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20140729 Cesar Harada & Protei on South China Morning Post

Thanks to Darren Wee, we have a full page in the South China Morning Post (New York Times equivalent in Asia) today, July 29th, 2014. Page C5.

Cesar HARADA & Protei on SCMP

Yuen Long farm an hour from the sea may not seem like the ideal location for a boat workshop, but it’s where French- Japanese environmentalist and inventor Cesar Harada is based.

That’s where he is designing and building unique robotic boats with shape-shifting hulls and the ability to clean up oil spills. The hull changes shape to control the direction “like a fish”, Harada, 30, says. It is effectively a second sail in the water, so the boat has a tighter turning circle and can even sail backwards.“I hope to make the world’s most manoeuvrable sailboat,” he says. “The shape-shifting hull is a real breakthrough in technology. Nobody has done it in a dynamic way before.”Harada hopes one day a fleet of fully automated boats will patrol the oceans, performing all sorts of clean-up and data- collection tasks, such as radioactivity sensing, coral reef imaging and fish counting.

Asia could benefit greatly because, Harada says, the region has the worst pollution problems in the world. Yet the story of his invention started in the Gulf of Mexico, following one of the most devastating environmental disasters in recent years – the 2010 BP oil spill. Harada was working in construction in Kenya when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired him to lead a team of researchers to develop a robot that could clean up the oil.

He spent half his salary visiting the gulf and hiring a fisherman to take him to the oil spill. More than 700 repurposed fishing boats had been deployed to clean up the slick, but only 3 per cent of the oil was collected.

It then dawned on him that because the robot he was developing at MIT was patented, it could only be developed by one company, which would take a long time, and it would be so expensive that it could only be used in rich countries.

This realisation made Harada quit his “dream job” to develop an alternative oil-cleaning technology: something cheap, fast and open-source, so it could be freely used, modified and distributed by anyone, as long as they shared their improvements with the community. He moved to New Orleans to be closer to the spill, and taught local residents how to map the oil with cameras attached to balloons and kites.

Harada set up a company to develop his invention, originally based in New York before moving to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and then San Francisco. Now, Harada says he will be based in Hong Kong for at least the next five years. He built his workshop and adjoining office in Yuen Long himself in five months on what used to be a concrete parking space covered with an iron roof after acquiring the site in June last year.

He first visited Hong Kong last year while sailing around the world on a four-month cruise for entrepreneurs and students. It is the perfect location for his ocean robotics company, he says, because the city’s import-export capabilities and the availability of electronics in Shenzhen are the best in the world. Also, Hongkongers are excited about technology, setting up a business is easy, taxes are low and regulations flexible, he says.

He named the boat Protei after the proteus salamander, which lives in the caves of Slovenia. “Our first boat really looked like this ugly, strange, blind salamander,” Harada
says with a laugh. He later discovered that Proteus is the nameofaGreekseagod–oneof the sons of Poseidon, who protects sea creatures by changing form, and the name stuck. “He is the shepherd of the sea,” Harada says.

Harada built the first four prototypes in a month by hacking and reconfiguring toys in his garage, and invented the shape-shifting hull to pull long objects. A cylinder of oil- absorbent material is attached to the end of the boat that soaks up oil like a sponge. The shape-shifting hull allows the jib – or front sail – and the main sail to be at different angles to the wind, allowing the boat to sail upwind more efficiently, intercepting spilled oil that is drifting downwind. “Sailing is an ancient technology that we are abandoning. But it’s how humans colonised the entire earth, so it’s a really efficient technology,” Harada says. “The shape-shifting hull is a superior way of steering a wind vessel.”

The prototype is now in its 11th generation. The hull, which measures about a metre long, looks and moves like a snake’s spine. Harada built 10 prototypes this month, which are sold online to individuals and institutions who want to develop the technology for their own uses. He has collaborators in South Korea, Norway, Mexico and many other countries. “The more people copy us, the better the technology becomes,” he says. Harada, who describes himself as an environmental entrepreneur, says investors have offered to buy half of the company, but he has turned them all down. “They do not understand the environmental aspect of the business,” he says.  “They want to build big boats and sell them as expensively as possible.”

Harada has a bigger vision for Protei. He wants to create a new market of automated boats. He hopes that one day they will replace the expensive, manned ocean-going vessels that are currently used for scientific research. He says one of these ships can cost tens of millions of dollars, and a further US$4,000 worth of fuel is burned every day. That does not include the cost of a captain, three or four crew members, a cook and a team of researchers.The expense of these research missions is one of the reasons we know so little about the ocean, Harada says. We have explored only 5 per cent of the ocean, even though it covers 70 per cent of the earth. “We know more about Mars than we know about the ocean.”

He notes that there is no gravity in space, so we can send up huge satellites. But submarines that have tried to explore the depths of the ocean have been crushed by the pressure of the water. Ships are not free from risk, either.“Seafaring is the most dangerous occupation on earth,” Harada says. More people die at sea than on construction sites. An automated boat would also prevent researchers from being exposed to pollution and radiation. Harada’s Japanese family live 100km from Fukushima, and he will go back there for a third time in October to measure the underwater radioactivity near the site. Although he admits to being scared, “it’s the biggest release of radioactive particles in history and nobody is really talking about it”.

Harada is also working with students from the Harbour School, where he teaches, to develop an optical plastic sensor. “We talk a lot about air pollution, but water pollution is also a huge problem,” he says. He says industries in countries such as India and Vietnam have developed so fast and many environmental problems in the region have not been addressed. “In Kerala [India], all the rivers have been destroyed. The rivers in Kochi are black like ink and smell of sewage. Now it’s completely impossible to swim or fish in them.”

Hong Kong has not been spared, either. Harada joins beach clean-ups on Lamma Island and says even months after an oil spill and government clean-up last year, they found crabs whose lungs were full of oil. He says locals fish and swim in the water and there are mussels on the seabed that are still covered in oil.

“The problem is as big as the ocean,” Harada says. But he believes if man made the problem, man can remedy it. The son of Japanese sculptor Tetsuo Harada, he grew up in Paris and Saint Malo and studied product and interactive design in France and at the Royal College of Art in London. But he believes that at an advanced level, art and science become indistinguishable.

“I don’t see a barrier between science and art at the top level,” he says. “It’s where imagination meets facts.”

We are currently looking

  • for sponsors
  • for an industrial space by the water in Hong Kong
  • boat buyers (small 1m unit, 4m large autonomous unit for data collection, 7.m for 2 sailors leisure)
  • Intern Electric Engineer
  • Intern Software developer on Android, with interest in robotics
  • Intern Aeronautical / Naval egineer interested in biocomposites
  • Intern Web developer

Please contact / call +852 9610 8167


Protei sur Thalassa, 25 Juillet 2014

Vendredi 26 Juillet a 20:45, sur France 3, Thalassa Special Saint Malo.

