Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ethical Open Hardware - a new business model

Having been a freelance hardware design engineer since 2005, I needed a company to channel myendeavours, and so founded Arbour Wood Ltd. in 2007,

I have had 25 years of hardware design, including super fast video processing at BBC Research Department in the early 1990s, to large volume consumer electronics and telecom devices manufactured in southern China.

I traveled extensively between China and the USA, working to insane production schedules, In the spring of 2005, I decided to pause for breath, to reassess my career, and find a more sane way of working, yet building on my skills, network of colleagues and experiences, to find a different way of working, at a time when the world was flat out with globalisation.

Arbour Wood designs simple products that hopefully others will find useful, which will help us to lead lower impact lives and improve our domestic energy efficiency. A combination of simple, low cost microelectronics and smart application software, will allow us to automate, monitor and control systems within the home, leading to better usage and reduced energy consumption.

I was introduced to open hardware early in 2009, by Trystan Lea of Open Energy Monitor, and quickly realised that this was an alternative business model which very much suited the fledgling Arbour Wood. Working in co-operation with other designers, programmers and enthusiasts, Arbour Wood has road-mapped a range of open source products, which will challenge the perceived standards for consumer technology, and redefine the envelope of electronic manufacturing.

Writing in the week that Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, passed away - reminded me of an interview Steve made in the late 1990s where he said that he and Woz (Steve Wozniak) only founded Apple in 1976 to make cool stuff. i.e. home computers, that he could sell to his friends. Forty years later, that is very much the philosopy of Arbour Wood.

Nanode was conceived late in 2009, when I realised that there was a need for a very low cost means of connecting devices to the internet. At that time the cheapest solution was an Arduino and an ethernet shield which would cost perhaps £40. Ken took the key components from that combination, stripped the design to a minimum and set a ceiling price of £20 - effectively halving cost of the previous solution.

In today's world, where much of our everyday consumer technology, such as smart phones and tablets are manufactured in vast factories in Southern China, it is easy to lose track of the technology, and we are rapidly approaching a situation where the key to designing these and future products lies in the minds of a few dozen engineers. The open hardware movement hopes to re-address this situation, and produce designs which are not only freely copyable , but designed in a way where they can be manufactured anywhere in the world, and bring new employment opportunities to developing communities. Nanode was designed with this in mind, and uses through-hole components allowing it to be built with simple handtools, by practically anyone who has had a basic course in soldering.

Nanode was developed in association with the London Hackspace, and it is through the hackerspace movement, that Arbour Wood believes that it can distribute its products and designs. In early October, Mitch Altman and Bilal Ghalib traveled to Cairo to help establish a hackerspace there. Several Nanode kits were donated to the Africa Makerfaire in Cairo - thus introducing the visitors to a product that they can build themselves. With Mitch's "Soldering is Easy" course - translated to many languages, on offer at the MakerFaire - the local enthusiasts are now well prepared to build Nanodes and related devices.

The next product underway from the Arbour Wood design studio, is a wireless sensor and actuator board - compatible with Nanode and capable of switching a number of relays and motors and interfacing to a wide range of sensor hardware.

1 comment:

Tod Robbins said...

Thank you for the backstory Ken! Does Arbour Wood have a site, besides this one ;-)

The growing open hardware movement is very important.