Open source surge: Companies may ditch patents in favour of open tech research

Company interest in open sourcing is on the up, thanks in part to Tesla Motors. We speak to Wevolver to learn more about the mission to make hardware easy to download and make

More companies than ever before are likely to open themselves, their technologies and their patents up to the public in the next 10 years.

The trend, which was popularised by Tesla Motors, is set to be embraced by companies due to the potential benefits for research and development.

“I definitely think companies are going to open up parts, and even big companies who have thousands of patents on the shelf which they don’t use, they will slowly sometimes open them up so people can start doing stuff with them and they just stay involved with it,” said Richard Hulskes, an entrepreneur from Amsterdam, who is trying to open up technology to as many people as possible.

Hulskes runs Wevolver, a project that’s trying to open source technology so that it is more accessible to everyone.

wevolver1

In just a few clicks you can download the files to create a Segway, a drone, Ultimaker’s 3D printer and 3D printing files for more than one robot.

The site is currently in its beta stage, but has had more than 200 open source projects submitted to it so far. Not all are available for download yet, however, as Hulskes and his growing team are keen to ensure that the proper documentation is available for every project.

While the projects that are being submitted to Wevolver are mostly created by individuals, Hulskes said the open source movement will encourage established companies to make their products available.

“You’re going to have this clash, probably,” he said.

“There are companies who will be closed for a long time to come; probably the best example will probably be Apple, but there will be companies and you’re already see it that will start opening up parts of their product.”

It’s not a fruitless prediction either, as last year Elon Musk opened up all of Tesla’s patents “in the spirit of the open source movement”.

In a blog post in June the PayPal creator said that patenting technology has become dated: “maybe they were god long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.”

This is the attitude that led Hulskes to create the platform for those to share open source technology.

Wevolver is focusing on the open sourcing of hardware rather than software, but the latter is growing at equally fast rates with giants such a Microsoft, and even Apple, working with open source software.

There are companies who will be closed for a long time to come; the best example will probably be Apple

For hardware, he said that the feedback of others is a big part of the development process and Wevolver allows the creators to re-upload the projects they have worked on and made changes to.

So, if you download and 3D print a robotic hand but find a problem with it, you can fix it and re-upload it. Or, if you want to change the hand to be able to perform a different task you can also do this.

There’s also no reason why this can’t work with companies who want to develop their own creations and use the hivemind of those who are experts but not employed to work for the company.

As Hulskes puts it, “you will get this whole research and development department for free around your product”.

Musk also reflected this sentiment when he said “applying the open source philosophy to our patents” would increase the quality of engineers Tesla could attract.

While it is important to make as much technology available to as many people as possible, the open source movement becomes truly exciting when it makes visible the impact it can have on people’s lives.

Wevolver’s most prolific project to date shows how those in the open source movement combine technologies and ideas to advance learning and also help individuals.

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Images courtesy of Wevolver.

The Inmoov robot, which can be 3D printed but has no legs (yet), has been combined with the open source Segway to create a movable robot.

Under the banner of ‘Robots for Good’ a fully assembled robot, combined with an Oculus Rift, is going to be used to allow children in London’s Great Ormond Street hospital to explore the city’s zoo without having to leave their hospital room.

What makes it more innovative is that other school children from London will be creating the robot after downloading the files and instructions from Wevolver.

Since the project was announced Hulskes said there has been interest to replicate the robot from Brazil, the US and more.

“It will be really cool if we get these robots across he globe as the kids in London can log in in New York, or they can login in Brazil and see the zoo there.”

The robot also has potential for bigger steps and achievements. “The next step would be connecting the whole project to disabled people so they can they can even go and walk on the streets. So that is the long-term vision.”

As leaders of big corporations sitting on thousands of patents see what individuals and makers can do with their technology, the willingness to open up will increase.

For this realisation to happen, however, there need to be more projects like Robots for Good, and more options to download and create technology.

Adding stem cells to the brains of mice “slowed or reversed” ageing

Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientists “slowed or reversed” ageing in mice by injecting stem cells into their brains.