Un très grand merci à Fanny Pernoud, Olivier Bonnet (Improbable production) et Fixi (Musique) pour ce beau reportage diffusé sur Thalassa, Planête Thalassa et TV5.

Nous sommes actuellement a la recherche de :

  • Sponsors pour Protei
  • Investisseurs pour Protei
  • Acheteur pour nos petits Protei 011.1, pour le hobby ou les tests en bassin de carène (upgrade de 011 – en cours de fabrication)
  • Acheteur pour nos moyen bateaux autonomes a coque articulés, pour la recherche côtière (environ 4m de long).
  • Acheteurs pour nos grand bateaux pour 2 passagers, pour le loisir sportif (environ 7m de long).

Notre équipe grandit et nous cherchons :

  • Ingénieur robotique
  • Développeur/se Android & Arduino
  • Architecte naval / Aéronautique 
  • Mécanicien/ne des fluides (physique expérimentale)
  • Science des matériaux (bio-composites) et procédés industriels
  • Developer web pour site communautaire et données géographiques en temps réel

Nous publierons bientôt des descriptions détaillées pour les stages / missions / positions à Hong Kong et en ligne.

Merci de contacter pour toute questions – nous faisons au mieux pour vous répondre dans les meilleurs délais. Merci de votre intérêt et de votre patience.

Rejoignez notre communauté en ligne :

Internship with Protei : deadline extended October 7th

Product Development Internship. Design and Engineer Ocean Robots / 產品研發實習生:海洋機器人設計及製造  >> Download PDF

Web Community Development Internship. Development of a collaboration platform for ocean roboticists  / 網絡社區拓展實習生:建立一個海洋機器人的協作平台.   >> Download PDF

Social Entrepreneurship Internship. Ocean robots, marketing and strategy / 社會企業發展實習生:市場營銷策略 >> Download PDF

Protei is recruiting 3 interns to explore and save the oceans

Protei, the Open Hardware, shape-shifting sailing robot,  is about to come out to the world.
We are looking to grow our team to take part into this great adventure.
We are looking for 3 smart, hard working good people  for

If you know people in Hong Kong, or people passionate about the oceans, robotics, Open Technologies for the Environment, please share – Thanks!



20130330 Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is a spectacular city. The mountains that surround the city. The beauty of the ocean. The powerful winds. Captured above by our wonderful media team having lots of fun at work.

Before I die, I want to ..., Cape Town, South Africa
First thing we did in Cape Town was to go and meet with Gabriella’s friend who owns a fashion shop called Unknown Union in the hip area of the city. At the entrance of the shop, we were so surprised to find the installation of a my friend Candy ChangBefore I die, I want to …” !

Every time I come across Candy’s work, it reminds me of the good times I had when I was living in New Orleans a few years back, living in the same street as Candy in the Bywater. It reminds me of my dreams, it reminds me that everyone has amazing dreams, and we’re all in this world to make them all happen…

The SAP pitch event

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

cape town, south africa

The pitch event went very well, additionally to our “classic” pitch we added a soundtrack that was emotional and I think it really worked !I love the idea of making a music hall instead of a pitch event :) We won the SAP pitch event in Cape Town and the reward was …

A diner in a chic restaurant with all mentors and special guests

Protei wins SAP Pitch in Cape Town and diner with Unreasonable at Sea Mentors

From left to right, Kamran Elahian, Chris Shipley, Gabriella LevineRozan Ahmed, Daniel Epstein, Prince Fahad Al Saud, Cesar Harada, Matt Mullenweg, Mimi.

We were very fortunate to share the table with this group of exceptional people. Many of which were our influential mentors.

Koeberg, Africa only nuclear power plant

cape town, south africa

We spent about 2 days investigating about Koeberg, Africa one and only nuclear power plant. We rented a car, drove there twice.

Protei in Koeberg, South Africa

You may be positively surprised to hear that the levels of radioactivity that we measured around the nuclear power plant were acceptable. In fact we had higher levels in the center of Cape Town than close to the Koeberg plant. We measured levels on the beach, and in the water at about 1 meter underwater with the sensor we customised with Safecast for the Fukushima expedition. We were able to pay a little visit at the Koeberg Visitor Center and learn all about the plant and the technology they use. Many kids were also visiting. We were not allowed to approach the power plant closer than 2 kilometers. According to documentation in the plant, the cooling of the reactor causes the temperature of the sea to be significantly increased (up to 10ºC) outside the plant outake of water. It was surprising to see that the Nuclear power plant is installed in the middle of a natural reserve that is a highly secured perimeter. What it felt was that the natural reserve was more of an excuse to keep curious people and activist at a greater distance… I’m now curious about the radioactivity levels at Vaalputs in the Northern Cape where the used fuel is disposed.

The local makers

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

Thanks to our connexion Ralph Borland that we knew from the Science Gallery back in Dublin, we were able to have a really nice insight into the maker / designer culture of Cape Town.

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

We were introduced by Paul Mesarcik to the local designer / maker’s world.
Below Protei INC Art Collection very first acquisition !!! Who is the artist?

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

The Cape Town University

OPENROV cape town, south africa

We were delighted to find a customised version of OpenROV at the University of Cape Town. Protei and OpenROV have shared a wonderful time at TechShop SF Summer 2012, it is super encouraging to see OpenROV in other countries, being modified and used.

Protei in South Africa

Thanks to Paul Mesarcik that studied electro-mechanics at Cape Town University, we were introduced to Dr Robyn Verrinder of the Research and Instrumentation, Departement of Electric Engineering of Cape Town University. We discussed with local researchers their their latest development in autonomous sailing robot. Above, a freshly build hull that is being compartmentalised and ballasted with fishing lead weights in the bulb. Quite a few researchers are now interested in developing autonomous sailing robots, this is the people we want to involve with Protei!

The Gangster Incubator

Protei in South Africa

We were lucky to meet Marlon Parker (Facebook) of Rlabs who introduced us to many inspiring young people in a not very inspiring neighbourhood. They explained us about their community, the hope they found, how the access to technology helped them feel empowered to look a their future, how it re-enchanted their lives.

We want to keep in touch with the RLabs.

Shuttleworth Foundation

We were lucky to meet with some people at the Shuttleworth foundation. Thumbs up for the Foundation!

Marine Transect, Moving Sushi

The stereo imaging system in action underwater
They explained us how they  sample the coral reef ecosystem using stereo-video to determine fish density, biomass, diversity and community structure along 1 500 km of the Western Australian coastline.

We were kindly introduce by Bernelle Verster of TEDxCapeTown to the amazing crew of MarineTransect & Moving Sushi Michael and Linda Markovina, Justin Beswick .

