Most of us are familiar with the concept of open source and open hardware. An open project implies that source code and hardware schematics are released under a license which allows modification, re-use and re-distribution for free.
But the value of making fully open software and hardware goes beyond the simple use of a particular technology. Makers of open software or open hardware do so in order to guarantee the freedom of other creators to participate in technological innovation.
When you buy software or hardware which are not open ( i.e., closed source) you’re not actually buying the technology. You’re only buying the right to use it. We have seen many technological firms release open SDK (software developer kits) or API (application programming interface), but that is not the same as producing an open technology. Again, what an SDK or an API provides you is the right to use “part” of a technology. The actual technology is kept hidden under the hood, in ways that constrain your creativity, your ideas and your work.
This is where the philosophy of open culture comes into play. Projects like Arduino, LittleBits, Adafruit and Makerbot are great examples of technology makers enabling people to create freely, contribute to one another’s projects and build on a vast and constantly growing network of knowledge.
What we are doing at XTH is an expansion upon the open knowledge and methodologies created through those communities. Our contribution is to drive and shape a new field in biocreative expression, experiences, interaction, and technologies.
We believe the open source/open hardware community will enable the emergence of a new medium, what we’ve taken to calling biomedia.
Our XTH Platform will fully support and nurture the growth of this new medium through your ideas and projects.
The growth of our community is possible for two interrelated reasons. First, the XTH Sense is completely open source. While we own both a trademark on the XTH Sense brand and the copyright of the XTH wearable hardware, software, and product design, we have applied GPL and CC licenses to guarantee the right of our community members to open, hack, and customize their XTH Sense. Anybody who redistributes a modified version of the XTH Sense must use the exact open licenses we use (and if agreed upon with us, can use our brand). This is crucial to the development of a community able to foster different kinds of creativity and, by doing so, generate and share knowledge.
Second, because the project is completely open, we have been able to run workshops and master classes at universities, festivals, and media labs worldwide, where the participants build their own XTH Sense from scratch and directly experiment with the technology at a very low cost (the first, wired version of the XTH Sense DIY kit costs about £20/$30). Between 2012 and 2014, we have taught over 35 workshops around the globe where participants learned from our expertise, and we learned from their feedback. We were lucky enough to accumulate a great deal of knowledge by interacting hands-on with people around the world and this has continuously informed the design of the new XTH Sense, while expanding our community.
Building a community is about encouraging users’ empowerment through a particular set of tools and a specific, and yet open mindset. Often empowerment is confused with usability. But making a device user-friendly is not equal to empowering its users. Empowerment means to acquire specialized knowledge by understanding and reproducing a process (or a technology). Empowerment also implies the cultivation of critical skills that can lead to the conception of truly novel and original paradigms. In this sense, the whole history of knowledge can be thought of as a jigsaw puzzle. Each generation adds puzzle pieces which have only a small part of the picture on it, and gradually the bigger picture is unfolded.
Here we are ready to create our part of the puzzle with you all and we can’t wait to reveal the date of our Kickstarter launch,… sooner than you expect!
What is your experience with open SDK and API? Did you ever felt constrained working with them? Comments below are open for you to tell us about your experience, and how open source / open hardware can support your work with body & technology!
The heading image is a work entitled “Nila” by Walton Ford.