Thursday, September 20, 2007

Open Source hardware - Sustainable development

Something which is often discussed on the LUF Blog is new and interesting uses of the open source way of collaborating with each other. For the last year I have been working on an open source project which brings together hardware designs, software and knowledge, all under an open source umbrella. The project is called Akvo and is about bringing knowledge about sustainable water and sanitation solutions to people who are trying to realize water and sanitation for those that have none.

Why is this important? About 1 billion people do not have access to safe water to drink and more than 2.5 billion people do not have adequate sanitation facilities. This causes huge problems and massive suffering. Millions of children die every year to curable diseases like diarrhea, which happen because of poor access to water and sanitation.

When I started learning about this it quickly became clear to me that the water and sanitation sector did not use all the information technology tools available to attack these problems. Information is not shared in a good way, it is hard to engage in the process of helping people, young people find it hard to participate in the work and much proprietary thinking goes on whilst trying to help. Many if not all of these problems have been addressed in the open source community and I suggested that the water and sanitation sector learn from the open source community.

A year later we have Akvo, which among other things embraces open source content to describe open source hardware. Much of the designs for low cost, sustainable and appropriate technology for water and sanitation systems are in fact open source already. It is just that people are not thinking about them as such. They have low to no commercial value, so nobody is interested in the intellectual property or licensing rights for the hardware designs. But that doesn't mean that they have no value for those that need water. So we have now have started to publish this type of information in the Akvopedia (check out the Water portal and the Sanitation portal).

Projects like this are not on the same as open source fabbers or the quest for open source space hardware, but they potentially offer huge short term benefits, when looking at quality of life issues for literally millions of people.

I find it very encouraging that we can collaborate on ways of improving the world in such diverse areas as space development and poverty reduction using the same open source methods. This shows that the open source methods have a depth which rivals the latest big innovation which came along thousands of years ago when we are talking about new ways of collaborating: commercialism and capitalism.


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