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Open Source Hardware

Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World? 231

jfruhlinger writes "When it comes to food scarcity in the developing world, one of the major problems is production capacity: land that could be arable using modern techniques goes underutilized because locals don't have the ability to build or buy equipment. A group calling itself Open Source Ecology is trying to solve that problem. They've developed a set of open source hardware specs for 50 different industrial machines, which they're calling the Global Village Construction Set."
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Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World?

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  • I would think giving people the help to be self-sustaining would be the first step in stabalizing the government. It certainly seems like the more corrupt regimes are allowed to flourish because they control what few resources the country has. Take away that control with self-sufficiency and you have a better chance to get rid of the corrupt regimes. It's still going to be hard, but I think the bottom-up changes fare better than the top-down. Especially if the only effective way for a top-down change comes from outside a country's borders.
  • Simple answer? No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashikiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:11PM (#35857256) Homepage

    I'd say, ask Norman Bourlag [wikipedia.org] how it could be done, but he's dead unfortunately. But he had a good plan, and several other good plans. I'm sure crazy greenies and environmentalists will come out whining now, but 'green farming' will never produce enough food. And unless you're going to shovel off 2/3's of the population to die. His ideas will be the future of farming.

  • NOT OPEN SOURCE!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:19PM (#35857400)

    This isn't Open Source but Open Specification. Open Source Hardware would be giving the actually hardware to them and making sure that the hardware is easily accessible so it could be reversed engineered Open Specification is more powerful as it give them the instructions to make such an item, however it fails to actually give them a working original.

    Closed Source is giving a Fish to a man.
    Open Source is giving a Fish and a Pole, with the hope that he will know how to use it.
    Open Specification is showing how to make a pole and how to use it to collect fish.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:32PM (#35857604)

    Actually, when you dig into it, the problem isn't stable governments or the lack of machinery. The major problem is lack of food storage technology, making seed crops the only thing that can be stored for more than a few weeks.

    Food storage (of grain) pre-dates farming [msn.com]. But where is is dry enough to store large quantities of grain without some technology and knowledge, its too dry to grow such quantities. If you don't have river bottoms near much dryer areas (such as in the middle east) you need grain elevators to keep dry crops.

    You need refrigeration for many crops, and pest control for all crops.

    Once you teach several successive generations that going to the market to buy something wrapped in cellophane is the way food is obtained, the ability to preserve bulk harvests for months or years is quickly lost in the population.

    If harvests could be reliably preserved, you would be able to feed the same population with half the acreage. Increasing production is the sloppy way to solve this problem and actually breeds more pests than people. This has been recognized in poorer countries in Africa [google.com] for some time now.

  • by Crudely_Indecent ( 739699 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:55PM (#35857994) Journal

    Apache Web Server is open source, yet the Apache group doesn't give you a working server, nor do they give you the power to turn the server on. They give you source code and instructions to achieve a working server. You must provide the hardware, power and the time.

    Your comparison to the fishing proverb isn't appropriate.

    Closed source is giving a man a fish (I agree)
    Open source is teaching a man to fish (which I believe would encompass teaching the necessary pole technology)

    Source is knowledge, not product.

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @02:08PM (#35858188)

    I founded the Open Graphics Project. Our objective was to develop an open source graphics card. At the time, no GPU maker was releasing specs that would allow FOSS developers to write good drivers. This started in 2004, with a lot of attention and excitement. Being the sort to DO, rather than just complain, and also being a graphics chip designer, I decided that the open approach might be the solution. There were multiple slashdot articles, interviews, and a good deal of hardware design and software was developed.

    It's now 2011, and you most likely have never heard of the Open Graphics Project. Also, it's 2011, and most other open hardware projects have come and gone or are just limping along.

    Why is this? Because nobody wants to provide the one thing that makes or breaks an open hardware project: Money.

    Building hardware costs money. Designing it is hard enough, but we got that accomplished. It took until 2009 before the OGP managed to actually build our prototype hardware in quantities that we could lend and sell, and this was because we got donations from the Linux Fund.

    Why does no one put up money? Because it's (rightfully so) too much of a risk. If you could predict that one project or another would succeed, you might invest, especially if you knew that you'd get some kind of return on your investment (besides "sponsor"). But you can't make that prediction, and it's foolish for you to throw money at every fly-by-night project that comes along. And thus, open hardware projects die, except those that are backed by someone who already has money. The problem is that most of THOSE people aren't willing to "give away" their designs. Conundrum.

    Some friends and I have some solutions we're working on. Watch this space for late Summer 2011. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18, 2011 @03:47PM (#35859432)

    wow, I'm always impressed how articulately people on slashdot can talk complete bollocks - and with references too! As someone who is verging on being self-suffient foodwise, I can assure you there's an awful lot of ways of preserving just about every food you can name. It's not just grains that can be preserved by drying (and they really don't need special equipment, just sun and a barn and a cat to keep rats out): let's see, all the legumes for starters, from the chick pea to the soybean; all the alliums (onions, garlic and the like); every fruit I know of (save for melons and a few tropical ones) can all be dried; all herbs and spices can be dried very easily....and then there's meat. Meat cut thin and left hanging in the sun will dry and keep for years - I think you yanks call it jerky.
    And that's merely with the most primitive drying in the sun on a hot day, and it's important to remember that almost no nutrients are lost in this. Other things such as root crops (potatoes, carrots, turnips and other yummy things) can be kept in a hole in the ground or a dry barrel for at least 6 months. And if you have access to salt then there's pretty much nothing that can't be preserved.

    I read the same crap from historians who insist that that the European spice trade was built on Europe's need for spices to preserve food. This is bunk. Humans have been preserving food since time immemorial in dozens of ways (drying, salting, smoking, fermenting, candying, pickling, packing-in-snow to name just a few) and with modern techniques (canning, irradiating, pasteurising etc) there is really no reason why any food cannot be preserved (though lettuce is rather pointless to try)

    And no, in very dry areas they can still grow masses of crops, just not western ones. Go have a browse of the three volume Lost Crops of Africa - free to view on National Academies Press website - even the baobab tree is all sorts of edible. Don't forget that crops like cucumbers and melons originated in Africa (or other dry areas) evolving to take advantage of the one massive dose of rain theyget a year.
    Perhaps you think it's cliche and unsophisticated, but I assure you that the problem really, really is political. I'm not an expert on these things, but it seems to me that in part it's the local corrupt politics of these areas, but much more it's the greed and subsequent nasty politics of the west that has really fucked them up. I have friends from Angola. They tell me when they were growing up there in the 60s, there was food everywhere. You didn't even need to take food with you if you went on a journey, you just ate whatever was growing on the side of the road. Now it's a desert. Capitalism and farming really, really don't go well together for the simple reason that a true farmer/husbandsman/peasant does not treat his land as a resource to exploit, but as the means of his great grandchildren not starving. He cares his land. Capitalism rapes it.

    I'm getting off the point here, which is simply that people have survived in extreme climates for millenia. That should be proof enough it's perfectly sustainable and doesn't need access to anything these people don't already know how to do

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford