March 22, 2017
In researching the concept of open source infrastructure, I found that most websites, articles, and ideas focused on open source software infrastructure. Specifically, they talked about various programs like Python or other systems like Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP that became open source in the 1990s (Medium). Each of these programs and systems allow software designers to build new programs and applications using these basic structures (Medium). However, I am less interested in open source software infrastructure and more interested in open source hardware infrastructure. I am interested in the concept of open source hardware infrastructure because the availability of hardware infrastructure directly impacts the ability of average Americans to utilize open source hardware designs and complete open source hardware projects.
There are many sustainable hardware systems available online through open source. But, average people cannot take advantage of the open source designs if they cannot afford the tools they need to build the system. While the materials necessary to build a system may be affordable, the tools needed to assemble the system often are not. Power tools, laser cutters, band saws and other necessary instruments can significantly increase the cost of a relatively affordable project. For example, in class we are beginning to build a food computer as a group project. To build the food computer, we will need access to power tools and other large instruments that many average Americans may not have in their homes. In addition to the food computer, there are several other open source hardware designs available for household sustainability projects such as large hydroponic greenhouses. While these systems can be built on a small scale using small tools, increased scale and the desire to build something like a greenhouse would require greater tools. This is significant because, at least in the case of hydroponics, increased scale will lead to an increase in the number of sustainably-sourced foods one household consumes and a decrease in the amount of fuel necessary to ship and store the food they are no longer buying from the store. Both of these factors increase the sustainability of the project overall.
Although I could not find much information on ways to mitigate the high cost of building tools for average Americans, I think a sort of library system for tools would solve this problem. In libraries, information is stored in the form of books. Librarians are also available if readers need help finding a certain book or if older books need repair or reordering. The library of tools would function in a similar fashion. Tool libraries would have tools that could be used for free in populous locations across the United States. In addition, these tool libraries would have mechanics to service the machines and help visitors operate the more complicated tools. In the same way that the POC21 Innovation Camp had a “Factory” that housed all the tools its members needed to complete their projects, the libraries would have all the tools necessary for members of the community to complete sustainability projects (POC21 37).
I believe that building this tool library infrastructure would greatly increase the amount of sustainable building projects taken on by average Americans in their homes. First, average Americans would be able to bypass the high start-up costs associated with the collection of expensive tools. Second, they would be able to operate these tools with the help of mechanics who understand how to use the machines effectively and safely. Lastly, these libraries are sustainable in and of themselves because they cut back on the production of tools overall by allowing people to share tools rather than buy all their tools individually. Overall, this is an avenue that should be explored by city councils and other municipalities in the future as a means by which to encourage sustainable projects in average American homes.