They just arrived from a 4 months journey the day before our departure from Cape Town! We had to meet!

The East African Marine Transect expedition is a not-for profit expedition that is managed and facilitated by Moving Sushi. Moving Sushi actions strong ideas by facilitating globally important marine-based scientific expeditions to explore the relationship between humanity, our marine environment, science, technology and how new knowledge is communicated and shared through open source channels.

They just completed  234 dives, were quite tired, and after sharing a quick breakfast they went back to unpack their boat.

Joe Heywood of North Sails

Our last encounter in South Africa was with Joe Heywood of North Sails. It was great sitting down with his family, sharing food and geeking about sail / rig designs. Thanks a lot for your precious advices Joe!

20130208 Make it in China!!!


Protei in Shnaghai with Cesar Harada and Gabriella Levine

Welcome to China. Shanghai, only a few hours, networking mostly. Giant city, electric scooters.

Protei in Shnaghai with Cesar Harada and Gabriella Levine

There are some folks we should have talked to… We’ll come back! Shanghai’s port is currently the largest and busiest port in the world, so we’ll see each other again.

Protei in Shnaghai with Cesar Harada and Gabriella Levine
Instead we ran for our dreams!

Protei in Shnaghai with Cesar Harada and Gabriella Levine
The people who attended our brain-stormed suggested that Protei could be used in these main areas :

  • collect ocean data
  • as a gaming platform
  • generate energy
  • for the military (joking about securing the Sentaku Islands)
  • with local commercial partners for a plethora of applications
  • Organise augmented reality regattas (YKES!)
  • Remote tourism, your own discovery channel with cameras on Protei, wouldn’t this be freaky!?

What it feels is that China, and Shanghai in particular, one of the predominant economic  center, feels quietly boiling, growing with a palpable chinese dream.

chinese dream illustration in the Economist

I added a video above of the Economist attempting to describe this dreamInteresting comments through NPR here.

But we did not stay long in Shanghai, too excited to discover Shenzhen. I was told that Shenzhen is the “world capital of electronics”, and I would not believe this until I see it. So we took a flight from Shanghai to Shenzhen as soon as we could.



Shenzhen, China

I knew nothing of Shenzhen when we arrived. So, first thing I see at the airport, the tube map, with the address of a cheap hotel near the Electronic market. Sweet.

I want to be an old dude in Asia, because it’s totally normal to do that in the train:
Shenzhen, China

But the reason why we are in Shenzhen is this (!!!) :

Shenzhen, China
Now the question remains: where is my blond girlfriend in this mess? THIS IS A MOBILE PHONE MARKET!!! It is several stories high. They only sell mobile phones, of all kinds. All of them. And there are several buildings like this one. We are talking about thousands and thousands of people selling and buying phones at the same time in a ridiculously small perimeter. And it is chinese new year. The market is not even half as crowded as it normally is!

Shenzhen, China
Pop-up, or “push-out shop” I should call them: when they have more supply, they extend into the street (#ChineseGenius).

Shenzhen, China
And that is the motto here I guess.

Protei visits Chaihuo Make space in Shenzhen
We had the luck to meet with Hao Zang @azureviolin and his girlfriend, as they were working on the “Puzzlebox Orbit brain-controlled helicopter” at the Chaihuo MakerSpace, supported by Seeed Studio. Hao showed us the newest hackerspace in the area, and talked about another project “Dorabot” that connected both of us to NoiseBridge back in San Francisco.
Protei visits Chaihuo Make space in Shenzhen
Chaihuo has everything you want from a HACKERspace except the mess and the “rebellious feel to it”, that’s probably why it is a “MAKERspace” – which makes sense, we’re in China.

Shenzhen Landscape
Half of Shenzhen “Champs Elysees” is under construction, as the rest of the city.

Shenzhen Landscape
The atmosphere in the city is electric. Old buildings, large ancient and opulent properties are being teared down to build high-rises. There seem to be no forthcoming end to the frenetic growth of Shenzhen.

Protei visits Seeeds Studio, Shenzhen, China
We love Seeeds Studio. From left to right : Gabriella Levine, Eric Pan, Cesar Harada, Violet Su, photo taken by Leslie Liao. Seeeds first wrote us about 2 years back, to propose us to mass-manufacture Protei. We’ve been ordering parts from them a while! Excellent speedy service. We get parts from them in the USA in under a week when other chinese manufacturers typically use weeks. All Open Hardware. Bravo.

Protei visits Seeeds Studio, Shenzhen, China
Seeeds has a fast growing R&D office.

Protei visits Seeeds Studio, Shenzhen, China
Probably the world-largest stock of Open Hardware electronic component with Sparkfun in the US.

Protei visits Seeeds Studio, Shenzhen, China
In this room, Seeeds manufactures small batches of electronics. If you have an order of a thousand boards or less, Seeeds can make it for you. With Eric Pan, Leslie Liao and Violet Su we discussed how, and how much it would take to manufacture Protei.
Protei visits Seeeds Studio, Shenzhen, China
They showed us similarly-scaled and complex electro-mechanical products they do at affordable cost which was very encouraging. They recommended us some specific parts, factories etc… So extremely helpful.

Electric Scooter
Just outside of Seeeds Studio : I wont speak too long about these, but the electric scooters of Shenzhen are just amazing. I’ve seen huge water delivery made with these. Rugged beyond expectation!

HAXLR8R, Shenzhen, China
We also made our luck to visit the HAXLR8R, a rising star and one of the only accelerator for hardware start-ups, right in the heart of the electronics market. The place to be. We arrived here also thanks to an awesome person with a french-sounding name, Cyril Ebersweiler, thank you Cyril for putting us on the right track.

HAXLR8R, Shenzhen, China
Zack Hoeken Smith was kind enough to show us around -yes we are that privileged.

HAXLR8R, Shenzhen, China
Decent view for a hacker-space-like location if you ask me.

Visiting Shenzhen, China
Shenzhen also has adopted western aesthetics in the strangest way: here the swimming pool of a big hotel with a pirate-ship. Why not.

Shenzhen Bay
This is Shenzhen Bay, not to mistake with port of Shenzhen, one of the world fastest growing port.

Shenzhen, Walk

Shenzhen, Walk

To me Shenzhen was beautiful, mysterious, loud, vibrant, welcoming, rough, industrial, making efforts to become a touristic destination. Some people want to give Shenzhen a bad reputation. That’s not what I saw. I fell in love with the electronic market. People’s nonchalant attitude.  How quickly the city is growing. The rush of people. The cost of parts (often 6 times cheaper than the USA or Japan).


