51MHstcCOTL._SL75_.jpg on his Sunday CNN Show, Fareed Zakaria recommended this book and said it was relevant to the modern discussion of Ideas as Property (Patents). I should very much like to hear the perspective of DIY thinkers on the relative merits of Idea ownership, Idea sharing, and how they might reform the current Patent system. Is it still a tool for social mobility - and impetus for the Industrial revolution - as it was for Watts and his Steam engine - or has it been captured by static institutions in a way that precludes growth - especially from new entrants? Has the narrative of a man, a plan, a steam engine - become overwhelmed by patent sweatshops at MS and HP patenting the obvious and mundane, as a means of pulling up the ladder?

Open Source is in many respects a new paradigm of Intellectual Property, but is there a baby in the bathwater?

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  • There is an intangible 'payment', I believe and know to be true for myself that is received everyday for all community members and is in itself payment in full. Knowledge. Newbies are brought from the forest of darkness to enlightenment as they read posts, pour through code, understand techniques and research elsewhere to complement and solidify concepts. Access to all of the seasoned pros to obtain answers to specific questions here is 'free' as well. The information here represents countless man years of effort easily available to everyone at any level. It is the virtual library of DIY Drones University.

    Regarding high self-esteem..engineer and scientists operating at the top of their level tend to be the most humble of individuals. Even with what they know....the know what the don't know..and knowing that allows one to continue to grow and be humble enough to listen to others that are willing to offer their knowledge.
    In the long run...those that operate with high self-esteem, may be coined 'know it alls' closing themselves off to access to other people ensuring their eventual obsolescence.

    I think of William Premerlani as an example. An accomplished engineer. He comes across as the most generous, patient, open minded person you could ever wish for. He and Paul Bizzard single handedly brought the DCM from Mahoney to the masses. A real game changer, but it has not corrupted their dispositions.
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  • T3
    "Are you sure you want to tar all of the dev teams here with that brush? "
    Just wanted to tell that I know me and a few ppl thinking like me that don't like undefined particitpation share,
    nor working in a community with no defined responsability (I lived too long under socialist rule - to some extend I still do - and I know that common good tends to degenerate in very ugly way).
  • 3D Robotics
    "open source has problems attracting ppl with high self-esteem"

    That's a bit sweeping, especially coming from someone who by his own admission has no experience participating in open source projects ;-)

    Are you sure you want to tar all of the dev teams here with that brush?
  • T3
    Chris: "Making a few dozen boards is cheap"
    For me, with respect, this seems to be an oversimplification leading to reversed results.
    You don't have to buy a brewery to dring a beer.
    You don't have to buy a brewerey to have 10.000 beers: in fact at that point you are merely becoming a good client of a brewery.
    I think your are at '10.000 virtual beers level': the 200KUSD spendings you mentioned are an WELL PLANNED INVESTMENT and not NECESSARY EXPENSES to maintain actual production levels. You could have had as well ordered those boards in China.
    But let's make a few things clear: 1st example is the most expensive of all, and making a dozen examples of any electronics is MASSIVELY expensive, not the contrary.
    Or soon we lose any reference points in this eceonomy.
    The difference s that FIXED EXPENSES for mass production are really high, but VARIABLE expenses for prototype-scale production are much higher than medium scale mass production,
    Of course there is a lot to debate what is large and medium scale for amateur civilian autopilots.

    I agree with Chris that there must be a profit and it is deserved, either we do it on 1USD profit or Chinese will do it on 0.5USD profit one year later regardless what we do.
    I share the skepticism of David that it is not clear how much job is shifted to developers, one thing stinks in open source for me: it is never clear what happens to the project when it goes fully commercial, more closed, anything. This is something that always discouraged me form open source: I like defined share, be it 1/10th or 1/1000th, otherwise being a passionate and efficient developer trying to delive 'above average, as a rule', I am on the loosing side in benefits participation,
    In other words, IMO, open source has problems attiring ppl with high self-esteem, be it justified or not.

