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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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  • by Duradin ( 1261418 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:06PM (#35857160)

    Worry about stabilizing the regional governments first and then worry about upgrading them to first world farming techniques.

    Keeping those who know how to farm alive and on the land they know how to farm will be necessary to make new equipment have any lasting effect.

    • so your starting the movement to developed a set of open source hardware specs for 50 different revolutionary war machines?

      • by Duradin ( 1261418 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:14PM (#35857296)

        "Modern" farming techniques requires infrastructure. If the developing area isn't stable, the infrastructure to support the "modern" techniques won't be there or won't last so the area will still be dependent on outside aid to solve their food scarcity.

        Seed suited to their area (ie, local) and conditions (drought,heat,pest,blight, etc. tolerant) would be a better boon than machines they can't support for seed that isn't suited for their area.

        • Some local islands of stability can produce and repair machinery. The solutions can go together. Basic and advanced metalworking is critical to building even "semi-modern" farm equipment like all the horse/ox/donkey-drawn gear used in the US not so long ago.

          Equipment to PRODUCE calcium carbide should be added, because its THE useful portable heating and cutting fuel that kickstarted the modern industrial age and allowed the move from forge welding and riveting to gas welding and brazing. Acetylene gas gener

        • No no, that won't work. We have to sell them GM seeds, therefore they have to use modern farming techniques. How would local seeds provide us any money? I mean sure you could loan them money once to buy them but then next year they can just use their own seeds. How does your plan help Monsanto's bottom line?
          • GMO seeds do not require modern farming techniques. Only the herbicide tolerant ones require additional input. Bt corn, Golden Rice, BioCassava, Super Sorghum, amino acid fortified corn, BXW resistant bananas, none of those GMOs require, by design, modern farming techniques. There are even some projects, like Cornells, Bt eggplant project, that seeks to modify local varieties and teach the farmers to save and improve that seed. Quite spreading misinformation about a topic you clearly do not understand.

          • by TheSync ( 5291 )

            Ethiopia has banned GMO crops.

            South Africa's corn is mainly GMO.

            In which country are more people starving?

      • I'm totally on board with the idea of kick starting an open source project to build military robots to prevent warlords from using hunger as a weapon. Hunger isn't (in most cases) an agricultural problem, it's a social & political problem.
        • Kalashnikovs and RPGs are already made in simple machine shops.

          If we actually gave a fuck about the folks in Darfur etc, we'd arm them decisively and the Janjaweed would be dead on the spot.

          That's too controversial so we protract their agony instead.

      • The open-source hardware for this already exists and you only need one model, look up "AK-47."

    • by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) * <shadow,wrought&gmail,com> on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:10PM (#35857244) Homepage Journal
      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.
      • How would you manage to do that if the corrupt regime ran around burning all the fields in order to maintain their control of the food supply?

        • by icebike ( 68054 )

          Where does that happen?

          After all, the regime has to eat too.

          • by b0bby ( 201198 )

            Zimbabwe is pretty close to that. The regime is eating, the rest of the people are too busy trying to stay alive to fight it. And this is a country that used to export food surpluses.

          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

            The regime can import food.
            Not quite burning fields but almost as bad is what Zimbabwe did. Giving land to the poor landless folks is a noble idea, but it would have been much better to teach them to farm first. Also like when the USA takes land via imminent domain, you should still pay the landowner for it.

      • I would think giving people the help to be self-sustaining would be the first step in stabilizing the government

        That's correct, but the resource most sorely needed by the poor all over the world is education. The only way to make a democratic regime work is by giving the people enough education to see through demagoguery. Otherwise, votes are too cheap, a new t-shirt or baseball cap is enough to buy a vote in many poor regions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by icebike ( 68054 )

      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 []. 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 eleva

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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

    • Worry about stabilizing the regional governments first and then worry about upgrading them to first world farming techniques.

      Keeping those who know how to farm alive and on the land they know how to farm will be necessary to make new equipment have any lasting effect.

      And first world lower birth rates. Many refuse to admit it, but births will always stay ahead of available food until any culture adopts modern birth control.