Hong Kong

My friend's family diner, 4 generations around the table
This is our first impression of Hong Kong. A welcoming table of my friend Makin and his family. Makin’s family used to run a chicken farm in the New Territories until it was forbidden about 20 years ago. The farmers had to transform the farm into a large garage now used by many trucks. We sat with the grandma, mother, brother of Makin, his wife the wonderful Dawa, the grand-kids eating the delicious food made by the father, Mr Ma. We cannot thank enough the Ma family to make us feel at home.

Hong Kong, Night View
We travelled by land, and were happy to find our friends and our beloved ship the MV Explorer in the Hong Kong marina.

Ladies Market, Hong Kong
Hong Kong is an incredibly busy vertical city…

Cupping, Hong Kong
… that can be a bit stressful at times, so we indulged ourselves with the oddest thing we could find on the “menu” : cupping. First time for Gabriella and myself :)

Protei visiting HK, China
I loved the density, how people take over the street to build stuff when they need. Pragmatic, fast, relatively polite, so convenient.

Unreasonable at Sea: Vignette – An Intimate Look at One Earth Designs from Unreasonable Media on Vimeo.

Hong Kong is also the home of our friends and fellow entrepreneurs Catlyn Powers and Scot Frank of One Earth Designs.

Camera Roll-106
This is one map that combines Shenzhen & Hong Kong: yes the 2 cities are only separated by a few kilometers, a frontier and a fast train.  It takes less than a month to set up and start operating a company in Hong Kong, it takes much longer in mainland China.

Where in the world shall we live / set up our headquarters?
This is an important piece of paper. We looked at many world-cities, large port cities where we could establish our headquarters.

  • London UK. Too far from the open sea and too expensive for us now. Good bye to my favorite city in the world. I studied there. Many friends. I love british people. Cycling in London.
  • Rotterdam, Netherlands. Where we built Protei_006. Best port for Europe, not the best access to parts, not the best lifestyle nor weather like London. Not that cheap.
  • Hong Kong / Shenzhen, China. World center for electronic port. Immense and fast growing port in the new world dominant economy. Great Hacker culture. Easy to manufacture small and large scale. Affordable.
  • Shanghai, China. Not easy to set up a company. The city is known for it’s culture of trade, less for it’s manufacturing as much as Shenzhen is. I want to come back to see the port.
  • Tokyo Japan. Amazing Akihabara. Amazing japanese ingenuity, culture, arts, design, subculture. Way too expensive for rent, for parts. Earthquakes. Radioactive issues. Not too far from Hong Kong :)
  • Seoul Korea. Has been dominating ship construction recently, but quickly being overtaken by China. Not as dynamic as Hong Kong. I really like it still.
  • San Francisco USA. Probably, best maker culture + Sailing culture in one place. Unaffordable by our standard for now unfortunately. Still an option. If we can afford. But what beats taking your bicycle to buy electronics in the world largest electronics market in Shenzhen? In SF we keep ordering parts from China, it takes weeks and sometimes we have to return the parts. We will never be competitive (price and speed of innovation) if we stay there doing Open Hardware. Heart broken. I will miss SF…
  • New York USA. Amazing, also quite expensive, Brooklyn’s good :) Gabriella is from there. Great maker and hacker culture. Most large Open Hardware companies are there at this moment. Gabriella has her family there, we will be in and out I guess. 

We lined up the parameters to choose : cost of living, cost of parts, ease of prototyping, manufacturing, testing, ease of setting and running a business, maker culture, quality of life, language barrier, community of users… and the winner is … DRUMROLL …HONG KONG / SHENZHEN !!!!!!!!!!!!

So this is now official. June 9th 2013, at 6:45AM I will land in Hong Kong and settle there to manufacture Protei.

Hong Kong is at the center of the world manufacturing and trade. Literally.

why we are going to China

  1. Shanghai (China)
  2. Singapore
  3. Hong Kong (China)
  4. Shenzhen (China)
  5. Busan (Korea)
  6. Ningbo-Zhoushan  (China)
  7. Guangzhou  (China)
  8. Qingdao  (China)
  9. Dubai (UAE)
  10. Rotterdam (Netherlands)

The first 8 most active ports in the world are in a tiny perimeter in this part of Asia. We have to be there.
I am delighted to move there. I have missed living by the sea. Asian food. Beginning of a new chapter in my life. Big chapter for Protei. Exciting. So exciting.

My chinese dream.

20130131 Kyoto University, Kobe, Good bye Japan

Dusty arrival at Kyoto University straight from Fukushima

Thanks to the endurance of Joe Moross of Safecast, we drove through the night straight from Fukushima to Kyoto to arrive just on time at our meeting at Kyoto Institute of Technology. We have been kindly welcomed by Mister Wakamiya and Miss Nakajima from Kyoto Institute of Technology International Affairs. Mister Wakayama was really a fun person to be around and he wrote on our rear window : “WASH ME Please” hahaha! Miss Nakajima was amazing at arranging a meeting for us and 3 professors at the University.

Protei visits Kyoto University, Japan

Dolphin Hydrodynamics, fish scales optimisation

Protei visit at Kyoto University, Departement of Fluid Mechanics

Protei visit at Kyoto University, Departement of Fluid Mechanics

Professor HAGIWARA Yoshimichi, working on fluid engineering.
From : “Japanese physicists have discovered why dolphins are able to swim so quickly and smoothly through water. Yoshimichi Hagiwara and colleagues at the Kyoto Institute of Technology found that the unusual skin of the dolphin — which flakes off and is completely replaced every two hours — plays a crucial role in helping reduce drag effects. The results could help engineers design energy-efficient boats, ships and submarines (H Nagamine et al. 2004 J. Turbulence 5 018)”

Flapping wing micro-robot

Protei visits Kyoto University, Japan

Protei visit at Kyoto University,

Yoshiyuji HIGASHI PhD, Department of Mechanical and system engineering demonstrated to us his very small wing-flapping robot :

Soft Force Feedback System

Protei visit at Kyoto University,

Associate Professor SAWADA Yuichi, working of robotics control demonstrated to us his force-feedback system, for soft or time-delayed remote manipulation.

 Open Relief meets Safecast

Open Relief Meets Safecast

We were very happy that Shane Coughlan of Open Relief and Joe Moross of  Safecast ended up meeting in person finally, in Kobe port. Open Relief develops Open Source flying drone for work of reconnaissance in disaster area, Safecast is a network of technologists collecting radioactivity data on the ground.

Safecast + Protei  _  Safecast + Protei

We had an incredible time in Japan, the stakes are very high, we must come back soon.

Protei INC and Open H2O

Do you want to transform your idea into an Open Hardware Technology for the Environment? And why not into a business or a non-profit organisation? This is how we are doing it. I am not saying it is the best, but it is our preferred way.

