"Open Hardware for the Environment, The Pleasure of Learning" Chapter of an Academic Book On Innovation Management


Résumé Comment ne pas avoir peur et garder le plaisir d'entreprendre dans le monde actuel ?

Comment profiter des mutations actuelles ? Comment concilier efficacité économique et innovation sociale ? Comment saisir les opportunités issues des NBIC ? Qu'est-ce qu'un management fondé sur la confiance et la responsabilité ? Comment réinventer l'entreprise de l'intérieur ?

3 000 dirigeants se sont réunis lors de la Convention des clubs Apm en octobre 2013 pour échanger sur le sens de leur métier, sur l'avenir de leur entreprise et sur les personnes qui la composent. Ce livre en est l'émanation.

Autant de questions sur lesquelles une cinquantaine d'"experts" Apm (Association ProgrĂšs du Management) se penchent dans cet ouvrage. Chefs d'entreprise, universitaires, Ă©conomistes, philosophes, managers, journalistes...

Tous livrent leurs analyses, pistes de réflexion et d'action vers un nouveau mode de management. Théorie et pratique - grùce à des "repÚres pour l'action" - cohabitent dans ce livre riche et foisonnant qui renouvellera votre vision du management !

in 2010, the very first Open Hardware Summit was launched in New York and inspired this piece of writing. Thanks to Harisson Leaf for letting me hitch a hike there! The upcoming event - which will be the 10th birthday!- is March 13th 2020 at Tishman Auditorium at NYU School of Law, New York located at 63 5th Ave, New York, NY 10003. get your tickets here.



This is a follow-up article for a chapter of a book I wrote back in September 2015 for a French book “Renaissance(s), le plaisir d'entreprendre" (Renaissance(s), the pleasure to learn) at the academic editions Eyrolles, with many mentors from the APM network (Association pour le Progrùs du Management). I should also thank Fleurke Combier of APM for the invitation, my PhD Supervisor Prof Jennifer Gabrys at Goldsmiths University for her guidance in investigating this topic and Etienne Gernez for his comments and suggestions. We agreed with the publisher that Eyrolles would have the right of the publication in French, and I would have the right to publish the English version. Thanks to the help of Damiano (translator), the article is now available in English. A lot has happened in the “Open Hardware world” between 2010 and 2019 as companies, projects, and people come and go. I read this text with nostalgia and excitement as many of the ideas presented would still seem new and energizing to many. Also, the main thesis is even more relevant today: we need open technologies to accelerate collaborations and the development of solutions to address global warming and improving the lives of the many.




In the patented, proprietary and closed world, information flows only for money and forces technology users to perform a limited function.


In the closed world:

View fullsize

  1. an inventor has an idea,
  2. this idea is developed by a scientist,
  3. this scientific concept is opted for the market by an engineer, made beautiful and functional by a designer,
  4. this product is manufactured by an industrialist who has many factories
  5. transported by a carrier,
  6. and distributed and sold by a merchant,
  7. to a consumer,
  8. which is directed to an after-sales service if the object is damaged,
  9. or end up being discarded, lab filled and sometimes recycled.

It is a long sequential development, "chained", which increases the price of the object to each intermediary involved.

In the open world, it is a simultaneous network development:

View fullsize

  1. an inventor has an idea,
  2. this idea is published and documented,
  3. the consumer sees the idea and makes his/her version of this idea.
  4. What was a long chain becomes a network of immediate collaboration.

Another possible configuration:

  1. an engineer has an idea,
  2. If it is for a local product he becomes himself a manufacturer and carrier,
  3. he delivers to a large consumer who makes himself a wholesaler and local dealer, repackages the product and sells it in turn, creating a community around the product.
  4. Everyone can become entrepreneurs and shorten the chain, for better products and services, to reinvent the local economy with global tools.

Another example:

  1. a consumer gets designer (thanks to a well done documentation), changes or improves a product and markets it,
  2. The information "goes back" to the manufacturer of the original product who develops a new range of products in partnership with this consumer who has become a designer.

