Christina Cyr (dtoor), Lenore M. Edman (Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories), Nadya Peek (University of Washington), Carl Richell (System76), and Glenn Samala (SparkFun) join moderator Ayah Bdeir for a lively debate on the state of open source hardware at the 2020 Open Hardware Summit. More information about the Summit is available at 2020.oshwa.org.
Ayah Bdeir [00:00:03] Why don't I start? Welcome, everybody. And to this panel, the goal of this panel is to review the last decade and think about the next decade in open hardware. My name is Ayah Bdeir. I'm the founder and former CEO of Little Bits and, if were in the opening talk, also one of the co-founders of the Open Hardware Summit. Today we have a really exciting panel with us to talk about the past decade and the future decade in open hardware. We have representatives from academia. We have representatives from startups, from small business and from medium business and really can talk about what is the impact of open hardware, both positive and negative from all aspects of a business and academia and really community. First, I want to start by introducing our panelists, if you can wave when it's when your name is called up. So first up, I have a set with Glenn. Glenn Samala from Sparkfun, Glenn is the CEO of Sparkfun. Before joining Sparkfun, he was senior director and general manager of global business for Arrow Electronics. And so we're very happy to have Glenn, because he can bring the experience of being an arrow and seeing really large scale either, but also doing it at Sparkfun in Colorado, Glenn. Next up, we have I'll go out of order. Lenore Edman, co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Lab Lenore, has been working with open source hardware since 2007 and has been the most one of the most loyal Open Hardware Summit attendees also and participants since the early days. And Lenore's Work sits at the intersection of electronics crafting science, art and education. Hi Lenore. next up, we have Christina. Christina is the founder, is a hundred entrepreneur. Her background is in biochemistry, physics, engineering and has expoerience in both hardware and software engineering. She has built multiple products and her last current product that she's building is a 4G LTE Android version of the Circle phone. I love the tagline and non rectangular phones or non rectangular people. Best fit of welcome, Christina. We also have the founder and CEO of Systems Seventy Six who brought production of desktop systems in-house. Systems 76 is the only computer manufacturer in the US. So that would be really interesting to talk about as well. Hi, Carl. And I think we don't have Nadya yet. I will introduce her as she jumps on. But why don't I kind of get started? So. I think for me, when I thought about sort of over the past decade and the future decade in open hardware, I thought what would be really relevant is to be a very open and honest with the community about some of the trials and tribulations that we've been through in the past decade. But also some of the magic that we want to carry forward. And I know a little bit we embarked on a being a fully open source hardware company. And when we launched the first three years, it was a huge part of investment that we did. And and at some point we had to prioritize that investment because of its impact on business, on cost, on kind of our community interactions. And so I know firsthand this idea of having to sort of balance realities and ideologies. And so I'd really like to invite our panelists to be really sort of open about some of the issues that they've come across. And my first question is a question for everybody. So it's been 10 years in open hardware. Name one thing that you think has improved over the last 10 years and one thing that you think that went backwards over the past 10 years. Maybe I'll start with Lenore, I'll start with you.
Lenore Edman [00:04:21] Sure. One of the things, things that has really improved is our connections that there's so much more access to information. The infrastructure for open hardware has increased, increased and improved just incredibly. So the number of connections that we have in the community is just absolutely incredible. And then one thing that has gone backwards. So there's still an open question about what we do when somebody calls something open hardware and it isn't. And that becomes more and more prevalent as more and more people become involved in this community and take advantage of this community. So that's one thing that I think is still a thorn and even a bigger thorn because people will use the name when they shouldn't.
Ayah Bdeir [00:05:12] Yeah, and that's an ongoing project that I know OSHWA's working on. Glen, what are your thoughts? One thing that has improved over the past 10 years, one thing that went backward.
Glenn Samala [00:05:25] I think, you know, from my perspective, you know, the fact that from an open source hardware perspective, it's a no and more more of a known entity in the business community, which I think is beneficial to all of us. I think one of the biggest challenges for those who aren't familiar with open source in the business can be the question is always automatically, how do you monetize this Farhadi's skills? And I think it's really trying to get those discussions going and getting beyond the, you know, the barriers first. But I just think overall, in terms of the presence and people know more about the open source hardware community is good for all of us. And I think it's how do we bridge that gap in a bigger, broader sense with the business community will be a, you know, one of the challenges that we have moving forward. But I agree with Lenore in terms of sort of defining what open-source hardware means is going to be critical for this team and this community moving forward. Just so we could really, align on what that operational definition is so we could tell a consistent story across the board.
Ayah Bdeir [00:06:28] And I was hoping for some kind of big explosive scandal on what's gone backwards, but so far it's been tame, so Nadya, what's improved over the past 10 years and what's gone backward.
Nadya Peek [00:06:42] I think with everything has improved. Right now we have some annoying things that have to do with tariffs. Lame. But overall, you know, I have graduate students now who tell me back when you were trying to build stuff, it was impossible for you to get parts. And now you can buy, you know, extrusions. You can, 3D printers are reliable. There's like all kinds of all kinds of different places where you can buy lots and lots and lots of parts in the marketplace for those kinds of things. It's really accessible now, a low volume. But I guess maybe. Oh, hello. Sixth person. But the. Yeah. I think that the difficulty there that remains and this isn't so much something that's gotten worse, but just something that we have to deal with. It's like as you have more marketplaces and different places to get parts, you have to make sure you have quality control of all of those different things. So every time you get like a new fastener or a new chip, you want to make sure that it actually is going to work in the design that you have and figuring out how to do a distributed quality control for open-source hardware, I think is something that we still haven't really figured out. Luckily, Woz is leading the charge in making sure we have all the tools we need for the future.