General strategic motivations

In the last months, “Open_Sailing” changed name to become “Open-H2O” to cover a larger scope of interest, and “Protei” -that I started alone as a lab of Open-Sailing lab 2 years ago- is going from a purely research project to become a small industrial robotics startup as “Protei INC”. I want to step back and consider the history of the work over the last years, explain the deep transformations we are going through and what motivates our decisions today.

20121204Open_Sailing-- Open-H2O --

On one side, we have Open-H2O a large non-profit focused on developing Open Technologies to explore and protect the oceans.
On the other side, we have Protei INC a small lean robotic start-up that is going to manufacture, distribute and support beta Protei products.

The separation of the 2 entities have been drafted a year ago here, but what follows is a description of that separation with more details. At the time, this idea of many small companies spawning from an inventors groups (such as squidlabs) or forum (such as instructables) was the most inspiring model.

Open Hardware for the Environment.  Open-H2O + Protei + other Invited Open Hardware projects for Water applications

There are many reasons why we are opting for 2 structures (instead of one hybrid) model to develop Open Hardware for the Environment. This is a big list of pros, and a short list of cons with examples from other companies from which we want to learn from, both in their successes and difficulties. But what I am mostly interested in here, are your comments to help us all improve. Based on your comments I might come back and edit these posts, adding references, better examples, adding paragraphs, correcting grammar and spelling, as this is part of my PhD research at Goldsmiths University in London.

This text goals are :

  1. For Open-H2O, Protei members and our partners to understand these transformations we are going through. It is necessary to explain why 2 entities are born of one, meant to live their own lives, yet to grow and support each other.
  2. To contribute to Open Hardware as a movement, on the questions of Entrepreneurship, document our story to encourage more and more cool projects to turn into resilient and flamboyant Open Hardware Tech Start ups all around the world.
  3. Open a discussion on what are the best strategies to develop structures for Open Hardware for the environment. The stake of this being how to turn the next industrial revolution into a civilisation shift that creates technology for the environment instead of destroying it.

Inventors, Makers, Hackers, Environmentalist, Researchers, Engineers, Students, Retired and active Professionals, Housewives/men, kids, hobbyist, you, ALL HANDS ON DECK.


Non-Profit Resilience & Risky Business

Separating the technology community (Open-H2O) and the manufacturing company (Protei INC) guarantees that even if the manufacturing company goes bankrupt, the community and the technology will continue to thrive for the environmental benefit. If a company fails using open hardware technology licensed by a non-profit, another company can be created by the same or other people. A good example of such resilience is DIY drones, a web community that spawned the wonderful  3D Robotics manufacturing group, the 2 entities having a robust symbiotic relationship with one another.

Research autonomy and Integrity

I have spent the last 8 years in different lab Environments (from art to science) in different countries, at post-graduate level either as a Student, Researcher, Project Leader, Professor Assistant and Invited lecturer. Many of the projects I have been involved at the University have been supported by external sponsors, often in related industries. I can say from experience that most sponsorship allowed us to work freely and produce independent research, but I can also say that several times the researcher freedom and autonomy, as well as the integrity of the research material produced has been altered by an unsuitable relationship between academia and industry. It is vital that research stays free from industrial and manufacturing constraints, as well as the industry needs to be able to meet its goals, often dictated by strict market imperatives and dynamics.

To my point of view, a positive civilisation progress has been achieved with the separation of the church and the state, that guarantees that a state will distinguish what is relevant of faith or reason. Similarly the separation of manufacturing and research is to bring significant benefits.

  • Open-H2O is for research, it produces ideas designs and prototypes. It is where diversity of non-converging arguments only creates more value to the community and the possible development of multiple technologies in a democratically-led organisation.
  • On the other Hand, Protei INC is for lean manufacturing of robots. It needs to be univocal, productive, focused and competitive. The corporation structure of the company would be identical the chain of manufacturing, a chain of command, optimised for production.

As you can see the 2 entities have radically different objectives and requirements, it made sense for us to separate the 2 activities, to have more research freedom on one side, and being more productive and profitable on the other side.

Open-H2O corporate structure
Open-H2O : research oriented, a hybrid of an academic structure and how the website/community services are deployed, each of us being responsible for one part of the website content.

Protei corporate structure
Protei INC corporate structure. Minimal 3 Board of director piloting all the manufacturing operations that might be generally sub-contracted to external manufacturers.

Cycles of Innovation

Industry has high security standards, Academia has publishing standards, initial research can be fast, many research projects take forever, some products are simple enough to be launched in a few days, some require years of costly R&D.

Protei_001, 002 and 003 were built by Cesar Harada alone in a garage in New Orleans in less than a month, costing respectively 400, 300 and 150 USD in raw materials. Protei_006 was built in Rotterdam by a team of ~10 brilliant engineers from all around the world over 3 months and costed about 25’000 Euros in raw materials, with a production budget of almost 60’000 Euros total if we include transport of the team and machines, food, stipend, insurance, rent of the factory, machines, testing sessions… The cost of developing a machine / technology / science experiment varies greatly and each researcher has his style and schedule. Cesar loves iterating fast with prototypes with methods inspired from experimental physics, some other people prefer to work a long time on the theory would they ever touch a tool in the workshop or go to the water. Both methods are valid for research and produce different outcomes.

Colllaborative dev Of Protei

I personally think it is acceptable to spend so much money and time on research because the whole of point of research is that the outcome is uncertain. The outcome of manufacturing is determined at the beginning of the manufacturing process.

A scientist would set up an experiment of which the expected outcome would be A, B or C, but is generally even more valuable is the outcome is D, opening to even more questions and possible outcomes. On the other hand, the manufacturers will need to validate A, B, C in a determined time and budget as part of an optimisation process. The research process opens up from a question, adding to the number of options ; manufacturing optimisation closes down the number of options, a deductive process towards an ideal product.

Practically speaking, we are talking about different profiles and personalities here, and some would draw there the  line between the scientist and the engineer : one that dreams, invents and explores and one that rationalise, optimise and produces. Some people can do both, some are much better at one than the other, but that’s what makes me believe the relationship between research (Opem-H2O) and industry (Protei INC) can be so fruitful, working at different speed with different methods or related subjects.

People management

In terms of “Community Management” (Open-H2O) and “Human Resources” (Protei INC), the structures are totally different. In Open-H2O, members have to tolerate their differences ; in Protei INC the manager needs to be able  to decide what is produced and for how much, by who, when, where and how (process). As the CEO of Protei INC I want to be able to decide who I work with, pay people to work on what I know is relevant for the company. As a researcher in Open-H2O I have to appreciate and learn from divergent opinions and theories.

