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.

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