Ayah Bdeir [00:08:03] Passing on the buck. Carl, let's step over to you. What do you think has improved over the past 10 years and what's gone backward?
Ayah Bdeir [00:08:15] We can't really hear you all that well.
Carl Richell [00:08:17] Can you hear me better?
Ayah Bdeir [00:08:21] Yeah.
Carl Richell [00:08:22] Excellent. I agree with Glenn. I think that the exposure of open hardware and software source software also helps this and that it's its adoption has grown so widespread that open hardware is a natural extension of that. And companies that are producing products or are interested in both the leveraging the open source software and its community and open hardware seems to be a natural extension to that as far as challenges. I think making AR or open-source designs more useful to people is probably one of the largest challenges I see when we produce open source software. It's digital. It's if it's useful to people. It is. There's a community built around it relatively fast. We see bug reports. We see pull requests. We see things grow and move and energy around it. Since launching early a product line and open source, that's desktop product of the participation in the design is very, very different. Much, much smaller than it is in the business community. And I would attribute that to how young this community is, as well as to the difficulty with which one can take a design and make it useful for themselves. I'd love to see us work towards some they can maker spaces and other places where you can take these designs and computers to yourself more accessible and the part of the community.
Ayah Bdeir [00:09:51] So what's up about makerspace is in a bit. That's something that Christina did an overview of that I'd like to share. I'd like her to share with others. I think it's a really good point. But let's first talk to Christina. But what do you think has improved over the past 10 years of open hardware? And what has gone backwards?
Christina Cyr [00:10:10] So I think that, you know, definitely we've had more sharing and of course, with the growth and maker spaces, that's been really encouraging, just getting the word out there. Also get keep getting people use of idea of open-source hardware I think is really important. But, you know, like Nadya pointed out, the tariffs have been a real bummer, at least in our industry.
Ayah Bdeir [00:10:37] So, yeah, yeah, that's something also that's definitely exacerbated even by the situation that we're in right now. So we will have to watch how it goes. Are the things that are kind of common across what people talked about, community awareness and more ability to kind of make connections between people. I think those are really positive things. I know also that in academia a little bit less, but definitely in startup, small business and medium business. Open hardware is hard. It's hard to do. It's a lot of extra overhead and investment time investment, financial investment, documentation, investment. And and it adds quite a bit overhead on everybody's workload. And so the question to everybody on the panel is why do you still do it? What is your motivation to keep making your hardware open and whether wants to jump in? Go ahead.
Christina Cyr [00:11:37] For me, it's getting back to the community that gave so freely to me. So I wouldn't be against the loyalty right now.
Carl Richell [00:11:46] I think for for a system seventy-six open source is just a founding principle purpose. We work on if. For us, open source means sharing knowledge, sharing knowledge means it's more accessible to more people and more accessibility means people have more opportunities. They will have the opportunity to invest as a company to design hardware and peacekeepers, back planes, things enough people can take those designs learned from them and use them, adapt them, build their own designs off of them. I think it's real value in open source is this is that knowledge can spread. It is locked up into institutions, companies and Google groups know everyone's good.
Ayah Bdeir [00:12:38] From your perspective, this opinion is taking on that extra overhead and a sense of duty or a sense of mission or sense of ideology.
Carl Richell [00:12:46] Yes. Yeah, and.
Nadya Peek [00:12:48] I don't disagree with that, but I definitely don't think it is my primary motivator. I think that like reproducibility is really important. Being able to replicate systems. I think it's hard to rely on things that you don't know how they work. And if you want to be able to verify and make sure that the thing that you're telling it to do is actually doing it without being able to see you can't you can't guarantee that people can't extend and customize things if they're not open and designed to be extensible in that way. Overall, a closed system is just break down. They're not they're not robust and they don't have the smartness of everyone able to figure out flaws and fix them when it builds on.
Lenore Edman [00:13:32] Yeah, ideas said about extensibility that by making our products open, we reach different audiences because there is more documentation about it and there they can learn more about the product. They can do different things with it than we anticipate. So we're always learning about people using our things for ways that we had no idea that they would. We didn't expect that they would use it for for this thing. And they only do that because it's documented well enough that they're able to repurpose it.
Nadya Peek [00:14:08] Not only that, I mean, if I talk about norris' tools like that axi draw, for example, has a really robust software component that goes together with hardware and without being able to do like the full end to end open source system. You can't get it to do whatever that weird things are that you want it to be able to do that.
Lenore Edman [00:14:28] The axi-draw is an interesting example because part of it is not open source, but part of the hardware is. And it's an iterative design that comes from an early fully open source hardware project, the egg bot which was started back in 2010. So the axi-draw wouldn't be here without open hardware that it's it's been built on this series of machines that came out of an open hardware project.
Glenn Samala [00:15:00] I mean, from a Sparkfun perspective, the easy answer is it's an open source hardware company. That is our DNA. That's how we started. I could tell you in terms of why we continued to open source, it makes us a better company. But I think part of part of our mission from a sparkfun perspective is to really do new product introductions, give access to focus on new technologies, both software and hardware as much as we can, and from an open source for sector, which just makes us better. Right? I think it's also a challenge point, honestly. Right. I am sure you've been through this. I think it forces you to keep coming up with iterations of new products and where you have to keep focus on the next big thing, the next time. Technology, whatever, whatever interests community. You can't you can't cash cow product for a year or two. And that's OK by us because again, our mission is to make technology available and make new products available as quickly as possible. I mean, it just makes us a better company. Honestly, from a technology.