My experience is that it is possible that an open source project would self-regulate itself if members have a common goal (having an influent leader and/or a strong and simple vision helps) but I found that many people attracted to “open source” projects tend to be really nice, open minded but undisciplined. That’s not always true, but generally true in my experience, and that gets more true if people are not paid, some will think they can do whatever they want and not tolerate any form of authority : open source does not mean anarchy. Open source projects needs moderation and often even smarter/more subtle management techniques and close follow up. One of my favourite talk dealing with managing an open source community : “Google I/O 2008 – Open Source Projects and Poisonous People” by Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman (Google 2008)

Guarantee of Openness of the technology through Open Hardware H2O licensing

Having the IP licensed by a non-profit, guarantees the un-retractable openness of a technology. That means essentially being faithful to the community and the original founding ethical values.

A good example of this is the relation between the Mozilla Foundation (non-profit) and their main community generated product Firefox (free open source software). The Mozilla foundation being a non-profit guarantees that the code remains “eternally” open even if the commercial activities were to fail. Thousands of people continuously voluntarily contribute code understanding it is a collective effort for general interest.

A counter example would be recent events at Makerbot industries. Makerbot has been producing amazing open hardware 3d printers, but after significant external investors and functioning on heavier structural cost (adding admin, legal, machines, rent, salaries etc) making the machine “less hacker friendly, but more user friendly”, the price tag of the machine had to go up. Eventually another manufacturer entered the market announcing they would produce a copy-cat technology faster and cheaper. Not cool, not following “the [unspoken] rules of Open Hardware“. Makerbot industries had to close the source of the project, at the disappointment of many in the Open Hardware community. Being a respected brand and Open Hardware is great, but it might be more critical to be the best, fastest and cheapest in the market. I believe that’s made easier by separating the cost of research and manufacturing to prevent being step on by a vulgar copy cat cloner. We do not want that to happen to us, ever. To finish, I really want to give respects to the Makerbot team for all they’ve done for the movement, by linking to the response on the topic by Bre Pettis.

Cost, concurrence and niche markets

We have 2 main lessons to learn from the example above:

  1. Having too much overhead such as structural cost and investors expecting generous financial returns will increase the price tag of your devices, making us less competitive as our clients would have to pay for our shareholders/investors appetites, our rent, machines, staff, taxes, time of R&D, administrative, legal and web services. That’s why we want  to minimize investors, rent, machines, staff as they already exist outside of us : we are set to be a lean manufacturer by working with existing manufacturers – except for what is specific to your technology. Starting open and going closed is a process in which one may loose the trust of one’s community ; when you could (and probably should) have been growing at the same speed and powered by our community (ala DIY Drones + 3D robotics that operated like a small business and had –until recently– no external investors).
    In the context of exponentially accelerating technologies and under media pressure, we needs to make the choice to either step back into the closed “old world” of monopoly or, open even more our research on one side, and on the other side being extremely lean and adapt one’s strategy day after day, embracing concurrence, moving with whoever is the fastest and cheapest. If a technology is good, open source and well documented, it’s likely someone will duplicate this technology without any research and development overhead, to manufacture cheaper, faster and probably better. Allow everyone to enjoy the technology you are developing, but be the first to do so (more details in “Public and Private information : a question of timing” paragraph).
  2. Being a commercial manufacturing entity does not encourage a community of volunteer contributors to develop the technology, being a non-profit with environmental goals does (more). Investors do not make your technology progress as much as our community does : we must “feed” and nurture it, we are the community. It Is not tax free R&D, we will have to invest thousands of hours of our time supporting our community in time, money, intellectual and emotional support.

What will happen is that our community will become our main gateway for our clients (“prosumers“), technical support (forum), R&D, service providers, consultants and employees. Open Hardware enables you not only to develop a technology, to build a product, but a market, a community, contribute to a positive movement. It confirms the validity of the Long tail theory (Anderson 2004 ), fortifies a brand identity and structures a well connected and supportive community around your technology. It is a long term investment.

Public and Private information : a question of timing

  • Open-H2O is doing research, produce intellectual material, designs, prototypes and experiments. The information is published continuously and made open instantly as it happens, for general interest.
  • Protei optimises for manufacturing, and manufactures robots. It publishes manufacturing ” trade secrets” only the day the product is made available for sales on the market.

Why is that?

  • Open-H2O wants to be competitive on the knowledge market and guarantees so by publishing daily, remaining constantly at the very forefront of technology development.
  • Protei INC manufactures robots, that implies that between the time the machine is optimised and produced, a delay is created. This delay would allow a concurrent manufacturer -that already has the production chain in place- to bring to market Protei copycats faster, cheaper and probably better. The buyers would buy the concurrent robots earlier than Protei could sell its stock : all the overhead of Protei INC would be lost. Bankruptcy.

The necessary measures to counteract  this are simple :

  • At Open-H2O, all the development process of new technologies are immediately published and publicly available under the Open Hardware H2O License.
  • At Protei INC, all documentation is private until Protei INC products are released on the market with their full documentation.

That temporary “unfair advantage” of keeping manufacturing information secret until public release is the condition of Protei INC to survive and support the Open-H2O community.

Compatibility in funding and taxes

  • Open-H2O is developing a technology, namely Protei.
  • Protei INC is manufacturing products, Protei Robots.

So :

  • Anyone can use Protei technology for the benefit of the environment, that’s a work of general interest and therefore fullfils the mission of a non-profit.
  • On the other hand Protei INC manufacturing Protei robots is a commercial activity.

But the distinction between a Technology for general interest, and Protei as commercial product is what ultimately differentiate the non-profit Open-H2O and the profit Protei in the eye of the IRS (tax office).

  • It is right to say “Protei technology is developed by Open-H2O and Protei robots manufactured by Protei INC”.
  • It is NOT right to say “Protei robots are manufactured by Open-H2O and developed by Protei”.

Protei INC and Open-H2O are 2 entities that are very different legally and from a tax perspective.

A corporation is expected to make a profit that will certainly be taxed, a non-profit also needs to make money but must re-invest that money in activities which fullfil a mission the state approves as of general interest to the community.

Compatibility in sources of funding

Sources of typical income :

  • Open-H2O : small donations, large donation (philanthropy), Research Grant, Education programs, professional tax donation, sponsorship…
  • Protei INC : sales of robots, operations, data, environmental clean-up service, manufacturing grant, sponsorship, customer service, consulting, Investment…

Having 2 groups contributing under different aspects of the same technology allows the technology (in general) to receive a greater variety of sources of funding.

  • A C-corp (Protei INC) can donate tax-deductible money to a Non Profit (Open-H2O).
  • A non-profit (Open-H2O) cannot donate money to a Profit (Protei INC), BUT a non-profit definitely needs to buy things and services to exist, and operate.
We are in a transition phase, so this is in practice how we are going to operate until Open-H2O becomes fully independent and recognised non-profit  and tax exempt.

