Assessing the Open Hardware Roadmap

Franz Nahrada of Global Villages alerted us to this initiative:

“The Open Hardware Roadmap sounds ambitious, but all the respective pages are empty. Jim Barkley and Sam Sayer, both of The MITRE Corporation, own this wiki domain.”

I asked Eric Hunting for his assessment:

“I’m not familiar with this specific project -it looks very new- but it’s clearly one of the many recently created attempts at an open hardware repository or catalog akin to the Sourceforge site for open software. There are a number of groups and projects working on this, though they’re in a competitive mode and don’t collaborate. A lot of people are cluing into the need for this but they are still rather up in the air about how to go about it in any concerted way. None of them are in all that much better shape than the Open Hardware Roadmap. These are similar to my own proposed Open Source Everything project (one of, if not the, first of these devised about 5 years ago and focused on creating and cataloging open equivalents to all the domestic technologies on which a western standard of living is based and devised as a Post-Industrial cultural cultivation program under the Foundation phase of The Millennial Project) and the later Toolbook project. (intended to use an independent ‘Maker’ publishing cooperative -an open O’Reilly, so to speak- as the basis of a community research cooperative seeking to concatenate, consolidate, and catalog the full body of industrial knowledge in accessible open source form, self-supported by its for-profit media output) Most of these open hardware catalog projects have failed to achieve any sort of critical mass due to a lack of concerted recognition by the still rather loose and disorganized Maker/Open Manufacturing/Fab Lab movements (who, frankly, aren’t even all that well aware of each other!), a lack of definitive architecture for the structuring and organizing of highly diverse technology information/knowledge/recipes, and because of a common lack of recognition of the actual scale of the concept. (Toolbook, for instance, assumes this to be a ‘community’ venture to the point where it must find a way for its participants to continuously earn a living at it as a career -and to this end it relates to my proposed Vajra project -an advanced Fab Lab centered Maker Incubator/Ashram community that would provide a place to live with a cultural and aesthetic focus on this hugh task. I seem to be the only one so far -except maybe Cory Doctorow with his ‘outquisition’ concept- who’s recognized the scale of this idea is such that it, literally, takes a village -or a monastery of sorts)

As the ‘skeleton’ for this Open Hardware Roadmap shows, they have the right idea and sentiment but don’t come anywhere close to being comprehensive in the necessary breakdown of industrial technologies and have no templates for the standardization of information they intend to catalog. And that’s understandable given the origin of this particular project with the MITRE group and because, really, even our best engineers today are not all that ‘industrially literate’ because of the compulsive specialization and compartmentalization of technical knowledge and have never given this all that much thought before. Every area of science, technology and industry has cultivated its own ways of communication, it’s own language and idioms, as a means of securing market propriety and professional class specialness -which goes right back to when scientists and guild craftsmen used to write everything in secret codes out of fear of competition. I was just reading today, catching up with Michel’s recent discussions on a P2P Urbanism Atlas, how a Cold War is emerging between New Urbanists and Landscape Urbanists trying to usurp the academic and political power of the New Urbanism movement by inventing a new more flowery and sophisticated design language with which to impress the politicians, bureaucrats, executives, and upper-echelon of academics with. (and who, really, can’t get far past the relative slickness of graphics anyway…)

We live in a techno-industrial Tower of Babel and the challenge comes down to defining standardized media forms and information architectures that can bridge the barriers between disciplines and ultimately between human and machine knowledge representation. We need a new common applied knowledge media model. This is pretty much how I define ‘singularity’. Crack that nut and you’re home free. But it’s a tough one that gets into strange and unexpected areas, like the history of comic books and how they relate to the evolution of technical illustration as applied in the development of DIY literature. (there’s a hell of a lot going on in a Lego instruction manual…) I’ve adopted this notion of the ‘recipe’ from culinary arts as a basic analogy for spacio-temporal representation of all technical/industrial process and have been toying with a concept of digital Taylorization (after the infamous Frederick Winslow Taylor) through the simulation-based temporal-topological modeling of systems and ‘recipes’ producing high-level ‘Taylor Programs’ that are then interpreted to the bytecode programs of specific multi-machine shop networks. It’s a very rough notion for how we might some day bridge that human/machine knowledge gap while, in the process, bringing the languages of science, technology, industry, and craft down to a universal applied knowledge standard that can cultivate universal technical and industrial literacy. But, alas, I think we have a very long way to go with this. There’s still not a good comprehension of the nature of the problem/task. And many of the key forms of media and art important to this -literary illustration for instance- are now largely dead art forms waiting to be rediscovered. People still think the Maker and Open Manufacturing movements are about making stuff. It’s really about re-appropriating and liberating knowledge and the invention of new media forms to do that with. Things like the Make blog and Instructibles are our most sophisticated open laboratories right now for this -and they don’t even know that’s what they are.”

1 Comment Assessing the Open Hardware Roadmap

  1. AvatarMarkus Petz

    I agree. there are a number of open hardware items I want. Particularly a printer.

    It should be possible to design a printer that I can make my own ink for.

    But I do see people working on open hardware – and they have been doing it for a while – so the ecovillage Tamera is doing this with its research approach to solar cookers and energy generation.

    However in the “industrialised world” we have moved away from a culture of making do and mending to one of its broke throw it and get another one.

    This influences the dominant mindset, I think if you want to see successful open hardware you will find it in the craft guilds or on the streets of India and Pakistan where people will make whatever you want as simple practical things.

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