The study, published online in the journal Nature, saw the scientists implant stem cells into mice’s hypothalamus, which caused molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs) to be released.

The miRNA molecules were then extracted from the hypothalamic stem cells and injected into the cerebrospinal fluid of two groups of mice: middle-aged mice whose hypothalamic stem cells had been destroyed and normal middle-aged mice.

This treatment significantly slowed aging in both groups of animals as measured by tissue analysis and behavioural testing that involved assessing changes in the animals’ muscle endurance, coordination, social behaviour and cognitive ability.

“Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines over the life of the animal, and this decline accelerates aging,” said senior author Dongsheng Cai, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular pharmacology at Einstein.

“But we also found that the effects of this loss are not irreversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it’s possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of aging throughout the body.”

To reach the conclusion that stem cells in the hypothalamus held the key to aging, the scientists first looked at the fate cells in the hypothalamus as healthy mice got older.

The number of hypothalamic stem cells began to diminish when the mice reached about 10 months, which is several months before the usual signs of aging start appearing. “By old age—about two years of age in mice—most of those cells were gone,” said Dr. Cai.

Images courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

The researchers next wanted to learn whether this progressive loss of stem cells was actually causing aging and was not just associated with it.

To do this, the scientists observed what happened when they selectively disrupted the hypothalamic stem cells in middle-aged mice.

“This disruption greatly accelerated aging compared with control mice, and those animals with disrupted stem cells died earlier than normal,” said Dr. Cai.

Finally, to work out whther adding stem cells to the hypothalamus counteracted ageing, the scientists injected hypothalamic stem cells into the brains of middle-aged mice whose stem cells had been destroyed as well as into the brains of normal old mice.

In both groups of animals, the treatment slowed or reversed various measures of aging.

The scientists are now trying to identify the particular populations of microRNAs that are responsible for the anti-aging effects seen in mice, which is perhaps the first step toward slowing the aging process and successfully treating age-related diseases in humans.

Self-driving delivery cars coming to UK roads by 2018

A driverless vehicle designed to deliver goods to UK homes is set to take to the road next year after the successful conclusion of an equity crowdfunding campaign.

Developed by engineers at The University of Aberystwyth-based startup The Academy of Robotics, the vehicle, Kar-Go, is road-legal, and capable of driving on roads without any specific markings without human intervention.

Kar-Go has successfully raised £321,000 through Crowdcube – 107% of its goal – meaning the company now has the funds to build its first commercially ready vehicles. This amount will also, according to William Sachiti, Academy of Robotics founder and CEO, be matched by “one of the largest tech companies” in the world.

Images courtesy of Academy of Robotics

The Academy of Robotics has already built and tested a prototype version of Kar-Go, and is working with UK car manufacturer Pilgrim to produce the fully street-legal version.

The duo has already gained legal approval from the UK government’s Centre for Autonomous Vehicles, meaning the cars will be able to immediately operate on UK roads once built.

The aim of Kar-Go is to partner with suppliers of everyday consumer goods to significantly reduce the cost of deliveries, and the company’s goal in this area is ambitious: Sachiti believes Kar-Go could reduce delivery costs by as much as 98%.

Whether companies go for the offering remains to be seen, but the company says it is in early stage discussions with several of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies in Europe, which would likely include the corporations behind some of the most recognisable brands found in UK supermarkets.

Introducing Kar-go Autonomous Delivery from Academy of Robotics on Vimeo.

While some will be sceptical, Sachiti is keen to drive the company to success, and already has an impressive track record in future-focused business development. He previously founded Clever Bins – the solar powered digital advertising bins found in many of the nation’s cities – and digital concierge service MyCityVenue – now part of SecretEscapes.

“As a CEO, it is one of my primary duties to make sure Kar-go remains a fantastic investment, this can only be achieved by our team producing spectacular results. We can’t wait to show the world what we produce,” he said.

“We have a stellar team who are excited to have begun working on what we believe will probably be the best autonomous delivery vehicle in the world. For instance, our multi-award winning lead vehicle designer is part of the World Championship winning Brabham Formula One design team, and also spent years as a Design Engineer at McLaren.”