    • There are at least 2 major problems with your argument:
      1. A lot of Third World nations have actually been showing signs of improved government stability and democracy. It's still the Third World, there are still problems, but it's gotten better than it once was.

      2. A lack of food is a quick way to create political unrest. Cases in point: Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Hungry people will do what it takes to get food and are generally willing to risk life and limb to get it, because it's preferably to starving to

    • Worry about stabilizing the regional governments first and then worry about upgrading them to first world farming techniques.

      Why not do both in parallel so that when the former is accomplished, the latter is ready to deploy?

    • Do-gooder: Let's develop a cheap laptop so people in developing countries can educate themselves.

      Critic: Those people are starving. Worry about feeding them first before you waste money on toys.

      Do-gooder: Let's develop cheap agricultural technology so people in developing countries can feed themselves.

      Critic: Those people are trapped in despotic regimes. Worry about freeing them first before you waste money on agriculture.

      Do-gooder: Let's send peace-keeping forces in to stabilize those developing cou

      • "Stop worrying about what to do first and just do something. Anything."

        Which is exactly how you get into knee-jerk reaction based crises. I hope you've never complained about Iraq II or the TSA.

  • by Anonymous Coward


  • I really like Grid-Beam [] for this sort of building. Square metal tubing is not expensive if you buy it undrilled. It's incredibly pricey with the holes in it. I've been thinking about how to build an automated rig to drill the tubing. It would use up drills and cutting fluid, but maybe it would be possible to drive the price down.
    • Square metal tubing is not expensive if you buy it undrilled. It's incredibly pricey with the holes in it. I've been thinking about how to build an automated rig to drill the tubing

      Why drill holes you don't need? If you use steel tubing, you don't need any holes, welding it is quicker and cheaper.

      Aluminum is much more expensive than steel, and welding it is more expensive as well, because you need inert gas, so unless you need a very lightweight assembly you should go for welded steel tubing.

      • Welding is great for production work off of an assembly line. Grid-Beam is for things you might eventually replace. The welded frames can't be reused, they are mostly recycled at a high energy cost into lower-grade metal for rebar, etc. The grid-beam frames can be dismantled and turned into other working equipment.
        • by mangu ( 126918 )

          Welded tubes can be recycled too, only they become slightly shorter at each reuse. All you need to do is cut away the welded joints.

          For ultimate low-price, use rebar. It will be heavier than tubes for a given strength, but you can even start with recycled rebar from demolitions. Cheap and environment friendly at the same time.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      I've been thinking about how to build an automated rig to drill the tubing. It would use up drills and cutting fluid, but maybe it would be possible to drive the price down.

      The thing to google for is "CNC milling machine". I have a (small) one in my basement. Its a load of fun and can do a whole heck of a lot more than drilling holes.

      Also high quality steel tools in aluminum basically never wear out. Maybe in a high speed production setting... And cutting fluid is usually captured in a sump, filtered, and reused. Its an unholy mess so I don't use cutting fluid. Doesn't matter if you work slowly, and seeing as its automated and I have no capital loan to pay off...

      You'll f

      • CNC would be overkill for this project. What I need is something that takes the end of a 1.5x1.5 tube, drills a hole in all four sides .75 inches from the end, and then steps the tube forward 1.5 inches, registering the newly-drilled holes in steel pins to enforce the uniformity of the next set of holes. Step forward another 1.5 inches and repeat the process until there is less than .75 inches of tubing left.

        I like my 80/20 catalog, but yes, the demo projects are absurd, and the costs out of the hobbyist ra

        • by kcbnac ( 854015 )

          Maybe you have to drill the first set of holes, then the machine can take over? (Might make for a simpler machine, anyway) Alternatively, have a model drilling hole base, stand the piece up, and drill in through the pre-drilled holes in the base - there's your starter holes. Now use the aforementioned machine to automatically drill the rest...