Nadya Peek [00:15:55] I think one demoralizing thing about that is whenever you open yourself up, you also are inviting all the criticism. It really is the thing. You better. But, you know, sometimes you open up your pull requests and you're like, oh, it's me. I just terrible shit over.
Glenn Samala [00:16:13] We're all in technology space. Regardless if you're open or closed, the reality of the market, the technology market rewards doesn't reward sort of the status quo, doesn't reward sort of the standards. Right. And so from an open hardware perspective, that's an advantage for us.
Lenore Edman [00:16:32] And I think if you can get that feedback, it improves your product faster than it does for someone who doesn't get that feedback.
Carl Richell [00:16:39] Well, you know, to to your point, when you're doing something that's open source, I think you tend to put more care into it because, you know, you're going to be exposed to this. I know this is true in software. I think it's true and in hardware just as much.
Glenn Samala [00:16:53] It keeps you in check. We say that a lot here and it keeps us keeps us honest.
Ayah Bdeir [00:16:57] I mean, there is something that Carl mentioned earlier that that at Littlebits we experience a lot. So in the first few years we were very, very focused on making everything that we delivered. Open source it took an incredible amount of overhead and especially since the is a large platform does over 80 bits, it it adds a ton of overhead per bit. But at one point we noticed that all the extra work there was only a handful of people that we're putting that we're looking at the documentation or looking at the at the board. So we were doing all the sexual work that was hundreds and hundreds of hours of people's time and really a very, very tiny community of people who were looking at it. And arguably, it wasn't necessary. And so we had to prioritize that because as Glen was saying, you are under pressure to deliver innovative products. You have to have timelines that you want to hit particularly. We were working on timelines of the school year or Christmas. And and so we had to make a difficult call to, you know, the last third of the bits, we didn't do as much work on opening them up. So it's it was kind of a constant struggle. So it's interesting to hear, you know, from from all of you the drive that is, you know, I'm not just saying scalability, resilience of the product line or saying that, you know, it makes you look at fine uses that you didn't think about before. These are all real benefits that that definitely counters some difficulty, but it is difficult for sure. Which brings me to one of the most difficult aspects of producing hardware for anybody. But I think open hardware adds a layer of complexity, which is supply chain manufacturing. I would love to hear about your supply chain nightmares at night and supply to nightmare to share with the community. The reason I ask that question is I know that there are a lot of either beginners or early, early hardware developers in their career in the audience. And and I really am a fan of people not thinking that they are doing something wrong and there's something wrong with them. And for them to understand from everybody that these are hard things for every 4 for any developer. So, you know, your supply chain nightmare's any volunteers.
Glenn Samala [00:19:13] All of the above. I mean, I mean, I could tell you one thing that has forced us to do it. And really, it's almost like in the spirit of open source hardware, right? It forced us to consider and think differently about our supply chain channels too easily. We we go to China sort of the the solution. And it just forces it forced us to think in that, you know, towards the end of December. What are the other alternatives? You know, it's a big world out there. So it really, again, put us in check and sort of challenged our status quo. So if there's anything good that came out of, at least from my perspective, it really forced the team to think differently about sort of supply chain management, how we should look at it differently, whether its normal course of business or there's a second continuously plan we need to consider. But yes, supply has been, as we all know on this planet, it's been difficult. Oh, yeah. All right.
Ayah Bdeir [00:20:06] It's nothing. Sourcing the raw material. Exactly. And anybody else, any manufacturing disaster, compliance disaster, fire on the line, shipment stuck in in Timbuktu.
Carl Richell [00:20:21] Yeah, I can hear one truth for certain. One of many, many different challenges. But one of our components for his business sense is that the compresses a constant movement of any threads into a. You like to use steel raveonettes because aluminum is too soft. And so thread's a lot of times the pull out. Well, we order tens of thousands of these at a time and when they arrive we pop open the box and everything's fine and so is started using them. And we put up with a second box and it was rusted third box. The rest of the fourth boxes, the fourth one is rusted. We learned that day that when you get a shipment and everything inspected, because then you have to wait three weeks to get to you to get in. And maybe that haults production. Yeah, that was a tough.
Ayah Bdeir [00:21:11] Not not not going to see Christina. You're nodding.You have to have a story.
Christina Cyr [00:21:17] So with our first phone before we even launched the Kickstarter campaign, you know, it was it was interesting because it was our first time and we had reluctantly because it was just our tester that we had slapped together for our testers. But then people started asking to buy it. So it was actually a kit that we reformulated from Seed Studio. And so we we ordered a couple of hundred kids from Seed Studio and preparation, and they got caught in customs in Alaska for over a month. And that was a huge wake up call for us because we did it. We were helpless. We didn't know why they had been caught. We didn't know how long it was going to take for them to get out of, you know, limbo. And we realized, sorry for all the shouting and we realized that we would have to carry the overhead of all of our employees during any delays. So because of that, we actually shifted to a more contractor model and employed people on contracted short term basis to keep kind of our overhead down. And typically, companies don't like to do that, especially if they're raising revenue because you want to show a large team and all of that kind of stuff. But for us, we just really had to work on a shoestring. So the second thing that that that forced us to do was, for example, for this second phone we have, most of our source is most of our inventory is available stateside and we manufacture it in Seattle. We do everything in Seattle. The only parts that we sourced from China that are inventory in China are the display and the battery. So those are the parts that we will have to wait for to assemble the phone. But in the meantime, we can assemble the whole board and test all the units with the sample displays and sample batteries. So, yes, it it was really a good heads up for us that first year. And we've been developing our system since then.
