How do you make money with Open Hardware?

Protei 011.1 test in Lamma Island Hong Kong
Photo by Meng Lau [blacksheep.com.hk] Cesar Harada, holding Protei 011.1 in Lamma Island, Hong Kong.

I should say as a preface is that I am far from being rich (in money) but I am rich in ideas about how one can make money from Open Hardware. Just a few minutes ago I sent this email to an academic friend of mine who is trying to convince his senior University staff how Open Hardware can be profitable. I am sharing this for myself as research note, but also because it might help other people doing Open Hardware work to explain what they do, and how they might sustain it. The technology I am commenting about is Protei, the Open Hardware, Shape-Shifting Sailing robot to explore and protect the ocean.

A/ how you make your profit based on open source hardware and software?

On top of my head writing in the MTR (Hong Kong train system) I can give you a few short term ways to profit from an open source technology.

Open Hardware does not mean free :

  1. We make and sell boats. Either on demand, small scale, middle or large scale manufacturing
  2. We can operate boats and replace multi-million operations
  3. We can sale software, on the boats and server side
  4. We sell services at sea (communication, sampling etc)
  5. We collect data that we can sell
  6. We can analyze data and sell that to policy makers or other labs
  7. We can do consulting work to improve other boats
  8. We keep inventing new things thanks to the community inspiration
  9. We get money from donations because people understand this is an amazing technology and what it does for the world
  10. We get funding from private sources, like sponsorship
  11. We get funding from the public state, because we do it for the general interest
  12. We get to teach about the new tech
  13. Oh! … And we can get paid to do the research :)

On the long term open source could mean that other people fork your technology – transforming your technology / product into a market.
Product -> Market. So suddenly you would benefit from people improving on your work, and you can improve of theirs.

I like to think about it this way :
You can become a leader by taking an unfair advantage and keeping it
You stay a leader by fairly inviting everyone to enjoy the advantage you found.

So it is not about developing a cool technology but also about building a vibrant community around the technology. In fact even if you started it, the community will overtake the technology and make it its own. That is particularly true about science and innovation. The more people would cite you, extend your work, improve it the more valuable you will be recognize as the source.
In the industrial context the more people copy, the more influence. The history of Arduino is a great example of that, now you can find hundreds of copycat, their brand is thriving more than ever. Your competition becomes essentially your best advertising. And they automatically become part of your community and you can learn from their improvement. It is not about control, it is about having access and making sense of the information. Building the intelligence nexus, is how you stay the leader in your area. We cannot control the boat makers, but we can become the resource where everyone goes to, and share their improvements and new ideas.

Two closing references

And, yeah, let’s explore and protect the oceans with Open Technologies!

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