View fullsizeIllustrations by Cesar Jung-Harada, from the TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/cesar_harada_a_novel_idea_for_cleaning_up_oil_spills?language=en#t-653539


Open hardware enables consumers to become a co-creator, a promoter, a producer. The industrialist does not necessarily lose control as he/she opens access to the creativity of his community, develops risk-free niches, research and development costs.

The open model allows to constantly reinvent the mode of creation, research, development, manufacture, distribution, use, recycling of objects and services. Transparency of processes invites participants to take initiatives. Whoever is afraid of losing control does not see the potential benefits of sharing. What is certain is that more knowledge is available, the quality increases, the products grow and the product or service becomes accessible to a larger number.


Arduino, is the flagship project of the open hardware movement by its history, its community and its influence. Understanding Arduino is the best introduction to understand the power of the open hardware movement and the incredible potential of open technologies. Arduino is a microcontroller, a simplified small computer that automates mechanical actions, measures with light sensors, sound, distance, make calculations and activate all kinds of engines, lights , speakers, etc. Before Arduino, there were already many other microcontrollers, some even open source. What has differentiated and made the great success of Arduino is:

  1. the open hardware license, inviting everybody to use, modify and distribute for free Arduino,
  2. the quality (made in Italy) and simplicity at affordable prices,
  3. detailed and clear documentation,
  4. a very active global community on the Internet
  5. a continuous effort of evangelisation, education workshops through the years.


In 2011, an earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale shook the east coast of Japan. Three tsunamis followed, killing nearly 16,000 people on the spot. The waves also affected the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which continues today to emit large amounts of radioactive material into the air and into the Pacific Ocean. 300,000 Japanese were evacuated and were not able to return to their homes because of radiation. In one week, the Safecast network is set up with an Arduino-based open source Geiger counter, which allows any citizen to measure radioactivity in the environment and share this information publicly on the Internet. The largest citizen science network is formed in a few months, with each “B Geigie” constantly contributing to the real-time production of a geographical map of the levels of ratiation that citizens use daily for their safety and that of their children.


View fullsizeElon Musk, CEO June 12, 2014, https://www.tesla.com/blog/all-our-patent-are-belong-you


In June 2014, Elon Musk announced that all patents of TESLA Motos will now be open, in other words that they will only be used defensively. Immediately following this announcement, many electric automobile manufacturers came into contact with TESLA to be able to use their technology, especially that of TESLA electric charging stations (often solar, still free).

This is a very good example of a relatively conventional industry (automobile) which, by becoming open source, acquires new partners, conquers markets, attracts and retains the most talented engineers of its generation. Today, Tesla produces one of the greenest, most efficient and safe cars.


The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) of Open Source Ecology is a sock of 50 industrial machines needed to create a small civilization with modern conveniences. All plans, codes, photos, videos and instructions are posted online for free. How are we going to feed the growing world population?

If terrestrial resources are limited, knowledge is infinitely shareable.

Other projects, like Windowfarms, allow urban dwellers to create their own vegetable garden at their windows. Botanicalls gives “a voice to plants” allowing them to twitter if they are thirsty. Open Source Beehive, for its part, makes a beautiful wooden hive in one single plywood board.



It is necessary to measure pollution in the environment (like Safecast), to establish industrial partnerships (like TESLA) or to reinvent agriculture (like Open Source Ecology), but some territories like the ocean need to to be explored and protected as they are crucial to our future. Protei is a self-propelled modular sailboat equiped with an articulated hull.

Developed since 2010 to clean up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, an autonomous ship could perform many tasks at sea: measure radioactivity in the waters of Fukushima, study plastic pollution in the Pacific, enforcing overfishing regulations, mapping coral reefs, patrol protected areas silently, serve as a communication relay between satellites and submarines, and much more. Protei is developed by an international and open source community, manufactured in Hong Kong and put on sale online.


