On Innovation Communities


Jun 2015

Democratization of hardware products was an important topic at this year’s O’Reilly Solid conference.

In his keynote, Joi Ito was the first to mention, that open-source technologies provide a low-cost approach to innovation. Unlike “MBA driven innovation”, where money comes first, open-source technologies pushes innovation power to the bottom. Facebook, Youtube, and many Kickstarter projects were built with this approach.

In this approach, modularity plays an important role as you don’t have to re-invent every piece from scratch. He pointed to Shenzen where kids are able to develop smartphones and watches as fast as we develop apps and websites. As the costs for innovation decrease, Ito provided foundations to extend Moore’s Law into biology. With “cheap” DNA sequencers, it might be possible to store and process very dense information in proteins and cells one day. This might revolutionize healthcare and biology, but also information technologies.

The talk “Demoaterializing Mannufacturing” by Kevin Czinger was especially visionary. Today, the debate is about the type of powertrain a car uses (fossil vs. electrical). However, looking at CO2 emissions, material costs and manufacturing, the debate should really be about manufacturing of cars.

Instead of building cars in large volumes, Czinger argued that an Ikea approach to car production would make more sense. A car could be built with simple modules: “Carduino”.

Besides less ecological impact of these cars, the costs of microfactories for 3D printed cars could be much lower than the costs for classical manufacturing.

By the way, these ideas are not science-fiction but real as you can see from the 3D printed car below.

Then, the impact of new technologies such as 3D Printing and Fablabs were discussed in a talk by TechShop founder Mark Hatch.

The impact of “open” skills and education on the job market was also discussed in an interview of Megan Smith from the US government. Smith mentioned the book “The New Geopgrahy of Jobs” that shows how innovation not only happens in Silicon Valley and other technology hubs. She gave concrete examples where people could escape poverty by learning programming or maker skills.

An interesting talk on innovation commnities was given by Edwina Portocarrero. In her talk, “Thinking it here, doing it there”, she showed how “citizen talent” plays a vital role in changing the “broken” face of Mexico City. Her message: You must invite people to co-create. She finished her talk with a quote by Jane Jacobs: “Cities have the capability of providing something to everybody, only because and only when, they are created by everybody.”

If you want to experience more of these ideas, keep an eye on SolidCon in Amsterdam or SolidCon 2016. If you want to learn more about Democratization of Innovation, the books by Eric von Hippel are free for download (also at Amazon). A number of slidedecks from SolidCon can be found here. Also interesting is the talk by Massimo Banzi at the Computer Museum, where he explains the history of Arduino. Would be great to see him giving a keynote at SolidCon 2016.

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