Have you ever splurged and bought something fancy for yourself? And has that object you scrimped and saved for, perhaps borrowed money to purchase, has that object ever broken? And when you returned to the vendor for a quick fix, you were told it would cost $600 just to have some microscopic part shipped from Santa’s Workshop, and then another $300 for the labor to replace it, plus some other random fees and taxes. Before you knew it, the bill to fix your precious object is in the triple digits, might even cost more than your original investment.
Hear ye! Hear ye! Before you set fire to your prized possession to collect on the insurance, know that there is a solution, a solution that is not only cheaper, but cheap. A solution that involves learning for free, venturing out of your comfort zone, and making new friends. This solution is called The Internet.
Just kidding, I’ll stop being a Millennial brat. It’s called Open Source, and the basic concept is that the information to make or fix anything is out there, online or in someone’s head, and that knowledge should be available to everyone. Imagine if the masses had access to the source, i.e. if anyone could access the basic tools required to take an object apart, improve upon it, and put it back together. What would this do to modern industry? What is this doing to modern industry? Companies are forced to adapt, to design better products–lest Joe Shmoe in his mom’s basement does it first. They’re forced to come up with better manufacturing procedures–because the code is out there for anyone to 3D print anything, obliterating transportation costs and the moral ache of purchasing a product designed by the underpaid and underaged in some vague place across the Pacific. Open source fosters transperency and encourages healthy, progressive dialogue between consumer and producer.
The consumer is the source, ultimately, because the open source agenda is restoring manufacturing to the consumer’s hands. You can make all your own things, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful in the slightest. Not nearly as stressful as visiting the mall to purchase overpriced and flimsy products, at any rate. Websites such as thingiverse share the codes developed by experts and laymen alike to help ordinary people create the objects they want in their lives. With your concept in mind, visit a local makerspace and share your idea with the interested folks working there. In the same amount of time it takes to walk around an Ikea, you could walk out of the makerspace with a prototype, a very functional and very real object that you yourself–with a little help from your new friends–constructed out of nothing but a series of ones and zeros. It’s possible, it’s practical, and it’s happening all over the world.
Interdisciplinary collaboration reigns supreme. There’s no competition about whose field is more valuable. Everyone has something to share and something to learn and everyone knows it.
Without further ado, I’d like to share two tales of open source spirit. While I was wrapping up work as a ski instructor in Breckenridge, Madison was en route from Colorado to California to New York. In Denver, she interviewed Gabe Colburn, a medical physicist who was part of the Apertus team that created the Axiom beta, the first ever open source camera. In New York City, she visited Mitchell Joachim, a celebrated urban engineer and founder of Terreform ONE, a non-profit architecture and urbanism think tank.
Gabe Colburn worked remotely with Apertus team members all over the globe. He specialized in processing images from the sensors for the Axiom camera, which will be released in just a few months. As if that wasn’t cool enough, Gabe has also designed and developed a circuit with a sensor to provide more accurate measurements for treating radiation patients. He works with a Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator, a radiotherapy machine. Frustrated by “black box” closed source politics, Gabe decided he could personally make the measurement devices he works with more accurate. His particular invention, prototyped at shockingly low cost, utilizes an Intel Edison module, as well as Arduino and Raspberry Pi technologies, to improve the precision of quality assurance measurements of the TrueBeam, which provides highly targeted treatment of a tumor, thereby more effectively attacking the cancer and also limiting radiation damage to other parts of the body. Via email correspondence, Gabe wrote to me, “While you may be told generally how a vendor’s software/hardware works, they won’t release all the details, and you don’t know with certainty that it was implemented correctly. Our job is to make sure that we are treating patients correctly, and in order to do that we need to know that our measuring devices work correctly.” Medical professionals, such as Gabe Colburn, who are committed to the open source agenda, are actively providing the most specialized and affordable care, by utilizing available knowledge and technologies.
Mitchell Joachim is equally devoted to the improvement of our collective standard of life, but approaches from a different direction. He stands in the vanguard of the new field of urbaneering, which obviously incorporates principles from both urbanism and engineering to better construct the cities we live in. Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mitchell’s kingdom is a practical, twenty-first century experiment. David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, has said about the maker movement, “A lot of our companies are at the intersection of industry, technology, and innovation. They’re not making apps to sell for millions of dollars. They’re focused on making high-quality products, physical products, products that are transforming lives. They might not receive all the headlines, but what they’re doing is essential for local job creation and the wellbeing of our economy.” Terreform ONE is but a small part of a larger space called New Lab, which will soon expand further to become what Mitchell calls the Maker Village. This community will incorporate more businesses, designers, and educators and it is taking over the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
An impressive range of humanity works at Terreform ONE; experts with decades of experience collaborate with emerging young designers across disciplines to redesign cityscapes, to re-imagine our most populated habitats. The open source agenda inspires innovators such as Mitchell to be free with their ideas, which have serious potential to change our world, and already have.
It’s not challenging to see how crucial the open source movement has been to the maker community. Open source enables people located the world over, such as the Apertus team, to collaborate to create something new and novel. It brings people from all backgrounds into dialogue, inspires them to work together toward a common goal. It doesn’t matter if that goal is grand, like Terreform ONE’s mission to redesign cities for ecological sustainability, or personal, like Madison’s objective to build a custom camera rig for a bike. Open source enables us to build upon projects and ideas that already exist, promoting efficiency and transparency. It provides us with the means to design the best possible product, consumer and producer working in tandem to promote good business and collaboration. Open source delivers the means to fix your stuff right into your own two hands. The information is out there, and so are the people to help you understand it. Open source is collaborative, open source is efficient, open source is empowering.