        • The holes could be through-drilled with two drills at 90 degrees to each other, hand-fed by individual rack-and-pinion mechanisms (see Hougen drills for examples). You'd have choice of electric or air motors.
          Make the "motor mounts" quick-change and you could drop in two drill bushings and use electric, pneumatic or even MANUAL hand drills.
          Wanna drill tough stuff slowly but without electricity? Make Cole drills! Google for pics.
          Feed tubing until it hits a stop (a simple hinged stop you can flip out of the wa

          • Lubrication is necessary or this will gobble drill bits. A manual pump or squirt can and a drip tray for recycling would be good additions.

            Waste oil is acceptable drilling lube, been there/done that, but it pollutes. Castor oil was used in racing long ago (the name "Castrol" is famous!) and it or similar oils could work in a pinch. They gum up though.

            • Thanks! How does one lubricate the second hole when through-drilling? Is it enough to dribble oil down the drill through the first hole?
        • My suspicion is that you're going to wind up reimplementing a good fraction of a CNC machine's functionality, but here's an idea that might save you some time:

          Implement the 1.5" increments via a ratchet-like mechanism. Allow the tube to slide down the V of some angle iron placed at a steep (say, 60 degree) angle. The drills are placed halfway down this. In the lower half of the V, there are registration pins (probably bolt heads of the appropriate size, machined to the proper diameter and with some taper fo

  • Simple answer? No. (Score:5, Interesting)

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

    I'd say, ask Norman Bourlag [] 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.

  • GVCS? Sounds like a planetwide distributed version control system. Ah, open source product naming.

    Might I suggest it be renamed the GECK []? It's just in time for Fallout 5:Fukushima. This trailer [] shows off great graphics, a easily-monitored PIPboy, friendly canine companions, and the Brahmin are so mutated that they only have one head!

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

    by jellomizer ( 103300 )

    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 showin

    • Open specification is giving the requirements, but not necessarily a detailed plan, for a pole. (And then probably charging licensing fees when someone makes a pole using the spec; "open" is not "free".)

      "Open Source" is giving someone the plans for a pole in detail, and allowing them to do whatever they want with the plans, including modification or redistribution (perhaps we could better label this "Free Hardware").

      Remember, just because you get can get binaries and happen to have a compiler doesn't mean

    • 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.

      • 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)

        I like your analogy. It clearly shows the difference between open and closed source.

        Thinking about it now for a while, I may use it in discussions, with this tweak:

        Closed source is giving a man a fish
        Open source is letting a man watch you fish
        Code + documentation is showing a man how to fish

        The extent to which code is self-documenting is the extent to which the fisherman gives you hard-won pointers between sips of beer. For technical discussions, this drills home the point of writing readable code and docum

    • Your links are typical "green/leftist" propaganda.

      For instance, one of the dogmas there says that "70 million Brazilians cannot afford enough to eat".

      Propagating that bullshit was one of the reasons Lula [] was elected president in 2002. One of his campaign promises was his "Zero Hunger" program, to eradicate hunger. Much to his embarrassment after he was elected, the studies he ordered from a federal agency on how to conduct this program was that the poorest in Brazil did NOT suffer from hunger. What they fou

    • Doesn't change the fact that if you give them the ability to grow enough food for themselves (and their village, city or region) then they will have enough to eat. It would almost certainly be easier to solve the problem by redistributing where the food that is currently grown ends up, but only if you can convince everyone to play well together, and decades of effort by tens of thousands of people hasn't been enough to make that happen. So why not try something else? Give them the tools to make their liv

  • All those CNC machines and such are fine but there still isn't a good 3D FOSS cad system yet. Nothing that can Rival Solidworks, ProE, or AutoCad. Blender sure doesn't cut it. The closest is BRL CAD is still ins't in the same class as Solidworks. I would be happy with one that was as good as TurboCAD 3D.
    Getting the design tools into peoples hands would be a big help IMHO and it is software for goodness sakes.
    BTW I have used Solidworks and it is very very good and I have tried Blender and BRL.

