Open Source Everything: Potential Success Areas

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In this series, we previously explored how people use open-source hardware to develop unique tools, solutions, and projects. We also identified key elements for a successful open-source hardware initiative. Now, let’s consider where open-source hardware can make a real difference in the wider world. The biggest impact would be in areas where resources are scarce rather than plentiful. Specifically designed goods, catered to a particular purpose, can also create a significant effect. If these items can increase comfort, safety, and the quality of life for a large population, we could ameliorate the lives of many people. Utilizing technologies like 3D printing and involving talented designers and engineers globally could enable local production of optimal designs. To achieve this, worldwide deployment of rugged and low-cost 3D printers is crucial. However, developing real product-market fit and efficient mechanisms for guiding open-source files and product development remain challenges. We need to focus on developing the right products, design, and performance for the right people and continuously improve over time. Which areas should we prioritize?

Areas of Interest: Lab Equipment

When considering high-impact, inexpensive components that we can enhance through open-source development, several areas emerge. One such area is lab equipment, which is often prohibitively expensive due to a relatively small market, a focus on quality, and limited incentives for budget owners to economize. The market is dominated by a few incumbent firms, lacks significant competition, and has limited distribution channels. Moreover, lab equipment holds a special place in the hearts of many scientists who recognize its high cost and the constraints it imposes on themselves and their fellow scientists worldwide. Scientists are accustomed to collaborating and learning from peers globally, fostering natural sharing of practices and information. These factors make lab equipment an ideal candidate for 3D printing and open-source development.

Currently, there is a wide range of resources available on sharable sites, and initiatives like Open-Labware further contribute to this pool. For instance, Open-Labware offers tools such as a mobile phone microscope and FlyPi, a 3D printable platform for fluorescence microscopy, optogenetics, and precise temperature control. Additionally, Openspritzer provides a microliter dosage tool, and there are also pipettes available. Other valuable resources include Appropedia and Gaudi Labs. Leveraging 3D printing and open-source development, we can transform these relatively rare and costly items into affordable solutions accessible to everyone. The typically excessive profit margins associated with labware can help counterbalance the potential higher cost per part of 3D printing, making this approach even more advantageous.

Teaching Aids

3D printing opens up opportunities to create unique items like globes, working engine models, and battle depth maps, which can provide valuable insights for students’ learning experiences. While medical models are commonly produced with 3D printing, this technology is still relatively rare in other classrooms, where physical learning aids are scarce. This lack is particularly disadvantageous for students with experiential or kinesthetic learning styles. Introducing 3D printed teaching aids would greatly benefit children, young adults, and learners at all levels of education, surpassing the effectiveness of diagrams or videos in many cases. Although many teachers are already printing and designing useful teaching aids, there is currently no centralized effort for global distribution and design collaboration. Such an initiative is essential. Among the existing 3D printed teaching aids, some exhibit ingenious concepts, like the friction illustration showcased in the feature image, while others serve highly specific purposes, such as the fillet welding gauge guide pictured above. Additionally, creative resources like the pronoun dice for learning Spanish can be found below.

From languages to science, mathematics, and professional courses, the potential applications of 3D printing as educational tools span a wide range. These tools have the capability to enhance understanding for learners of all ages.

Teaching new generations of children and upskilling the workforce are crucial endeavors. Equally significant is scientific research, and both these areas could benefit from accelerated progress and increased effectiveness through the development of open-source hardware and 3D printing. However, there are other areas to explore, and we will delve into them in the next post.

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