    The prices Chris Anderson mentioner are IMO the result of 'MASTER COST OPTIMISATION LEVEL2' and you dont need to go there targetting 100-200 users per year.
    Targetting a group of 10 users per year on the other hand would bring you to military prices.
  • Well maybe things need to change at OpenPilot? There is a lot of valid points there from both of you, thank you. Things are certainly no where near as far along as ArduPilot, perhaps because of the architecture needs more time than using Ardunio? Well I'd say that is certainly one of the factors, Ardunio is known for rapid development. Maybe it is not the only one and I am kidding myself as this is the main issue?

    We certainly are not a project where we need to worry about the mythical man month! You certainly know how to run a project Chris, I am excited to see what happens now you have all these resources as well.

    I also misjudged how much things cost, however, I do not feel that it is right to do a for-profit but as you say, the Free Software guys take a different approach, this is likely a big naive mistake on my part. It is all part of my learning process and is hard, I am still going through it, although it is now very possible OpenPilot won't survive long enough for me to learn enough. This would be a shame but such is life. I'll see what happens by Christmas before changing anything, I'm not that hopeful and the real tricky part is the complexity of the ARM microcontroller.

    I agree the key is volume and even I have figured this out, but this is a major struggle as there is no way for me to buy in large volume to get the prices down. Everything comes from Digikey and the price breaks are nice but the import tax is not when ordering over $1000 worth of parts, its a catch 22 really. So the saving at even medium volume from Didgkey just means the Australian tax man gets it. You might have ITAR but we have to buy parts from the US and the shipping and tax are a killer. Local parts supply in Australia is just not practical as Digikey is so much cheaper.

    Seeing figures like $1 million in capital is a major worry, it is just not possible for OpenPilot at all, well beyond any realistic reach. It is now fuelled by credit card debt that I am very worried about paying off if I was honest.

    Please post that presentation, it will be very informative! As you say hardware is different and the insights would be nice to see how I should have done things.
  • 3D Robotics
    Nicely put, Faisal. You seem to understand the social economics of open source hardware well. A lot of people coming from the open source software world assume that hardware works the same way, but once they try it at volume they soon understand the difference. The social dimension is similar, as you point out, but the economic model has to be different.

    100% of the open source hardware projects today of any scale are for-profit. It's the only way such production of physical goods can work. AdaFruit, Sparkfun, Makerbot, Chumby, BugLabs, etc---all for-profit.

    BTW, when I say "for profit" I don't mean that any of us are making any money! Instead, I mean that we charge a reasonable profit margin above the cost of goods (usually 2x the component cost), so that eventually we could make a profit.

    Why? Because making stuff at volume is expensive. We, for example, have four full-time employees running the pick-and-place machine, testing boards, packing them for shipping and handling customer support. That's on top of more than $200,000 in investment costs to set up the production facilities.

    Making a few dozen boards is cheap, but once you're dealing with thousands of units per year, as we and the other companies I've mentioned are, you need to have a proper corporate structure. You've got legal costs, commercial space, manufacturing equipment, hundreds of thousands of dollars of component inventory, employees, insurance, customer support, etc. In most cases this requires investors, and investors require the prospect of a return--thus the need for a for-profit model. All the companies mentioned above have investors (we, as it happens, are self-funded, but only because I promised my wife that we would eventually see a return [she's skeptical ;-)], and would be cash-flow positive as soon as possible to support our employees and minimize the need for additional funding.)

    I'd calculate that any open source hardware project that aspires to ship products in the multiple thousands, with reasonable in-stock status and customer support, should expect to eventually require access to about $1 million in capital, between investment capital and working capital. There may be some people rich enough out there to donate that to a non-profit, but that hasn't been the case for any OSH company to date. Even in the OLPC project, which was funded by philanthropists, the hardware production is done by regular profit-making contract manufacturers.