Ayah Bdeir [00:23:28] And getting some of those lessons early on is effective to kind of build resilience into our supply chain because they will invariably happen the sooner you know, the better.
Christina Cyr [00:23:37] And also having backup components, you know, have little to replace out and to make sure that. And then that also hope helps with open source. Other people have pointed this out as well. If you share out your board and somebody you want to swap out a part. It's much easier if you don't have specialty parts.
Lenore Edman [00:23:55] So we had a supplier not too long ago helpfully substitute a stainless steel nut for a zinc plated nut because it was higher quality. And so we had to communicate much more clearly that no, that actually had to be as pointed, not because of issues with its seizing. And it was just like, oh, what you want the highest quality thing. And so the the difficulty was in communicating the exact specifications rather than, you know, some nebulous I want the best thing with our suppliers. It's been interesting working with learning to communicate which things are important even with our supplier that you've worked with for years. You still have to keep in mind exactly which things are important to communicate about a particular part. Even something as simple as a nut.
Christina Cyr [00:24:51] And that's another important part about the Corona virus occurring, is that we've actually been approached in the last month. By a large, I can't see their name, but large manufacturer of. Other phones in America of American phones, and they're offering to make our phone in China. And of course, they are exceptional doing that, but we won't be able to fly there to be boots on the ground to inspect any of the product there and to make sure that it's within our vision and within our design. And things like that. So it's really disabling this whole global situation.
Ayah Bdeir [00:25:37] And I would encourage people to, after this panel, jump on the discord and share some of these stories. And if they come up with solutions that particularly are going to be relevant now and during the Corona virus pandemic, many people that potentially are in China that could help one thing ease up a bit. There would be people that have found other solutions or have, you know, stacks of piles of materials that could help. And I think that there'll be a lot of solutions within the community. So I would encourage people to go add to the disposition of assets, discuss this.
Lenore Edman [00:26:14] And there is a Covid 19 specific Dischord channel as well.
Ayah Bdeir [00:26:18] Yeah. Yeah. So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about, you know, kind of thinking about the next 10 years and how we want to continue growing open-source hardware. We want to bolster it and make it stronger. And what are you know, how we understand and analyze some of the tools and enable enablers that were really helpful in the past decade and the ones that we want to take forward. So when I see tools that enablers, I mean things like design tools. I mean, things like community, which was already touched upon. But I also mean tools like media and I mean tools like institutions, schools, libraries and maker spaces. So I'll start, I guess with with makerspace because I think that's relevant for a lot of people. What is the role that makerspace play in this movement? And Christina, you did a survey of makerspace that have existed over the past 10 years. Give us a bit of a snapshot of what you found.
Christina Cyr [00:27:21] So the reason I was doing the research was part of our Kickstarter campaign involved flying to maker spaces throughout the United States and offering to teach people how to assemble the circle phone in class form. And we did offer to ship Circo phone components and people could assemble them by themselves, but they preferred to have the class along with it. And so I had to do research about which maker spaces we were, which six maker spaces we were going to go to through that throughout the United States. And it turned out there were. So I based that on the states that had the most maker spaces. And so I contacted the maker spaces, for example, in California, Texas, New York. There were also Austin, not Austin. Excuse me. I'll think of it anyways. What I found was when I would start, so I was working off of a list provided by major media. And the list seemed to have been two years old at that time, but it was the only list I could find at that time. So I started contacting all of the maker spaces in those states to figure out which one was with the open to the participating having their name on our Kickstarter campaign. And what I found was about 18 percent of the kick of the makerspace had gone down by the time that I contacted them. So I got the sense that that list was about two years old. So it seemed like, you know, any makerspace after it was established really had about an 80 percent chance of of surviving after it was established. But I think it's really hard. I think makerspace is there an act of love? I think that and I've talked about this before, but, you know, when libraries were first established, they used to be a privilege of the rich and then they became a public foundation. But I think we're seeing makerspace move from private maker spaces to more public maker spaces, for example, the maker spaces that have been incorporated in places, in libraries. I believe the Los Angeles library was the first one to do this, but there have been a lot of maker spaces that have popped up in libraries since then. And I think it's a great transition for libraries nowadays to move to the kind of more hardware digital. Format of sharing because fewer and fewer people are reading paper books. Gosh, I hope that never goes away. But I think it's a great transition.
Ayah Bdeir [00:30:16] Christina, would you be willing to share your list of maker things that you found? The ones that are still active, I think that be a really useful list for people.
Christina Cyr [00:30:23] Oh, yes. But I did that in 2016. There are actually better lists of maker spaces out now, and I'm happy to share those lists.
Ayah Bdeir [00:30:33] So I think would be great. And Lenore when we talked about libraries, you you work with libraries quite a bit. You work with schools quite a bit at what is the role that schools and libraries play in growing the open hardware movement. And what do we need to do to help them?