Technologies long considered inaccessible, such as satellites, can now be designed by non-professionals. With the reduction of the size and energy cost of microprocessors, solar panels and thanks to the efficiency of batteries, open source microsatellites are put into orbit for a few thousand euros. With these cubesats, universities, even individuals, can contribute to the observation And study of the Earth and outer space.

The democratization of access to space is more than a symbolic step, it is a race that could turn man into the first multiplanetary species. Should we concentrate our efforts to colonize other planets or save our planet Earth? The debate is open.


The open hardware movement exists in the physical world. DIY (Do It Yourself) is being supplanted by the DIT (Do It Together) thanks to the places of co-creation that are multiplying and diversifying. These places have names that describe the different cultural variations, their population, their relationship to corporations and their business models.

From the garage at the back of the garden shed, Hackerspace, makerspace, FabLab, to the new Giant Techshops, to the big group R&D workshops, more and more people realize that collective intelligence is the driving force behind the knowledge economy.



The rapid growth of the open hardware movement for the environment owes its rise to the democratization of the Internet as well as to ecological awareness. Other factors strongly contributed to this, such as the emergence of connected objects (Internet of things), crowdfunding (presale through sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo), the exponential increase in computing capacity and data storage (Moore's Law) and the new industrial revolution as described by Chris Anderson in “Makers, The New Industrial Revolution” with, at its heart, a relocation of industries through digital manufacturing (2D and 3D printers), diversified series and new distribution infrastructures that allow the sale of manufactured products in small series (see the book The Long Tail, also of Chris Anderson, on sites like Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, Taobao or Alibaba).

Inventors and entrepreneurs are now voluntarily defined by the terms ''artisan'', '' maker '', '' handyman '', '' thinker '', '' maker '' and '' hacker ''.

This last term is probably one of the most widespread and one of the most misunderstood: the literal translation of hacker is ''pirate'' which can have a dark connotation but generally serves to describe a curious person, who acquires his knowledge empirically or experimentally and often with a touch of humor and mischief. We find the makers, who share their inventions online, to co-create, document, criticize and inspire each other.


A project-based on free technology can be managed in a conventional way. It is not necessary to disrupt the operation of a business simply because the license and documentation of the products are free and open. There are many management models, pyramidal and horizontal, centralized or distributed, and many variants between these extremes. In fact, many open source projects are managed in a traditional way, that is to say pyramidally, even autocratically.

As with any project, it is important to clearly define the objects, a schedule, a budget, the roles in the team, the rules, the ''rewards'' and the ''punishments'' and fraud cases. In open online communities, it is essential to write clear moderation mechanisms so that we can not control but allow everyone to express themselves in ways that harm others or the group's productivity.

A network, a team that grows and diversifies is necessarily a challenge, like any human group. The transparency of a technology and its management can make it possible to delegate more effectively. Project management tools like trello.com and asana.com can be very useful for mastering multiple complex projects simultaneously.



The history of science is the cycle of truths later demonstrated to be falsifiable. Facts are reworked, knowledge updated. In an open society, truths are rapidly evolving allowing sustainable substantive progress. We have the choice of the society in which we want to live. We can leave the truth exclusively in the hands of scientists and opinion leaders or we can participate in shaping this truth, to form this world. An open society is not a condition of a constitution, but a civil, industrial, academic, and political practice. It requires a constant effort of attention by different parties to evolve towards a less dogmatic, more just and more open society. 


When a technology is licensed based on open source principles, an object becomes an inspiration for another object. Technological creativity no longer gives rise to a derivatives market. The “sharealike” characteristics guarantees the propagation (also called "virality" in social media) of a technology under the same license. It is the responsibility of the "source" - the inventor- to put in place the knowledge-sharing tools that will put it at the center of the knowledge that will enrich the community.

View fullsizeThe Large Hadron Collider is Open Hardware: https://home.cern/science/computing/open-source-open-science



To license one’s work as “open hardware“ is to choose a license that defines the conditions of diffusion of a technology, but not the usage of this technology.

In 2010, the first “mature” open hardware license 1.0 allows everyone to publish free documentation for a new technology with a free license.