Protei and Open-H2O financial scenarios

Some people have been arguing that a B corp would be the hybrid we are looking for, but according to a recent article in The Economist “There is no tax advantage to being a B Corp, but there is to some of the new legal structures.”

  • Traditionally people are used to volunteer time, work and do tax-deductible donations to a non-profit.
  • And traditionally people are used to work for money, and pay taxes when interacting with a for-profit.

Instead of making a “suspicious hybrid”, I find it easier to conform to the way people are used to operate and simplify our relation to the tax office.

To avoid conflicts of interest between the 2 structures regarding decision-making and tax breaks, so it makes sense for me not to be directing both structures. I am the director of Protei INC, Gabriella Levine is the President of Open-H2O. In Open-H2O I will be directing the technology development, in Protei INC Gabriella Levine is the COO. In some instance we are not able to vote decisions that could present direct conflicts of interest between the 2 organisations.

Open Hardware for the Environment : a call.

Anyone reasonably informed today understands that we are going through a major cultural shift. Capitalism and logics of egoist accumulation have led to the destruction of the environment, and as the number of humans on earth does not cease to grow, worst case scenari beckons. The scale of environmental man-made damages suggests that we need to envision new scalable collective solutions. Everything humans do is a form of technology, so it is technology itself that needs to radically changed to revert the adverse effects on our environment. I propose this axiom to get closer to that “ideal paradigm” :

“If a technology is good for the environment, it should be made available for everyone to use, modify, distribute.”

That is simple enough to call for a volunteer action and establish a consensus among a group of individuals to work together towards a common objective.

The prospect of a shared prosperity with green open technologies

HSBC Campaign

A growing number of environmentalists and economists converge to say that “in the future, there will be no difference between waste and energy” (HSCB Advertising 2012). A practical example of this is seeing the Pacific Ocean Plastic Garbage patch as an enormous storage of energy. I have been quoted “if we had the power to create these problems, we may have the force to remediate these problems […] using natural forces to remediate man-made problems”. Using natural forces -as Protei does- is one thing, but harnessing collective intelligence and appetite for profit is another powerful one.

The idea really is to exploit capitalism and individual greed for environmental good. When I say that Open Hardware technologies allow us to “create markets, not products” or “turning product into markets” the idea is to create a “gold rush” on environmental problems. If we are capable of developing an oil spill cleaning technology or a plastic cleaning technology, AND we make it freely available, we hope to see many other companies exploiting our invention for environmental good.

And that’s where what many perceive as naivety becomes effective. Our license allows everyone to “use, modify, distribute” our technology for free at the condition to “credit the authors, and contribute the improvement to our community“. That means that any company improving our technology must share with us how they improved our technology. That means several good things :

  • our technology is improved
  • our community grows and everyone benefits from it
  • our brand grows (and we can control the naming/trademark and credits that go with it, see “Use of a traditional trademark, quality control authorship” paragraph.)
  • it is essentially free R&D for us, so the more people research, commercialise our technology, the more credit we get, confirming our position of experts in the field
  • we are constantly in contact with what other companies would call “concurrence“, that we can start to consider “collaboration” as they improve our technology.
  • the environment is the big winner if we are not (financially – if another manufacturers wins the preference of the consumer / community – that’s the risk we are willing to take)
  • We all make some money, support ourselves.

Many are skeptical of the potential commercial success of Open Hardware. If you consider the scale of issues such as the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch as “demand” and what’s currently available as technological “offer” to solve that problem, you will soon see that our “Open Hardware for the Environment” technology has an enormous market potential. The environmental damage “demand” is a long way ahead of environmental remediation “offer”, and “Open Hardware for the Environment” is the intellectual property to bridge that gap, to scale a technology to that level. We could use that same logic for developing health solution as a clear subject of individual and general interest – yet, many people are dying to pharmaceutical lobbies financial interest, the same way we are destroying our environment to powerful energy, industrial, agricultural etc lobbies. I believe, this is changing too.

I personally think we are at pivot moment in human history, an enlightenment  : traditionally environmental issues where trusted to be best understood and addressed by non-profit (such as Greenpeace) academia and government. In recent years, many democratic countries have seen their large public enterprises privatised, public servants and politicians loosing credibility in corruption stories. Citizen do not trust anyone anymore and reclaim a democracy 2.0 that is real-time, transparent, accountable and to which they can democratically take part. As social inequalities grows and adequate natural resources shrink, the tension between governing and governed, rich and poor, responsible for climate change and victims of climate change increase, looking for a space of dialog. In a previous post, I explained how Open Hardware provides this neutral space for collaboration between Government and Citizen powered by Industries and Academia in the context of Brasil. I believe that this political pressure for affordable and transparent tools for transparent data will only amplify the growth of Open Hardware for the Environment as a market.

In 2010 Limor Fried and Philip Torrone presented “13 OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE COMPANIES MAKING $1 MILLION OR MORE (VIDEO)”

That really is to me the demonstration that Open Hardware companies can not only survive, but really thrive serving common good. And that was 2010 : today in 2012 there are hundreds of Open Hardware companies making money and that number is exponentially growing.

A Common Order of Ethical Priority

Even if a non-profit (Open-H2O) and a corporation (Protei INC) may have divergent objectives and modes of operation, they can share a similar order of ethical priorities.

Protei Ethical order of Priorities

Most corporations today have this order of priority :

  1. Profit (money)
  2. Technology (closed IP and monopoly)
  3. People
  4. Environment (Nature)

This order of priority makes perfect sense for an industry that exploits the environment, instrumentalises people, using technology for profit. In that logic, Profit is what drives technological innovation, people are usually just treated as a disposable “human resource” and the environment is a marketing consideration, part of the “greenwashing” strategy to increase the price tag of the service or product. It is funnier/absurd if you consider that this is the opposite of how the world really works : Without the environment no human would live, no technology would be created, money being one of the most arbitrary and abstract of all technologies.
If we want to create an industry that works for the environment, we must flip the “business as usual” order of priorities on it’s head :

  1. Environment (Nature)
  2. People
  3. Technology (open IP and collaboration)
  4. Profit (money)

And I am not talking about a revolution here, I am talking about sustainability for business. A system that supports itself, that re-enforces how the world really works: by prioritising the environmental growth, we provide people a healthy life, to develop meaningful technologies and make money. That is a virtuous circle, a desirable state of affairs that I think is the shift human society needs to make to become truly sustainable and meaningful in the eyes of other species on this planet.