Lenore Edman [00:30:49] That's interesting. I think that the relationship is kind of reversed, that the schools and libraries benefit from the open hardware movement. When we create tools that they can use for education. So, for instance, if you make a low cost soldering kit that they can use for teaching soldering that they can buy in mass. You know, they're going to take advantage of that kind of whether it's open source or not, but it's usually more beneficial if it's open source for the reasons that we've talked about earlier, that the documentation attends, we hope is better. And, you know, so much thought has been put into it. And then from a tools perspective, more and more maker spaces are getting things like 3D printers and other digital fabrication tools like even pen potters, vinyl cutters, those kinds of things. And the more open they are, the more the libraries and maker spaces can maintain them because your your costs are limited or your funds are limited for these kinds of things typically in these types of institutions, because you're usually in, you know, resource restricted situations. So the open source hardware projects tend to be a good fit for those environments, in part because we can make them last longer, because they have a community around them, because they can look it up online and see how somebody else resolve the problem that they're seeing now.
Ayah Bdeir [00:32:29] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And Nadya, you did quite a bit of research on open source manufacturing. That's also obviously a big an enabler or a component that I think is going to be important in the whole movement. Can you talk a bit about that?
Nadya Peek [00:32:43] Yeah, I don't know exactly how to characterize it. Well, but I guess maybe a difference between me and the other people on this power panel or I don't ship product. I just like gallivant around in the magical realm of academia. And so the one of the things that I think is really interesting to explore is what would it mean to not have manufacturers? What at what point do we have enough documentation, enough source that everyone can make everything on them on their own? And I don't mean that in like a hypothetical everyone where everyone is no one. But really, what does it take for people who aren't experts, who don't necessarily have training and production to be able to buy parts on a list and assemble machines, tools and other kinds of things? And there I think a lot of the time what we rely on is the historical we allowed the historical way that things have been made in the past. And then we tried to kind of shrink it or make it into something that fits in makerspace. And fundamentally, I think there's something really broken about that and about how changing just making infrastructure like cheaper or more or somehow easier to get into a space doesn't necessarily make it easy to use or well suited to the people who are going to have access to it. So I like to think about what is the Fabricant ability of this thing? What is the what are the what are the tools you need to make? It was the expertise you need to make it. How can people get that expertise? How can people get the parts? And that's, I think, an interesting starting point for, you know, what distributed manufacturing, open manufacturing would really look like. Yeah, I don't know. I feel like I'll hijack the panel if I talked about this for too long.
Ayah Bdeir [00:34:40] I mean, it's an interesting break and it's an interesting other conversation that people are interested. Definitely. And it should and should continue on on the discord Channel. Carl and Glenn, both of you manufacture in the US. Can't you guys manufacture computers, blend and manufacture all sorts of flom and large hardware? What are some of the tools that have changed over time? Enabled designer tools or production tools like fashion tools that have changed over the past decades and that you think are going to be enablers for the open hybrid movement.
Carl Richell [00:35:16] That's a great question because we know our company has been grown organically, started in my basement 15 years ago.
Ayah Bdeir [00:35:27] We can't really hear.
Carl Richell [00:35:28] Oh, it's the company's been insisting six has been grown organically over 15 years. It started in my basement there. Essentially nothing. And we didn't jump into manufacturing. And so we had the capital to buy the type of machinery that was necessary to do it. And so that's that's where I struggle as well. When one idea of just listening, the panel was potentially partnering with universities that have allowed this, we should be at least people cooking teams to manufacture products. And it's a lot different than.
Nadya Peek [00:36:02] Can we disband of like one thing? Maker spaces aren't just like a bunch of tools. Makerspace are people with expertise that help other people do stuff and being like, oh, you know, universities have tools worked in a lot of universities in a lot of times, just like a pile of rust. It doesn't work. It doesn't help to have to say, oh, you know, some rich person donated a bunch of this stuff and now everyone has access to it. It's really not true. If the tools are useable, if they're not designed for lots of novices, I mean, do different kinds of stuff than having a makerspace is like meaningless.
Carl Richell [00:36:37] Yeah, a couple of years ago went to metro here before we started manufacturing because they have a program for machinists and another, you know, other folks that are interested in this type of manufacturing work. And so they had lasers. They had lathes. They had they had the machinery. And I actually learned a lot there as well because we were just learning how to manufacture. And so, you know, I don't have the answers to make this more accessible. But, you know, perhaps finding those places where they're available and those are those that are doing manufacturing. Some of the guys here, folks who have talked about officially having classes to bring people them and show them what it's about, as if there's interest in the national museum.
Nadya Peek [00:37:20] So now they're looking like the educational pipeline thing is a little bit of a you know, it's not about learning to use the tools that already exist. Plenty of these tools suck, like we often use Gcode. Why? It's like. It's like a two way street. Yes. We want more people who can do stuff with these tools. But at the same time, you know, we are now in a position where we can change all of these tools. So doing more of that, I think it's also a great way to start chipping away at this problem.
Ayah Bdeir [00:37:49] But I think not that we need. What you're saying we need to improve the tools or any other tools.
Nadya Peek [00:37:54] I think both all of the above. And also, I think we really need to celebrate the people who are doing the maintenance and the education and making that a really valuable component of it. I think one thing involves a lot of major spaces for a long time. And like makerspace manager, burnout is a real thing. It's the the ones that just like fold or go away or like you come back a few years later and everything is just broken. Hasn't been used for a while. What do we do about that?
