Double-Edged Sword Of The "Open Hardware" Revolution

Participants in a Fab Lab in Grenoble, France
Participants in a Fab Lab in Grenoble, France
Jacques Henno

PARIS Opendesk.cc is an original website in more ways than one. First of all, its domain name in .cc is that of the Coco Islands, but also means Creative Commons, a license system used by those who believe in sharing "open source" material. Indeed, this concept of "free material" is also part of what makes Opendesk special.

On this furniture website, you can download free designs for desks, chairs and book shelves created by designers from around the world. With the plan in-hand in PDF, you are free to modify the design as you see fit. If you're feeling brave enough, you can build it yourself. Except for the wood, the screws and your time, the object won’t have cost you a cent.

"Letting users modify my creations and make the most of it in whatever ways they want is an interesting idea," says Pierrick Faure, a young French designer who offers his Roxanne chair on Opendesk. "Plus, I don’t have to find a manufacturer to produce and deliver my creations. Instead, I can instantly send a file to my clients who’ll then manage the building and delivery process themselves."

Insignificant just a few years ago, the "open hardware" movement is growing in the United States, Germany, Japan and now France. Free designs for cars, wind turbines, beehives, smart energy monitors, submarine drones, prosthetic hands, miniature trains, and more.

Of course, at the origin of this revolution is digital technology. Computer-aided design software have completely changed how engineers and artists work. Their blueprints have moved away from paper to become easy-to-share electronic files that recent machine tools can also read, and from it automatically build complex pieces.

"It’s the recent popularization of prototyping tools that has enabled the rise of open hardware. Nowadays, you can buy a 3D printer for less than 500 euros and assemble a laser cutting machine from open source material for 2,000 euros,” explains Bertier Luyt, founder of the start-up Le FabShop, specialist of digital manufacturing and leader of the "maker movement" in France.

Started in California, this movement is bringing DIY (Do It Yourself) back into fashion by taking maximum advantage of the Internet and 3D printers, and is now expanding faster thanks to open hardware. "Makers" download open source designs, modify them and test their creations on prototyping machines made available in Fab Labs (creating and manufacturing workshops open to the general public), "makerspaces" or "hackerspaces" (more focused on electronics).

Big boy ploys

Open hardware is driven by the same principles as open software. "The whole patent system, which dates back to the 18th century in France, was created to protect inventors and thus encourage innovation," explains Léo Benichou, an engineer for a big energy company by day, and a "maker" by night. "This model has reached its limits with "patent trolls," these companies that buy patents to make money in future lawsuits rather than for industrial production, a system that of course hinders innovation."

The point of open hardware is that it breaks the intellectual property locks imposed by patents. "With open hardware, all digital files that make it possible to build a product, to improve it, or adapt it to a specific need, are shared and the research and development becomes a social endeavor, which accelerates innovations by removing the need to reinvent the wheel," says Benjamin Tincq, co-founder of OuiShare, a community that works on the subject of collaborative economy and has set up poc21.cc, a summer camp that will bring together 100 "makers" to develop open source solutions for an "open, sustainable society."

"The goal of open hardware is to accelerate the rhythm of innovation by calling on the community," says Damien Declercq, executive vice president of Local Motors for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Originally from Arizona, Local Motors develops vehicles in open hardware form and assembles them in micro-factories.

"We are 120 employees, more than 48,000 volunteers who take part in our community in 130 countries," says Declercq. "This allows us to go five times faster than a typical car manufacturer for 1% of the price."

That’s for the theory. "At first, open source was a utopia, somewhere between Communism and Capitalism, but you also need to be able to live off it, especially in open hardware," says Jean-Louis Frechin, founder of the innovation and design agency NoDesign.net, which created Weio, an open hardware digital card.

Thankfully, there are many ways to make money with open hardware. But what scares purists the most is the behavior of some large corporations who try to use open source to force their own technologies on users.

In June 2014, electric car-specialist Tesla pledged to no longer sue if somebody used their technologies "in good faith." Could that be because it’s one way to accelerate the development of the electric car market and thus, eventually, to compensate the money spent in the construction of Tesla’s gigantic battery factory in Nevada?

Then there's Google, whose Ara project of a low-cost and open hardware smartphone looks a lot like a maneuver to push its operating system Android, and gain even more control of the mobile advertising market.

Thankfully, nobody registered a patent for the good ol" Trojan Horse strategy.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!