Thanks to Andrea Grover, I got these highly relevant questions about Open Hardware for the Environment from Hiroyuki Hamada. With his permission, I am transferring these questions here on my blog, to perhaps integrate the FAQ of Protei new website.
>> Have you met any resistance from governmental organizations or industry people for not conforming to the traditional business model or simply be seen as a threat?
I think we have been too small to be seen as a threat to anyone for now, but we hope that as we grow, this will not happen. We really want to serve government, industry, academia and residents (environmental activists) as a neutral technology platform for science and environmental remediation. Our technology is very new, in comparison flying drones have attracted much more serious and deserved criticism, it is a matter of time I guess. Any technology can be used for malicious ends, we need to work on best practice and I personally will not support military applications of our technology.
Our business model is based on an Ethical Order of Priority that puts the environment first. This is the shift that our civilisations need to take if they are interested to continue existing in the future. Joi Ito puts it very well here :
One hundred years from now, the role of science and technology will be about becoming part of nature rather than trying to control it.
So much of science and technology has been about pursuing efficiency, scale and “exponential growth” at the expense of our environment and our resources. We have rewarded those who invent technologies that control our triumph over nature in some way. This is clearly not sustainable.
We must understand that we live in a complex system where everything is interrelated and interdependent and that everything we design impacts a larger system.
My dream is that 100 years from now, we will be learning from nature, integrating with nature and using science and technology to bring nature into our lives to make human beings and our artifacts not only zero impact but a positive impact to the natural system that we live in.
I agree with this statement, and I believe is that this way of thinking should not be postponed to a hundred years from now, but put in practice immediately to re-think our philosophical, economic, industrial and social models. I am lucky enough to start a project from a blank slate and incorporate these into my group strategy, vision and daily operations.
>> How do you enforce the conditions for the open hardware partnership? Patent issues? And most importantly, how do you make sure that the ethical concerns–the environmental concerns–to be the central to the projects? Have there been any legal cases involving open hardware?
Any technological device that’s complex enough, comes with a user agreement and some sort of disclaimer limiting the liability from the manufacturer in case of misuse of the technology / accident incurred. If it was expensive enough it might even come with a warranty. If the technology is recent and occupies a significant market segment, it is likely that the technology will be licensed / patented in order to guarantee the industrial an exclusivity on the intellectual property, the manufacturing, distribution, branding and marketing of a technology. Each person in this traditional chain protects their interests, monopoly, maximise their own profit with a reduced transparency.
It is in the interest of everyone in the Open Hardware community (makers and users are the same people) that the technologies progresses fast. That’s even more clean when it is to address environmental issues. When we publish our work, we publish it as alpha or beta on the public web under an open licence. So far we have been using :
We are in the process of developing our own “flavour” of Open Hardware license that we are calling Open Hardware H2O, that will be maintained by the non Profit organisation Open-H2O specifically for aquatic applications, similarly to how the CERN developed their own “Open Hardware CERN” license.
To date and in my knowledge, the Open Hardware license that we are using has not yet been challenged at the court (it is only 2 years old license). Of course, we do not want to see any Open Hardware company being abused but we are looking for our license to be validated through winning a litigation, making a case.
The licensing of the work cannot enforce that the technology will be used for environmental good ; as it is an open source technology, anyone can use it for whatever they want, we do not want to declare any use of our technology illegal, the user is responsible. In our company, we have decided to make decisions according to the ethical principles mentioned above, that means that : to economic growth we will prioritise environmental growth, social growth and technological growth. We found that not only people or companies can work like that, but a new generation of stock exchange such as “Impact Investment Exchange” value the environment and social good as well as economic trade . This is not a purely an uninterested ideological statement -as we do need to make money to operate- it is also going with the assumption that environmental resources are more precious than economic resources : “When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money” (I found it hard to find a reliable source to quote, I apologize). We believe that technology is to serve the environment, not to dominate it, and that on the long term, we will see greater economic returns as we protect and promote precious “environmental assets” ; this goes without mentioning water wars, Environmental migration and other impacting socio-economic events …
>> I see that the successful operations of open hardware depends on openness, equal rights and fairness. There might be additional challenges if the market/operation to be global because of the differences in governmental regulations or restrictions possibly imposed by corporate based international treaties (NAFTA, upcoming TPP and so on). Has there been any global initiatives to enforce and protect the basic rules of open hardware? I believe in equal opportunities, but I personally believe in meritocracy to run a community and a company – to me that’s fairness, and that’s encouraging efficiency to serve the purpose of the company : explore and protect the Environment.
There will be challenges inherent to the space we are evolving in (international and national waters) and the questions of liability of sailing drones is a relatively new subject for everyone, as autonomous journeying just found a new record a few days ago. I must admit that we do not have the answer to this today. The “Open Hardware H2O” license version 0.1 that we are working on is meant to draft what would be the inventor, manufacturer, ship-owner, user/operator responsibility in respect to all the NAFTA, TPP, Governmental regulations and treaties. As our organisation grows and we get more funding, we will be able to support more lawyer’s time and upgrade this license from Version 0.1 to 0.2 etc.
>> Are the big industries catching up to incorporate the open hardware? Big industry players are starting to understand that Open Innovation is where future big money is, with the rise of the Prosumer, the long tail and other economic paradigm born in recent years with the internet, mobile technologies and globalisation. The question is “can they adapt?”, “can they re-invent themselves?”, or will they collapse under their own weight as most empire do? We are in discussion with several large companies, because they are interested to understand how we innovate so fast, and how we thrive ignoring boundaries between governments, industries, academia and residents -namely- the entire market. Think about automotive Industry that may be one day taken over by groups such as wikispeed, think about agriculture with Open Ecology, and us for ocean technologies.
One of the most emblematic Open Hardware technology is Arduino and you can now find it in every RadioShack. In 2010 Lady Ada and P Torrone presented “Million dollar baby – Businesses designing and selling open source hardware, making millions“, and that was 2010, now we are talking about hundreds of Open Hardware projects and businesses.
Open source hardware $1m and beyond – foo camp east 2010 from adafruit industries on Vimeo.
At the occasion of Iran Army intercepting a US drone, Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics made fascinating comments of how the US Army is interested to tap into Open Hardware to accelerate technology development. You would be surprised how many open source technologies are used for national security and intelligence.
I personally believe that the Open Hardware movement is at the heart of the Next Industrial Revolution. What I am interested in is : how can we can make sure that this industrial revolution does not perpetuate even more harm to the environment than the previous one did, hence my extreme interest in the “Open Hardware for the Environment”.
I am now :
- writing my PhD Thesis about the topic
- starting a business of ocean robotics based on these premises, Protei INC.
- contributing to a non-profit that develops such technologies, Open-H2O.
This is an unchartered territory and we need to make our own way through the unknown. It is certainly exciting, the stakes are high with huge environmental challenges, and we will make many mistakes, stumble and get back up, each of us contributing an un-recognisably microscopic part to the transformation of our human culture. But what I love about this movement is how many shoulders one can find, how many helping hands are joining this effort, how many friendships are built. It is a technological adventure, but it is also a philosophical one, a financial one, an environmental one. Yes, one day big industries will capture the spirit of Open Hardware and market it, some of it will be controlled by us, some not, and some of us will continue to explore always further, dreaming and fighting for environmental justice.