Ayah Bdeir [00:38:23] Yeah, but I would argue that's not a tool problem. That's a that's a as supporting the community. And I think that has to do it.
Nadya Peek [00:38:31] It does have to do is a tool, I think, because if you are requiring right now or requiring people who use makerspace tools to effectively do a miniatureized version of exactly the same CNC workflow that people did in the 1960s. And so we've come a long way and making things really useable. We can have like toddlers using iPads. So why are they not using robot arms?
Lenore Edman [00:38:56] So the success stories I think in design tools is Kit-Kat, that they've had increased development, significant tool improvement and education. They have people publishing tutorials and footprint libraries and all of those things where suddenly you really can learn to do PDA. But it's still it still has its roots in those 60s design practices. But it's getting better and and it is more accessible because those communities have come together and are doing the education as well as the development.
Ayah Bdeir [00:39:41] Glenn, any thoughts on that?
Glenn Samala [00:39:43] I mean, this is clearly a difficult discussion. I think in the spirit of what we want to do, want to bring to the community, we want to provide that availability, want to provide the tool sets in a book. Quite candidly, what it comes down to is how do we model this in such a way that it could maintain itself, frankly, from a financial perspective. Right. We do what we can from a sparkling perspective to reach out to the community and build things. And we've done it in terms of, you know, an idea. We bring it to the sparkfun store, we sell it. But I think in a broader sense. From a community perspective, what is the right model, right? How do we how do we get to that point? And I you know this that there is there's a point from a business perspective, sparkling that's been in business for, oh, my gosh, 17 years now. And so there's this challenge of keeping the lights on. But contributing to community and a bigger part of fashion. And what does that balance look like, quite candidly? I don't know. We've tried so many different things. And I'm not a.. Point is not just giving access and giving the toolsets. It's how do you enable and how do you educate them? And that requires time and effort. And quite candidly, schools are also a challenge for us. I want to be in that space. We are in that space. But there's also a lot of heavy lift in terms of the educational training, then getting up to speed on what you know, what what what is a large Luigino. And so we have feet on the street. But that that's a big, heavy lift for a lot of organizations. And we'll continue to sort of push that forward. But as a community, as business leaders, we need to think about what the what what does the right model look like and what does that balance model with like that benefits everyone? It's a difficult topic.
Christina Cyr [00:41:25] And I just wanted to give a shout out to sparkfun. Thank you for bringing all of your cellular boards on line in the last year. I've really noticed and really appreciated it.
Glenn Samala [00:41:34] You're welcome.
Ayah Bdeir [00:41:36] And these things end point to say, because I definitely relate to what Glenn is saying. It's a lot of extra work, a lot of extra overhead when you're running a company and one hand you're trying to take care of your employees, making sure that everybody is happy when paid and doing interesting work. You have to think if investors are people that have funded the company, you have to make sure the company can stand on its feet and be at and be sustainable. You also want to take care of the customer and give them something at a price that they're willing to pay and not more. Want to take care of that. And the early adopters or the one percenters that I want, I never happy with how things work. It's a difficult balance to bring together. And so many times you don't have time to kind of reinvent the tool chain and have to use what's around and ends up being supplied to everybody. But it's sort of, you know, you have.
Nadya Peek [00:42:37] Oh, no, no, no.
Lenore Edman [00:42:42] Well, I want to build on what Ayah was saying, that the documentation part of it and the education part of it is super important. But one of the ways that we started as a company was actually not as a company, but as a project blog. We started by telling people how to do things. And so that's been one of the reasons that open hardware was a good fit for us is because we started from that perspective of let's show people how to do things. And so some of the things that we saw the most of our gumdrop L.E.D. and pager motors, which neither of which are particularly open source, they're just components. But because we make them accessible and we describe them in a way that teachers find friendly, they are well, they'll buy it from us because they can understand how to use it because of the ways that we describe it. And that's one of the ways that we solve that problem of connecting with the classrooms is it is trying to have really inclusive language in all of our documentation and we fail at that. Sometimes some of our documentation is probably too technical or less inviting than it could be, but we do sell a lot of gumdrop L.E.D..
Ayah Bdeir [00:44:01] And so we have about 10 minutes left. I want to take some questions from the audience, but I do. I would be remiss to leave a topic unspoken about in this panel, which is make magazine and maker media and obviously Make magazine. And Maker Media was a very big proponent, evangelist's and kind of pillar and propping up the open hydrate movement and supporting many of our businesses projects, academic research. What has the distribution of major media meant to the movement? It's propped up in different forms now, so it's more community driven and there's great work being done on that front. But what wasn't it being gone mean? and what would it mean for the future?
Lenore Edman [00:44:52] So one of the things that I've noticed is that we don't have as many in-person. And this is exacerbated, of course, by the current situation. In-person opportunities to connect with other people like ourselves. So Maker Faire, although I loved the interaction with the public, was more important to me as a way to connect with people like me who are making kits for that community. And so that's the thing that I miss the most. The thing is that are gone that I think are less tragic weren't going away anyway. So Metro magazine as a as a hub for place, for a place to people for people to go and get information. Well, there aren't those hubs anymore. You know, there are Facebooks and there are Twitters and there are Instagrams, but there aren't the same kinds of blog hubs and central sources of information. Our community is much, much more distributed. And that coincided with Maker Media's fall. I don't know how much you contributed to it, but so I think that's less of a loss now because it was going away anyway.
Ayah Bdeir [00:46:15] What are other people's comments on that?Nadya, looks like you have some thoughts. Are you muted? I think.