"Free material is material whose design has been made public so that everyone may study, modify, distribute, manufacture and sell those designs or other objects designed from those designs. All documents relating to the source, the computer files necessary for the production are provided in an editable and standard format. '' (http://www.oshwa.org/faq/ ).

Since this first license, CERN has released a much more detailed license which is, in my opinion, the best open hardware license available today, always for free. The Japanese InMojo site offers a concise introduction to help you choose your licenses: www.inmojo.com/licenses/.


In the “open hardware world”, responsibility is shared between the producer and the consumer who become co-creators. The after-sales service is replaced by the community forum in which both creators and users support each other and suggests improvements and specialized applications. To use the terms of the marketing world, the ''sales targets'' are getting diversified without cost of research and development, the ''niches” tend to become deeper and more profitable, advertising is replaced by word of mouth in trust networks. Short-term profit policies can be replaced by long-term commitments supported by a motivated and accountable group.


Charles Leadbeater says: ''You are what you share.” According to Bourdieu, ''social cultural value '' is indeed the ''cultural capital'' exchanged between people and organizations. In a world where information travels freely, what creates value is not knowledge, but the connectivity of knowledge. An isolated idea is not worth much. It acquires its value in its use in the real world. Knowledge becomes valuable when it becomes a currency of exchange, as a social bond bringing value to life.

The same logic applies to the intellectual property of technologies. A technology that is open, copied and improved is positioned to last and serve society. If there were a theory of the evolution of technologies, what technologies would survive, what technologies would be extinguished, and by what mechanisms? An 'artificial' selection? Without going into technological neodarwinism, if you want to position your new technology to last, patents are time limits that hold your ideas to develop with others, beyond the duration of your life and your private interests. Would not collaboration be the surest way to value and monetize your know-how?

Moreover, is there no more noble and more sustainable investment than working together to sustain what allows everyone to live, namely nature?


Before global communication networks, technologies were localized and cultural. It would be unrealistic to say that technologies are no longer cultural, but globalization has projected the distribution of technologies more on the socio-economic strata than on geographical or ethnic contexts. The invention of industrial agriculture in Europe and then in North America meets geographical and ethnic criteria. If you read this text on a laptop, you are from a certain socio-economic background, but you could be anywhere in the world, regardless of your ethnic background.

Closed technology is local and cultural, simply because of the cost and legal coverage of patents and the many territories where these patents will not be respected in any case.

Free and correctly documented technology is global by default. Sites like instructables.com, kickstarter.com and etsy.com allow creators to share, sell, and get feedback from countries all over the world.


To get to the point, open hardware projects have two main criteria for success:

  1. the excellence of the product and documentation;
  2. an active and productive community.

A good product, well distributed with good marketing cannot be enough. Without the community, an open source project cannot grow or evolve. Yet, it takes a lot of courage for initiators of open source projects that can sometimes feel very alone (as often leaders are), even if they constantly invite others to participate and assist each member of the group.

In 2010, the open hardware movement already had more than ten companies in its ranks with a turnover of more than $ 1 million a year. A simple search on kickstarter.com gives us more than sixty open hardware projects that have collected enough funds to launch their mass production; on makingSociety.com there are more than two hundred retailers of open hardware resellers. The LinuxUserGroup predicts that by 2015, the open hardware movement will be a $ 1 billion market.


The relationship between the producer and the consumer changes. New technology brings new opportunities and new risks. Whoever was a consumer now has access to the source code, can modify it, improve it and therefore becomes co-responsible for the product.

Whoever remains producer can thus legally share responsibility with the user through a ''limit of liability'', or even publish his technology as product ''pre-alpha'', ''alpha”, ''beta'', before officially becoming ‘’guaranteed '' products. For example, the Gmail software, launched publicly in 2004, remained '' beta '' until July 2009. Throughout this period, Google did not guarantee the stability of the service or retained the option of discontinuing the service at any time and without responsibility as hundreds of millions of people used it every day. Sharing the responsibility with the user is to limit the risk, lower the cost and shorten the delivery time of a new product.


