Open-sourcing Stuff 2.0

Open-source is much vaster than software only. Concluding the argument I’ve started last week, I want to explore the final frontier of open-source: the physical world.

Making stuff used to be hard and expensive. In order to be efficient & competitive in the market, you needed big and expensive machines and you needed to mass produce. The barriers of entry were very high. The cost of building a factory was amortized over the vast amount of items produced. These assumptions are no longer true.

Jay Leno has a 3D scanner and 3D printer combination that can print parts for his car collection, parts that are impossible to find. The equipment costs a few thousand dollars, something that is easily affordable, if not by you, than by your local businesses. Toyota will fabricate parts for your car at your local garage. At the closest IKEA, you’ll be able to get custom furniture, created for you on the spot.

Collaborative design is the key to the future

The economic implications of production proliferation are huge. Just-in-time production will remove the need to store or ship anything but raw materials, and yet, every shop will have anything in stock just for you. The impact on global worming, etc. is all good, but the major change in our lives will come from the personal innovation of stuff. Stuff 2.0.

MIT has a project called FabLab, which builds $20,000 small fabrication labs all over the world. These labs allows the local inventors solve local problems:

My colleagues at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and I developed fab labs as a modest outreach project to provide access to prototype tools for digital fabrication. These labs unexpectedly spread to communities around the world, from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the north of Norway. Read more

They’re being set up in these places because of an instrumentation and fabrication divide that lies beyond the digital divide, because of a desire to measure and modify the world as well as access information about it. Fab lab projects are developing antennas for wireless data networks, computer terminals to connect to those networks, solar and wind turbines to generate energy, and analytical instruments for agriculture and healthcare. Fab labs are also attracting and training students, and incubating businesses.

The killer application of personal fabrication labs, in spite of what I’ve mentioned before, isn’t what you will be able to buy at wallmart. It will be what you will produce for yourself. Personal fabrication will allow you to create products for a market of one.

You can buy such equipment at home, for about $2,800. This open-source 3D printer, or “fabber”, can replicate itself. So if three thousand dollars are too steep for your pocket, you can organize a small purchasing group. You buy one fabber and just replicate it for all other members. The price of a fabber can be reduced to the cost of materials.

I think that the fabrication revolution will change our lives in ways that are as profound than the Internet, and it has started yesterday.