Open source product development started with software. Now it’s spreading to hardware as well. Projects like WikiSpeed and WikiHouse show how distributed groups of people can refine new designs and create products with no decisive owner.
Another example of the trend: a new Denver-based company called Aker (pronounced “acre”). Aker has six new designs for urban agriculture products, including a two-hen chicken coop, a raised planter bed, and a multi-story worm hotel, and it’s prepared to give them away for free so people can develop their own versions. You can download the blueprints from the Aker website, cut your own pieces of wood using a CNC routing machine, and assemble yourself, just as if it were an IKEA product. It won’t cost you much more than the price of plywood.
Cofounder Tristan Copley Smith says he wants to spread access to homesteading equipment so more people can raise their own food and live more healthily. “There’s a growing interest out there with people wanting to get back to the land,” he says.
The Aker products reduce waste. Each of the designs can be cut from a single piece of material (probably plywood, but possibly recycled plastic sheets or cork). There’s no need for any screws or glue: everything fits together.
If CNC machines aren’t your thing, then Copley Smith and his partner Aaron Makaruk will do the work for you and send you a flat-pack kit. That is more expensive, but not crushingly so. The products run from about $100 to $350.
Copley Smith also works on the Open Source Beehives Project (which we covered here), which also distributes hardware designs for free. Makaruk was involved with Open Tech Forever and Open Source Ecology, which plan to open source heavy machinery (the latter wants to build a 50 machine set). Along the same lines, Makaruk and Copley Smith’s friend Rory Aronson is developing FarmBot, an open source “precision agriculture” system.
All these projects are still new, but they demonstrate that it’s no longer necessary to rely on traditional companies for a growing list products. If you’re prepared to do the work, you can download a design from the Internet and get a lot of stuff–or at least your worm hotel–nearly for free.