Peter Troxler

…mostly online

Lecture @ Digital Sustainability in the Knowledge Society

Today I gave a short lecture in Marcus M. Dapp’s course “Digital Sustainability in the Knowledge Society” at ETH, Zurich. Essentially I was trying to convey the basic ideas of open source hardware and how this development is tied to the notion of the Third Industrial Revolution (according to Jeremy Rifkin).

As it happens, time was short and material was plentiful, so instead of a transcript of what I actually did present I’d rather give the whole corpus here:

  • The Making Revolution
  • The Third Industrial Revolution

Why Hardware is different to Software: «Hardware is Hard»

Troxler, Peter (2011). Libraries of the Peer-Production Era. In Abel, Bas van et al. (eds.) Open Design Now, p. 89)

It would be naïve to believe that open source software practices could be simply copied and applied to the manufacturing domain without any alteration or adaptation, ignoring the constraints and opportunities that the materiality of hardware entails.

Linux is subversive.

Eric Steven Raymond: The Cathedral and the Bazaar (2000)

Linus Torvalds’s style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise.

cathedral … carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation

a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (…) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles

First, there is inherent openness—hardware can be pretty self-explanatory about its composition. To keep that openness intact the challenge lies in defeating the novelty requirement of related patent application or design registrations by open design techniques.
Second, breaking up complex systems into simpler modules is not as common in hardware design as in software—despite being promoted as good design practice. Combining modules is potentially more complex as in software as physical forces, mechanical fit and design considerations will have to be taken into account.
Third, there are materials involved that may come at a cost and manufacturing processes that may not easily be accessed or require specialist tooling. Different strategies can be employed to overcome such barriers, such as using industrial side-products as raw materials, pooling manufacturing resources or using more universal fabricators.
Fourth, the term hardware spans a much broader field than software and includes such far apart things as integrated circuits, home furniture and ship-to-shore container cranes. The different branches of hardware vary according to materials and technologies involved, manufacturing tools and processes, documentation customs and standards, etc., and the above mentioned characteristics may apply to a different extent.

Movies I included in the presentation:

And of course I referred (very briefly) to the legal issues, the long presentation is here:

Peter Troxler • October 29, 2012


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