Ayah Bdeir [00:46:28] You can't hear you can read sign language and anybody else, thoughts on Maker Media?
Christina Cyr [00:46:40] As far as the Maker Faire is going to, I really miss, like Lenore's pointed out, the water cooler talks, just the casual conversations that you would have in person with people, you know, for example, saying, oh, I no longer use threaded inserts in my prince because, you know, I found that the 2.5 millimeter screw works just fine for the limited number of times that I need to, you know, screw and unscrew it and things like that. I mean, those things may not saying in, for example, if you're giving a talk, but just those casual conversations really meant a lot to me.
Ayah Bdeir [00:47:26] I mean, the software community in some sense never had that and never seemed to need it. So I guess maybe the challenge for that hydrous community in trying to figure out how to use software and the web in a more efficient way to make this thing happen. Incredible. A huge pieces of software have been written with people that I've never met before, never been able to have wonderful talks, never been able to share anything. In a sense, I think I think, yeah, you know, there's many other reasons. I am very, very sad about Maker ah, yeah, Makerfaires not being around. But I do hope that they come in a different form and they seem to kind of get it.
Nadya Peek [00:48:05] You know, hot take, Make Media was deeply problematic in much different ways. And there bunch of other people that are doing a better job. There's like a lot of fun. I don't know. There's a Adafruit and sparkfun have like lots of educational resources. Hackaday Super Con is an awesome con. Tear down is awesome, the crowd supply one. There's like Murph Earth for all the earth, all of us. And yeah, I don't know, I getting kind of tired of being accosted by giant cupcakes.
Ayah Bdeir [00:48:39] Alright on that note, on the cupcake note, let's take some questions from the audience. There's a few that were picked out for us, but I'm going to tackle one simple one. Let's try to keep the submissions open to give you one. Simple one. How long did the team continue to support it? It's an open heida, actually. Discontinue it and maybe ask Glenn and Karl. Christina. Let's ask everyone. Anybody who has an answer please jump in.
Carl Richell [00:49:10] The typical length of time is five years, and in business, at least in selling products, three years is the typical warranty that you need to squirt up to. And most companies move to five years.
Lenore Edman [00:49:24] Right here we just got a tech support request yesterday for a product that we launched in 2008 and had just haven't really discontinued but haven't updated in five years. So we're still supporting it, but it's low volume, so we've never really stopped supporting pretty much anything.
Glenn Samala [00:49:44] I think it's from a Sparkfun perspective, it is very, very rare to put, to put something EOL. Well, we have stuff that Nate came up with, you know, 15 years ago. That's all. Thanks so much, man. We'll have it out there. So, I mean, that's you know, we do have an advantage from from a manufacturing perspective that everything is in-house. So we can mass so low cost note that appropriately and yeah, we could support older products so long as we continue to come up with new products. I could help keep the engine as well. But if we get to a position where we just cast Kaulder products, then then we're out of business tomorrow. But but from as far from perspective, we tend to hold on to things much less long. Frankly, it would like in some cases, but I get why we do it.
Christina Cyr [00:50:23] So that makes sense. And for me, I try to just follow what other people have demonstrated. So one of the first phones that I cut my teeth on was David Melis' 2012 phone. And he was still supporting that, you know, years later. And so I you know, I really watch what other people do. And so it makes me kind of wonder, like, how long we need this support. And maybe we need to, for example, for our phones, you know, set expectations up front. You know, we will support this for two years because it's a large undertaking and we have limited staff.
Carl Richell [00:51:01] So there's also a distinction between technical support and hardware replacement or amazing thing for a technical support. We for lifetime support. So until the thing just dies, you can call us and talk to us. But the abilities to replace components inside of the computer is, in our case, somewhat limited by the upstream warranties that we are holding to from memory suppliers and so forth. That being said, when things do run out, I think a good policy to have is that if it is that you you replace something that's broken under warranty with equivalent or better. And so sometimes you can't buy the same memory, replace memory for a customer. Exactly. But it could play. Replacing it with equipment or better is a good practice.
Glenn Samala [00:51:49] Yeah. The last comment on this from a Spakfun perspective, we also benefit from the fact that we're not we're not tied to a funnel and use product. Right. We go to market with all the puzzle pieces that people need to make something. And sometimes those puzzle pieces last 15, 20 years and we're actually OK with that.
Ayah Bdeir [00:52:07] So it sounds like we have it. We have five extra minutes so we can keep going with a few other questions. I think this question is pretty important on the topic of compliance. What are your experiences with gaining certification? CE, UL, FCC on commercial open hardware. If I was on the panelist side, I would talk about this for seventy five hours. Making open-source hardware products for kids that are exposed, circuit boards that are for education and have magnets in them are probably the worst Venn diagram and Markon in the world and also have white circuit boards. So I'm not going to speak because I would have the conversation, but however had experience. I think CE is really important, CE and UL. FCC of course. I mean sort of feedback on how to get recertification and how to make them easier for people that are getting started.
Christina Cyr [00:53:16] So for us, it's it's kind of frustrating for us because we source all of our inventory from the United States. We manufacturer in the United States. And yet the most cost effective and most knowledgeable solution is these certifications, right, actually in China. So we will have to send tests, units to China to get certified for America, which just blows my mind. There are excellent certification companies in California. But they cost an arm and a leg and we can't afford them at this point. So it's just easier for us to send our units to China to get certified at this point.
