardware and 3D Printing in a conversation led by Justin Tsang and Alex Johnston.

Just as software has moved progressively toward an open-source model, hardware to will increasingly be designed by and accessible to everyone. These emerging technologies have been enabled by the internet and our earlier discussions of crowd sourcing and collaboration. Our discussion will focus on the concepts of open-source hardware and 3D printing and take specific interest in what happens when you mix them with the new internet…

“In a sense, hardware is becoming much more like software, up to the point where you actually fabricate an object,” von Hippel says. “That’s why you’re starting to see open source techniques in hardware. Design is largely going to shift out from manufacturers to the communities.”

“Some day, perhaps, fabricating machines will be able to transform digital specifications (software) into physical objects (hardware), which will no doubt lead to a vibrant trade in specifications, some of which will be paid for, and some of which will be open-source.”

“This is the unacknowledged fact underpinning the open hardware movement: Hardware is already open. Even when inventors try to keep the guts of their gadgets secret, they can’t. So why not actively open those designs and try to profit from the inevitable?”

MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld talks about his Fab Lab — a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It’s a simple idea with powerful results.

During this conversation, GCG members considered one new product that might be enabled by this confluence of open-source hardware with the internet. For example:

  • 3D printing kiosks in local stores where you can send designs for custom parts, gifts, etc and come pick them up later.  You could also download free or royalty-based designs from online, mix and match them.  You could then imbed intelligent parts in them, as with Bug Labs, or give them wireless access, so you could re-program them from your personal website.
  • New design companies outsource every part of the manufacturing process and specialize in extreme customization of products.
  • Design, customize and print out at a pair of smart shoes (either online for delivery or at the mall) that monitor how far you walk everyday / how many calories you are burning based on your level of exercise and report to your personal health site which can then order food from the grocery store to optimize your calorie intake, and sends you video recipes to your handset based on the orders it places.  The code for this is entirely free and open source, or you pay the developer a small fee to download it.
  • Smart golf clubs which measure your swing pattern 3-dimensionally and report it to your online performance site where it is analyzed and accessed immediately on your blackberry (a rfid tag in the tip of the club and a small transmitter on your belt would track your swing spatially).  Based on your unique performance characteristic a customized golf club is designed for you and printed out at your local golf-shop to fit your swing.

GCG also sought to answer the following:

1. What kinds of products/services will be the first affected?

2. Where will these technologies first find a niche?

3. What industries will be transformed?

4. What kinds of business models will be most successful?

5. Is creative commons licensing sufficient to attract entrepreneurs?

6. How can open-source hardware be profitable?

7. What are the biggest hurdles?

8. Where are the biggest opportunities?

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The Global Catalyst Group seeks to gather persons of unique potential into a community dedicated to thought leadership, shared resources, and mutual improvement. Through deliberate collaboration, collective mentorship and continuous dialogue we believe that we can support and stretch one another with meaningful insight and thoughtful guidance. We encourage our membership and partners to exercise, together, their ambition, creativity, and both their professional and social networks to pursue a greater purpose than oneself. We challenge them to leave a legacy and we support one another towards this end.

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