One of the great strengths of open source technology is that smart ownership can survive bankruptcy, liquidation, the disappearance of a business. Indeed, even if the company fails, it is still possible to rebuild another project based on the same technologies. The open hardware license allows the protection, the sharing but also the durability of a technology over time. If you develop a technology that is precocious for the environment, think about the long term.

Since a license can survive the possible end of a business, I strongly recommend to publish the open soruce technology documentation with the author's own private name. Any valuable work, if it does not warrant a salary, deserves the recognition of the community with a clear paternity.

Giving each creator the opportunity to "sign" their work can be a great source of motivation for teams and individuals in need of social recognition.


The open hardware culture has grown very fast in the last few years. From simple furniture designs to complex products, such as transportation (cars, planes, submarines), research equipment in physics, chemistry or even biology. Open hardware medical equipment holds a particularly important promise in emerging nations. Most of the so-called "hard" sciences are documented with standards compatible with the open hardware standards.

In 2012, my friend Salvatore Iaconesi discovered that he was suffering from a cerebral cancer tumor. He published all his medical information (thus confidential) publicly online. In a few days, he received the advice of several hundred physicians who offered him a variety of diagnoses. Shortly after, he was operated and is now in good health. This could make a strong argument in favor of changing the way we function as a species. When the life of a single one of us is at stake, many can voluntarily help thanks to new information technology. Can you imagine if all human united and shared resources to protect their common good, the environment?

As you well understood, open hardware is more than just a license or a standard for documenting a product. On one hand, this revolution on the way of creating, manufacturing, distributing, consuming can lead to even more waste, pollution, and destruction. On the other hand, it is the opportunity to harness human creativity for the good of the living. Live or die. Keep for yourself or share. It seems we have everything to gain. If we want to survive as well as other species, we must make choices. In which kind society do you want to live? What will be your contribution?


Working and licensing open hardware is an opportunity that is free, immediate, could be profitable and that could benefit the planet.

  1. For an individual: share your ideas, images, texts, plans, video under an open hardware license, Creative Commons for example. It's simple, immediate and free. Just add the Creative Commons logo to your work and your work is protected and ready to share (http://www.creativecommons.org/choose/ ). You can use sites like instructables.com or github.com and choose your license right there, from a simple drop down menu.
  2. For an association, for universities: same principle. Indicate the name of the individual author and the name of the association or university. If you do not want your technology to be used to make a profit, it is very simple to specify it with the variants of the Creative Commons license "Non-commercial".
  3. For a company, an industrialist: most of your processes are already documented, modeled, tested. Becoming open source can be as simple as sharing your technical drawings, component lists, and so on. You do not have to share all of your products to be open source at the same time, you can start with just one product. The products you make are not free, the documentation is not necessarily free either. If you have a lot of investment to start the manufacture of a product, you can wait for the launch of the product to make the documentation public and stay ahead of the competition - timing matters.
  4. For a government organization: do you want to gain transparency and credibility and work with members of civil society, whether they are academic, industrial, associative? The world of open hardware can be your solution to sustain a technology that serves the interests of the nation and beyond.

FOR FURTHER INQUIRY Karl Popper, The Open Society and its enemies, Le Seuil, 1945.Open Hardware License 1.0, 2010: http://www.freedomdefined.org/OSHW , Open Hardware Motion Association: http://www.OSHWA.org Instructables, Github, Thingiverse, 3D Warehouse, Fritzing, Focused communities, Reprap, DIY Drones.Publishers: Lulu, Flickr, Slideshare.Video: Youtube, Vimeo.Urban Agriculture: Windowfarms: http://www.windowfarms.com Plants on social networks: Botanicalls: http://www.botanicalls.com/kits Beehives: Open Source Beehives: https://www.osbeehives.com/“Tesla’s free-to-use patents are all about sustainability – and strength” posted of February 4th, 2019 by BRIDIE SCHMIDT : https://thedriven.io/2019/02/04/tesla-patents-free-to-use-sustainable-strength/