    BTW, I'll be giving a presentation on Open Source Hardware economics at the Open Hardware Summit in New York in September, and will share my presentation here then. It's a fascinating model, and I think all of us who have done it at scale have gone through quite a learning process. Hardware is DIFFERENT.
  • David, your contribution to OpenPilot is commendable and the community is in gratitude for your efforts, and the efforts of any and all contributors.

    But seriously dude, going in debt because of OpenPilot :) ?? Get your priorities straight, take care of yourself.

    As far as your comment:
    "This is why OpenPilot is purely a non-commercial and a nonprofit project, there is no one at the top making money off volunteers, in fact I have put over $20,000 in to it so far and am in debt because of it, I still think it is far more ethical. However saying this, it is very obviously only my point of view, it appears that most people are not concerned about working for someone else' benefit for free as ArduPilot are now turning away developers as they are full! OpenPilot is not in such a position, we are still only a small project and naturally need help, but then again I like our community and just because it is fun, not something to "leverage"."

    This is actually the beauty of ArduPilot and other community-focused open hardware/software projects. Since the development is focused and derives heavily from the community, people are not simply "working for someone else's benefit". They are working for their own benefit, because this is their product too, they have a vested interest in the ongoing development and success of it. The developers who you consider are being used by ArduPilot (for sake of example), may actually consider themselves as using the owners of ArduPilot (to get boards developed, logistics of manufacturing taken care of, etc .. - which they would have payed for anyways for their own personal project).

    No one is being 'locked-in' by participating in ArduPilot or any of the derived products. The hardware and software are both open, and people are encouraged to experiment and even create their own variations with improvements, etc ...
  • 3D Robotics
    Sorry, was typing too fast. What I meant is that by choosing to licence my work under Creative Commons, I am choosing to forgo many of the protections of US copyright law (such as requiring permission for other people's use beyond "fair use").
  • Pete, Plone is really nice if we are talking about the CMS, I know Qt use it for example, very cool.

    I have been through the same thing with the Wine Project as this moved from a BSD license to a GNU license. Where the original authors could not be contacted or did not agree to the license change, the code had to be rewritten. So Copyright ownership is very important for Free software project to really understand. I have seen cases in projects where copyrights have been removed for example, this is simply not on, besides the legal issues the original authors should at least be credited for their work.

    What I find really interesting is the different perspectives on things with Chris being someone who has a money focused background working at the economist and me being just someone with no regard for money or profit from a technical background.

    My view on Free software is about Freedom as the word was originally intended by Stallman, I believe we can use technology to create a better world.

    I have read Chris' book, called Free (which refers to cost and not Freedom) and find the premise both interesting but also, in my opinion, a bit exploitative of people's good nature for profit. Of course in my opinion only and I better explain it, as most people know, ArduPilot is run by a business called 3D robotics LLC, as has been said often, they give the software but make money on the hardware.

    Not only is the hardware the easy bit but the software obviously gives the hardware a large part of its value. I have been involved in a lot of Free software projects and find it fun but for me it would not be fun if I knew people were making a profit directly off the work I do for free.

    This is why OpenPilot is purely a non-commercial and a nonprofit project, there is no one at the top making money off volunteers, in fact I have put over $20,000 in to it so far and am in debt because of it, I still think it is far more ethical. However saying this, it is very obviously only my point of view, it appears that most people are not concerned about working for someone else' benefit for free as ArduPilot are now turning away developers as they are full! OpenPilot is not in such a position, we are still only a small project and naturally need help, but then again I like our community and just because it is fun, not something to "leverage".
  • Hi,

    just to put some fuel on fire, I would like to point the difference between intellectual property and "copyright".
    The first to recognize the merits (and eventually to address the benefits, material or not) of the finder / developer, the second well defended from publisher / vendors to save their profits.

    Watch at music world. Most musicians are not interested at all in copyright, seen as a barrier (Hermeto Pascoal and Elio e le storie tese, between a lot of them, teaches !). Intellectual property is another talk.

    Best regards,

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