  • No stable stable food production. While this does not apply to all developing nations it is a huge issue in many African countries dealing with unrest.
  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:33PM (#35857630) Journal

    "In a visit to Ethiopia in 2009, I talked to more than one citizen there who said that the arability of the land wasn't so much the problem as not having the machines to farm the land productively. "

    This is completely ignorant. Read here []:

    "In the late 1970s Ethiopia's communist regime nationalised all land, and private ownership remains outlawed. The millions of small-scale farmers work under licence from the state, and most plots are one hectare or less, which has hampered efforts to improve food security."

    Now the Ethiopian government is leasing out large scale plots of land to foreign farm companies, which will certainly produce some work for Ethiopians, but your typical Ethiopian still has no ownership of the land and thus no ability to use that capital to get loans for farm equipment, fertilizer, and seed.

    As Hernando DeSoto pointed out in "The Mystery of Capital" [], every developed nation in the world at one time went through the transformation from predominantly informal, extralegal land ownership to a formal, unified legal property system that allowed people to leverage property into wealth. This has not been done in countries such as Ethiopia (Egypt is another country with little rural private land ownership).

    Lack of private property rights and over-regulation and government ownership of business causes poverty. Enhancing private property rights and freedom to participate in commerce cause wealth. Even the Chinese have realized this (belatedly, after starving tens of millions of people to death with collective farming during the Great Leap Forward).

    Poor people around the world are not too stupid, too lazy, or too ignorant to be entrepreneurs and productive farmers. They are simply kept from becoming rich by government. They can solve their own problems if they are allowed to.

    • by Antisyzygy ( 1495469 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @01:42PM (#35857742)
      Private property rights and limited taxes on the rich's income sources also cause poverty because the end results is 1 percent of the people owning everything. Then us peons have to lease it or borrow it and obey their rules on its use. Its no different than leasing from the government, and frankly I think its worse. It hasn't totally happened here yet but its coming if we don't do something about it. True communism would work out just fine if people weren't people, i.e. selfish, and corrupt. Actually, capitalism would work out just fine if the same wasn't true.
      • by Toze ( 1668155 )
        Thank you for that last sentence. I agree with your entire post, but too many people leave off the last bit when complaining about the problems with corporatism.
      • by TheSync ( 5291 )

        "Private property rights and limited taxes on the rich's income sources also cause poverty because the end results is 1 percent of the people owning everything."

        Note I didn't say anything about taxes.

        But you should know that Ethiopia has above-average tax rates. The top income and corporate tax rates are 35 percent. Unincorporated businesses are taxed at a rate of 30 percent. Other taxes include a value-added tax (VAT) and a capital gains tax.

        But Ethiopia is too poor to have these tax rates - they (along wi

        • Yeah. Like I said, we aren't there yet. Don't get me wrong, I like having the opportunity to get rich that capitalism gives us, but I don't like the fact that our version of it makes it so only the lucky and rich can get rich if you know what I mean. Also, I was including money as a form of property.
    • by Chemisor ( 97276 )

      You're missing it too. Property rights aren't going to help them when there's not enough land to own for everybody. The average family in Ethiopia has 5.6 children [] the highest in the world. You say they aren't stupid, but it takes some serious ignorance to not realize that if you can barely afford to feed yourself, you can't afford 6 children. Heck, I live in a reasonably prosperous US state and know I can't afford 6 children! And then there are the idiots who say the poor there "can't afford" to have small

      • by NoSig ( 1919688 )
        Birth rates are high because of high child mortality and no social safety net at old age: The parents need to have enough children to be certain that some children will survive to support them when they get old, because no one else will be around to do it. Children work on the farm so they are not a drain on resources in the same way they would be to you. The problem is a collective one so blaming each individual Ethiopian for it is asinine. Reduce child mortality to fix the issue. Nutrition is part of redu
    • I think this is an awesome idea.

      Yes, I agree with everything that people are saying. The main causes of poverty are sociological, not technological. Corruption, archaic legal systems, etc. do far more to keep people in poverty then lack of access to tractors. And yet...

      Think about the possibilities of this. Create open source designs for a ton of useful industrial devices. Build up a community of people making steady improvements to them. Sure, the initial users won't be impoverished farmers in
  • This sort of idea actually could be applied to space colonization. Make simply constructed machines that bootstrap the construction of more complex machines that can be built using stuff on the planet you are targeting.
  • So, let me get this straight.

