March 2009 Archives

Today was the first day of a workshop I participated in (and assisted with), run by MIT's Eric Von Hippel on Open Hardware (or Open Source Hardware, or Open Design, or however you want to call it). It was a pretty all-star cast in attendance, and I was honored to be among them. I gave a short talk that was a kind of personal history about why I believe that Open Hardware is important. Here is my conclusion:

I think that we are seeing proliferation of small, niche Open Hardware suppliers—a cottage industry—of digital technology manufacturers whose existence owes itself to Internet shopping, online social networks, cheap electronics manufacturing and mutual openness. And every year we are seeing more of these products and more businesses being built on Open Hardware principles.


This cottage industry is supplying the materials to a much larger group participating in a new culture that treats electronics more like a design material than an industrial process. This I believe points to a much deeper cultural shift. And although on the surface Open Hardware looks like a discussion about the economics of manufacturing and intellectual property, the effect that it has is creating new building block with which people can remake, redesign, their world.

Mediamatic, the Dutch technology/culture organization ran a one-week RFID social games workshop last year. A group of 30 people, many of whom are not electronics engineers by training, created a dozen complete, working, completely novel technologies in less than a week. This kind of wild experimentation, using technology to create new social relationships would simply not have been possible without Open Hardware. And it is in these kinds of environments in which the truly magical, deeply disruptive technologies are created.

That, I believe, is the key power of Open Hardware.

You can find the presentation is available(520K PDF) for download and via Slideshare:

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's discussion. Eric has said that he'll make videos of the whole day's presentation and discussions available, and I'll link them here when those have been posted.

I presented a talk at ETech today. It links the capabilities of ubiquitous computing and intersects it with service design to come up with a justification for creating subscription-based services out of (certain) everyday objects.

The original description is

Things have long had identifying marks, from silversmiths’ hallmarks to barcodes, but mating machine-readable identification with pervasive networking greatly increases the value of the marks.

For example, when a machine-readable identification method such as an RFID or a high-density visual code is combined with the wireless networking of a mobile phone, a new way of interacting with everyday objects is created. Once you have the capability uniquely identify anything immediately, you can attach meta information to it. Any meta-information. How much is this worth on eBay? Which of my friends has one? Will this go with my Mom’s china? Will it make me sick if I eat it? Was it made by children?

I call this digital representation as accessed through a unique ID, an object’s “information shadow” and I now see them attached to just about everything. Beyond getting meta information, however, lies an even more powerful concept: changing the physical object to a service, for which the thing you’re looking at is but a single instantiation of that agreement. It’s already happened to media, and to car-shared cars and shared bicycles in urban areas.

When this happens, the objects have to change at a fundamental level. They have to be designed differently and they have to be described and discussed differently. The “owner’s” relationship to the object changes. The very idea of ownership changes. The solid object grows a dotted line that is filled-in as-needed, when-needed, and with the features that are needed. This is not the same thing as renting or co-ownership, its anytime/anywhere nature-enabled by the underlying technology makes these new service objects fundamentally new.

This talk will discuss the implications of the social and design changes created by these technologies and give multiple examples of services that already exist.

I've put up a PDF with all of the images and notes(884 PDF), and Slideshare, which is missing many of the images (I think it doesn't know what to do with pictures that have been pasted into Mac Powerpoint 2004), but still has all of the text.




A device studio that lives at the intersections of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, industrial design and materials science.

The Smart Furniture Manifesto

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Recent Comments

  • Katherina: Information not just material. In our days it is a read more
  • Hi Mike, totally agree on building the IoT in a read more
  • Mutuelle: Man is the reflections of his thought, some name it read more
  • Amanda Carter: You obviously placed a great deal of work into that read more
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  • Mike: Thanks for the reminder, Robin. I'm aware of that article, read more
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This page is an archive of entries from March 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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