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Open Source Hardware

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  • ms@ms.lt
    Ed Prentice, Thank you for your letter and your hardware experience which I share. It s extremely helpful to get advice on hardware issues! I think that you,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2008
      Ed Prentice,

      Thank you for your letter and your hardware experience which I share.
      It's extremely helpful to get advice on hardware issues!

      I think that you, Ricardo and I are not in disagreement. And that
      encourages me!

      I aspire to be flexible and not dogmatic. For me, "open source hardware"
      is the ability, in theory and practice, for anybody to adapt part of the
      design, as much as possible, to serve their purposes and situation.

      I take this approach because:
      * I don't want to invest myself or others in projects that will never happen.
      * I'm happy if manufacturers can make Includers available and profit from
      * I believe that the human assets we are assembling and unleashing are
      much greater than that of any devices.
      * I think that we are and will make progress step-by-step by tackling real
      world challenges that we are facing in Africa. Ricardo and our African
      team are a great inspiration.
      * I think that our role is to break down the obstacles in to smaller
      tasks, to find partners who might tackle some of them.
      * I think that we should invest ourselves in looking for partners who like
      our values and care about them and our relationship.
      * I think that the skills developed in experimenting are very valuable for
      our team, especially in Africa.
      * We are stewards of an open source software and hardware system that
      allows for a wide variety of Includers and solutions.
      * I think that we will earn our money because of the value of the team we
      are assembling online and on-the-ground.

      Tactically, encouraged by Barry Dobyns, I have focused on the engaging
      companies for whom we could make their online service effective in the
      offline world. That's how we might get funding to design the offline
      interface. Once we have an offline interface (say its coded in Python on
      Linux), then we can run it on various devices, and then we have a much
      better chance of getting manufacturers interested. In particular, I think
      that there are digital picture frames which may perhaps already allow
      engineers with the right back doors to do data entry using computer
      keyboards through the USB port. In this sense, we agree, yes?

      I don't have the business contacts to whom I might suggest the market
      sizes and optimal prices and I don't have the data for that, either.
      However, I do think we should interview our participants so that we know
      exactly how they are accessing the Internet, how much that costs, how can
      we improve that, because then we are helping them directly and also we are
      getting the data for the guesses about the market that we can make in the

      Ed, Thank you! and I look forward to more letters from you and others, too.

      Do you have any contacts in Nokia or other companies that I might
      approach, especially while I am still in the San Francisco area, until
      June 22?

      Andrius Kulikauskas, Minciu Sodas, http://www.ms.lt, ms@...


      I did spend some time thinking about the Includer design objectives. Upon
      further review of posted documents, I don’t think it would help right now
      to help define the problem further. I think you have moved way past that.
      (If you have not already, please consider all the variations of the USB
      stick. MP3 players and camera memories serve the same function.)

      Here is what I believe is your biggest challenge and what I am concerned
      about. Understanding hardware production is non-trivial. Most outside
      observers frankly have no clue how hardware comes to be. I have a long
      experience in hardware—and that is why I am working in software!

      As I mentioned to you I have concerns about trying to separate social
      non-profit initiatives from commercial initiatives. I try to see the good
      value that that emerges from whatever the source. I think embracing all
      possible “components” can get effective results easier and faster,
      regardless of the motivations of each component. The relevance and value
      is in the solution obtained not so much how every dimension came into

      Specifically I keep stumbling where it seems that the Includer concept is
      politically and philosophically encumbered by social engineering concepts,
      while I realize the objectives are to free it from such constraints. I
      realize you are guided by very strong personal philosophy that I haven’t
      completely understood (Many find me complex but I seem very primitive in
      comparison.) The open sourcing concept of hardware is far more than a bit
      challenging. Hardware cannot just appear but is a factory driven activity
      that to be effective needs a large economic base/market. Your goal should
      be to discover how to exploit this driving engine. There is no other way
      to be cost effective in world markets today.

      The best open source hardware example that I know of is the original IBM
      PC architecture which continues in variations; and a particular the PC104
      architecture which is an industrial computer hardware concept built on the
      IBM design. The PC 104 concept (and other industrial computer
      architectures) offers a flexible, expandable hardware architecture.
      Theoretically it is ideal for projects such as Includer. Unfortunately,
      this cannot be expected to be a low-cost solution in the context of
      serving developing markets however. (There is also a new platform of
      handheld devices that has a similar component architecture but I don’t
      believe it is applicable to a low cost market. Sorry I don’t recall the
      reference exactly.)

      The OLPC project should have demonstrated these challenges for anyone.
      There is simply too much friction along the path to the end objective.
      Frankly, the social objectives cannot overcome this friction. Software
      development and intellectual processes fit well, but factory production
      required for low-cost hardware must have an economic basis of large
      consumer markets.

      My suggestion is to closely monitor and analyze existing platforms. Find
      products that are driven by volume manufacturing needs. Identify what
      elements are missing if any. Analyze the weaknesses and determine what can
      be done with the existing functions. When possible candidate platforms are
      found consider what hacks may allow them to better be deployed. It did not
      take long for the iPhone to be hacked to open up aspects of the design,
      for example.

      I believe you will be served far better by looking for high volume
      consumer products that can be adapted—in some dimension. The more
      physical/hardware modifications required the less likely a solution is to
      be workable. A hobbyist mentality is to some extent the enemy of finding
      the best solutions. I would think that a big part of an effective solution
      may be finding sources of excess inventory and retired products. The world
      is swimming in old mobile phones. Consider this product lifetime flow.
      There may be a very green recycling solution for some class of device

      If I had this problem to solve I would buy a Nokia WIFI device. The Nokia
      770 sold for under $150 as it was phased out. It is an amazing device that
      as far as I can tell would solve the core problem you are identifying.
      (This is an ongoing product line, now 800, 810) In this regard I would try
      to include wireless capability in your design alternatives, Bluetooth and
      WIFI links (maybe others) can eliminate hardware hacks that pose some risk
      to reliable solutions.

      I would recommend making a connection with Nokia while you are here. You
      may also consider a Palm connection for both the hardware and software

      Leaping to what I would do:

      Define some market requirement in terms of cost/price and size of market.
      This will enable the evaluation of potential platforms, and maybe the
      timeframe for when they can meet an objective. I think time is a huge
      variable for this project. (reference the OLPC evolution) How much would
      it cost this year, how much can some one pay this year, next year, etc. I
      think you have already stated that for this initiative to work it should
      not be dependent on a government type of subsidy.

      For candidate platforms you would want a technical evaluation (This may be
      the single most important thing you can do):

      Display capability

      Processor MIPS etc.

      Memory – internal/pluggable



      Operating system

      Development community

      Open platform

      Volume produced

      New cost/price

      Retirement expectation and value

      Ongoing family or single product

      I would hope for multiple intersections of various platforms becoming
      available and a market able to acquire at various price points. Depending
      on the timing and degree of difficulty you could then work to match
      inventory opportunities with need.

      I did not want to post this to your wiki/list. It may seem a bit divergent
      which I do not want to be. There are process issues in the creative
      process that cannot be opened to random input—this is why I suggested that
      someone should be in charge of a task and manage it. (Cat herding is a
      dangerous game in actually creating something, which is very different
      than ideation which is a specific phase of design.) I do have enough
      expertise in the volume hardware markets that I did want to contribute my
      view on the implications. I find that approaching hardware requirements
      without appreciating the challenge is extremely difficult—i.e., unlikely
      to yield an effective result.

      Hope this has been helpful in some dimension.


      Ed Prentice
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