    The people at the top of the income ladder are making an ever-increasing exponent more than the people at the bottom, and the people at the bottom are now trying to do the most basic of self-subsistence activities on land that can't be plowed by two laborers yoked to a ploughshare, and we rely on people who work for free to come to the rescue of humanity?

    When a politician fronting for those at the top of the income tells you that you have the individual power to make yourself su

  • What are these machines going to run on?

    • by Toze ( 1668155 )
      Well, according to Herodotus, Africa is the home of the unicorn. I'm sure they can use them for fuel.
  • NO. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @02:03PM (#35858114) Homepage

    Right now most countries refuse American Corn and wheat unless it has been ground up int a meal or flour. Why? because Monsanto has polluted our food stream with it's copyrighted and trademarked products so completely that other countries do not want to allow the lawsuit ridden crops to ever be planted in their countries. Monsanto has sued most USA farmers out of existence that dared to plant a non Monsanto crop by claiming IP infringement when a neighbor crop cross pollinates theirs. and IF you dare to own a seed cleaner and keep part of your crop as seed, they will go after you and bankrupt you. Most other countries, including the ones that have a lot of starving people do not want this problem there. Monsanto owns the USA, they do not want them to own them as well so they refuse crops and seed from the USA.

    Want to feed the world? fight for the invalidation of all patents on food crops.

    • Actually, the patent on the Roundup Ready Gene expires in 2014. It seems to me that the system is working: There is enough money to be made from a big discovery to provide ample incentive to do costly research, but ultimately, the whole world can benefit from that research. In 2015, any farmer can separate their own Monsanto seeds, plant them, or even sell them. I think that overall, the world wins. (And yes, I do think that Monsanto is evil. I think it's nice that we got an evil company to ultimately do go
      • Call me a pessimist, but that's assuming that Monsanto hasn't developed a *new* patented seed and forced everyone to switch to it just before the old patent runs out, ensuring that there is zero supply of the patent-expired seed and everyone is stuck with the new patented version for the next 17 years. Let's hope there's some rogue farmers saving those seeds so they can export them for a fortune in a few years.
  • 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. :)

  • This GVCS is exactly what a colony ship would want to take along on a one-way trip to a new home away from home (be it Mars or some idyllic exoplanet). There's another partnership opportunity for them....

  • Watch the TED video (Score:4, Informative)

    by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @02:12PM (#35858240) Journal

    There is an entertaining video on this from a presentation at TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) that is only 4 minutes long. And no I've never been. []

  • Um, I think we are forgetting something here. Throwing hardware at a problem - without understanding the problem - will not be as effective as hoped. Consider the context first - what is the environment, how much bio-diversity, is there a way to arrange things to increase fertility? Consider Haiti, a small country, where the dictator "Doc Duvalier" cut down all the trees. He didn't have to be worried about snipers in the tree tops; the unintended consequence was the arable land was washed into the ocean, be
  • Does anyone really believe that people are going hungry because of IP restrictions on 3D printers? I have nothing against open source or building cool stuff, but the idea that this stuff is practical for solving problems is just a fig leaf of respectability for people who like to play with very big toys.

    Here is a group that is providing IP-free technology that is at the right scale (sub-industrial) and uses the right power source (animals, human muscle) to increase farming productivity where it is needed: h []

  • because locals don't have the ability to build or buy equipment.

    These people don't need open source hooraw: they need good government so can own their land, keep the fruits of their labor, and not kill be slaughtered when the generals are feeling impetuous.

  • While this list is interesting, it requires an excessive amount of two commodoties: precision cut metal engines and "green friendly" fuel /energy sources and doesn't address three issues: lack of ground source water, lack of non-mosquito generating water purification, and what we could simply call the 'community cost of ownership". Because if there's not enough groundwater available, all the wells drilled by the machine simply compound a problem. If you have sufficient ground water but it is not pure, or mo

A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party; there is no battle unless there be two. -- Seneca