A different order of development priority

The choice we are making above could seem uniformly applicable to both manufacturing and research. Yet, research and manufacturing are such different contexts, the same order of priority does not result the same decisions in daily operations. We are in the process of developing Protei_010. Protei_010 has one simple hull, will be distributed with a basic RC kit, but the “toy” would be upgradable to become a powerful modular ocean science platform. Environmentalists would stress the development of environmental sensors -which are the finality of our technology- when the majority of our market target would require us to focus on providing the basic functionalities of transport -which is the mean-.

  • One to develop the end (measure) : the Why. Research. Sensing activities. The end questions. Open-H2O.
  • One to develop the mean (transport) : the How. Manufacturing. The transport. The means to answer. Prote INC.


Again, that really justifies why we need both. An organisation that proves my argument to be wrong may be the Public Laboratory to which I used to contribute to regularly. Public Laboratory is a non-profit that also sells Citizen Science kits. But to my knowledge, the largest part of PLOTS” revenue come from non-profit grants. Several successful Kickstarter campaigns show that this could change as they are truly developing a community by using crowd-funding platform to pre-sell their Open Hardware for the Environment kits. I personally want to situate the development of an environmental technology in the reckless but powerful reality of market and concurrence for Protei.

A technology that was invented a century ago, that started coming out of  labs 25 years ago, became a toy with countless manufacturers for 2 decades reducing price, improving spectacularly specs are quadrocopters (or Quadrotor). Now the performance of quadrocopters are so high in comparison of their price, they are back to the lab to be tested in large numbers, serving now not the purpose of transport but as physical platform for  the most advanced swarm robotics and coordinated robotics experiments. Now imagine the same agility on the water, a fleet, a swarm of Protei… :) That’s when industry can really serve the research. Instead of spending decades developing Protei technology, we can develop it’s research and industrial applications simultaneously.


Why Shareholders cannot manage Protei INC, but why Open-H2O community must govern itself meritocratically

A normal C-corp would have the company owned by it’s shareholders. Typically shareholders invest money in the company because they are interested in maximising the company’s profit and their individual dividends. That is also called speculation, and because we want to subvert standard capitalist corporation functionning -namely a C-corp- we refuse to give away to our respected shareholders the capacity to maximise their dividends at the detriment of our ethical engagement that is to prioritise Environmental benefit, over people, over the technology. We want to see our environmental return grow faster than our financial return, that’s our success criteria.

In practical terms, that means that shares distributed by the company would not allow the shareholders to :

  • decide who the CEO is
  • manage the company and key decisions
  • decide how much dividend to allocate themselves.

These are the main “Exotic” conditions attached to the shares of Protei INC that guarantee the durability of our corporation for the betterment of the Environment. We can control the ethical engagement of a small number on the board of Directors ; we cannot control the financial behaviour of whoever decides to invest in the company, especially when that number grows, and when the volume of “external investors” outnumbers in volume the shares of the core team.

On the other hand, Open-H2O wants to be a meritocracy, that is democratically electing it’s representatives for a competitively renewed leadership for quality in research. Knowledge is produced mainly by 2 forces : collaboration and competition. In practice these 2 processes are not opposed but variants of one another as they are comparative processes, with a common goal : excellence.

I drafted below how such a system could work.

Incentivised Meritocracy for excellence in research. Open-H2O

That is for research, now many other tasks such as web development, administrative, field work and more could be allocated budget using this system that is meritocratic.

Open Hardware H2O License

open hardware documentation

A robust license acts as an”intellectual currency” to exchange “intellectual property” between Protei INC and Open-H2O. It is the license that both connects and differentiate Protei INC and Open-H2O, since Open_H2O will be developing a Technology in the non-profit world, while Protei INC would be manufacturing a Product in the commercial world.

The Open Hardware H2O is intended to invite anyone to use, modify or distribute Protei technology for free in exchange of crediting the authors and contributing to the Open_H2O community. Protei would be the first technology licensed under Open Hardware H2O but any technology that fulfils the mission of Open-H2O of “developing Open Technologies to explore and protect the oceans” would be eligible to that license and the support of the Open-H2O community.

This license should provide all the legal basics that an inventor that has a technology that he/she wants to  develop and licence as open hardware for the environment would want to see covered. So there is the IP specified above but also have a liability disclaimer in case of accident or misuse, environmental considerations and adaptations to specific rules that apply to the aquatic environment, especially in international waters. This license is currently under development and I will update this article when the first version of our license Open Hardware H2O license is released.

Use of a traditional trademark, quality control authorship

This may sound slightly strange but as much as we want to give away a lot of the control of who does what with the Protei technology, being able to modify and commercialise it, I reserve myself the right to decide what is “Protei” and what is not. As the original inventor of the technology, I recognise the contribution of the Open-H2O community to have contributed to the development of Protei. I invented the technology and the name, and I remain the owner of the trademark “Protei”, registered at the US Trademark office. I did not do this because I am a control freak, I do this for the integrity of the community and quality control of the work produced. Granting the name “Protei” to a prototype or product is a like a seal of approval, a quality label. I did not invent this, I learned it from Arduino.

arduino trademark

To my point of view Arduino is the most powerful Open Hardware platform project to date, now available in every Radioshack and taught in art, design, robotics and science classes around the world.


Now the downside of having 2 structures :

  • Confusion if you start like us, from one group that turns into 2, some people might feel they want to belong to both, but that may not be possible. It also means a clear redistribution of responsibilities  labor and titles must occur.
  • Administrative work : yes, it is twice the amount of paperwork at the beginning.
  • Legal work : the same lawyer for both entities or two separate ones? Really depends on your lawyer experience and your budget.
  • Structural cost : yes, it costs more to register and run, but to my point of view a lot cleaner.
  • Public and Private information : That theme overlaps a bit with conflicts of interest, as one may want to have both the up on research and manufacturing (ref. Public and Private information : a question of timing )
  • Community and employee overlap : potential conflicts of interest. And the political tension might grow if one or the other entity makes more money, but that’s human, and that’s called jealousy or greed.

Personal motivations

Beyond general strategic motivations, I also have personal motivations to be wanting to focus on Protei INC and less on Open-H2O for some time.
I used to spend 90% of my time prototyping and testing in the water, 10% to document. Since the project has become a collective effort, I spend 90% of my time managing the team and doing admin work, and 10% prototyping and testing in the water. The best sailing prototype today is still Protei_002 that I built alone for 150 USD alone in garage in New Orleans in 2010. I must get back to the workshop and to the water to make the technology and the community progress.

There is a lot of work ahead of us, but this is an incredibly exciting time. I hope you now understand better the mutations we are experiencing and it encourages you to build similar / better ventures! I have special thoughts here for our friends at OpenROV, Littlebits, OpenMaterials, windowfarms, safecast, PublicLab, OpenRelief  that are great sources of inspiration for us and that are totally taking off  as Open Hardware businesses : keep going guys! We’re coming too! Open Hardware for the Environment !