Ayah Bdeir [00:54:00] So I actually am I mean, I wasn't kidding. I do have quite a bit of experience with that. But we do have we had some excellent relationships with people in the US that the certifications we actually had a little bit. Remember, that recently started his own shops to do that. The companies, if you did get in touch with me and I will tell you, he's just an incredible person and has so much knowledge and so many contacts both in the U.S. and abroad and can really help on that front. But it's painful, painful process.
Christina Cyr [00:54:32] Fantastic. Thank you.
Ayah Bdeir [00:54:35] All right. Another question that I think is is important is releasing source file design, bom, and backend code enough or does good open source hardware require good documentation and dev tools?
Nadya Peek [00:54:53] Documentation is definitely required as part of open hardware definition. But I think that doing a good job of that is definitely required. And I think a lot of people don't even even to some extent figuring out what kind of documentation we can write so people can replicate and build upon our work is something I don't know. I'll just call myself out. I don't always do the best job. But I do think it's very, very, very important.
Lenore Edman [00:55:20] You know, it's hard for someone who makes hardware to know what information someone who doesn't make hardware needs to be able to replicate your project. We're too close to it. So it's hard for us to see what documentation is required unless we're doing the kind of documentation internally to enable our own production to be really good. So that's kind of unusual for. So I think many of us are so close that it makes it hard.
Nadya Peek [00:55:51] But it's actually doing a product on this right now where we have that multi-headed this multi-headed machine picks up and drops off different tools called Jubilee. And there we're actually doing our research project or we're testing the documentation. We're figuring out what are the attributes of documentation of electromechanical devices, that it's important for people to be able to replicate them if they had access to the kinds of tools you might find in a makerspace.
Lenore Edman [00:56:20] I will look forward to that research coming out.
Nadya Peek [00:56:23] Conclusions are: you need a lot of documentation. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots.
Ayah Bdeir [00:56:30] Don't deter people. We're trying to encourage people. All right. Next question. Sometimes open source means building a smaller business than your investors or customers or colleagues, which it could be. How do you avoid the temptation to scale your company at some point? It may be impractical, impractical to best cater to open minded customers. I think the way I understand the question is if you if you have investors, there's pressure to not be open. Source or customer is one level of delivery or product that being open source makes difficult in terms of kind of bad the experience. Are you X and things like that? Or colleague, same thing. Is it really a decision between scaling the company and being open source and or do you have to rethink completed the scale because it becomes impractical, impractical to be open source?
Glenn Samala [00:57:30] I think you have scale issues regardless for open source or not, honestly. And I think the same business tells you have an clotheshorse model and that they're all the same. I think from my perspective, Open just teases it out or again keeps you in check a lot sooner. So from an investor perspective, I don't know how to answer that because we're we're totally pushed up here and sparkfun, but I'll often get asked the question again. Having worked at out for over 20 years, how was it running an open source hardware company versus something like Haro? And frankly, the answer is really not that different. We all have the same challenges cash flow, working capital inventory turns, product releases. It's we just have to do it fast because of our model. And I also think people need to keep in mind, look, what market are you entering from an open source hardware perspective? It works for us because again, we we focus on the building blocks. We focus on the puzzle pieces. Candidly, that might be different discussion. If you're if you're looking at it from end user and user perspective, I am sure you probably have some some challenges area and those channels will be different than sparkplugs because again, we're focused more on the bits and pieces versus the follow product. But I also think it's it's an easy out for most folks to say, you know, it's just harder for open source. So I think they're all the same challenges.
Ayah Bdeir [00:58:50] I think I would I would tend to agree. I think the times are the same. What I would say and what I would say to people is if you were going to open source your product, just make sure that your and your offering is not a commodity. That's exactly right. The commodity and your blood can be replicated. And that's what you're often people. That's not enough. You can add if you've been slapped some. And what they're doing is because their value add is in the materials, in the videos and B and the speed at which they create them and things like that. It's not just replicating the higher. It does not replicate the product that you receive.
Glenn Samala [00:59:27] You sell it perfectly. And I'll set up that to this. But it to your point, it really is the value beyond the product you're selling. Right. And the next thing I would encourage people to do, especially Sato's, is as you sort of identify what the value is for your product. Understand that changes over time. That value becomes expected. Right. So, you know, you need to think about what the next thing is in terms of what you wrap around that product set that that creates value for a customer. But if it if you're just looking at it from a pure product perspective, it's not regardless of your open source or closedsource, it it's still a challenge because you have to value is.
Ayah Bdeir [01:00:03] All right. So one last question to leave this hopefully on a positive note. And if you could start your journey again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? And the question for everybody in the panel.
Carl Richell [01:00:19] But I can tell you one mistake we made. Well, this has much more to do with manufacturing than it does with open source hardware, unfortunately. But one mistake we made was is going cheap on some of the machinery that we purchased or trying to. And then we found out that they failed miserably and end up costing more. So when it comes to producing your products, it means that you're making make the investment in good machinery.
Ayah Bdeir [01:00:42] Don't be cheap. All right. Another one. If you if you started the journey again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Nadya Peek [01:00:58] I think maybe being less shy about learning things. I think it's. Especially now. I think it's an it maybe an easier landscape to say something like that. You're like, oh, I'm on YouTube. I have no idea what I'm doing. But I do actually think a lot of people learn that way. And maybe in the beginning being like shy or embarrassed about your own skill set. Maybe if I could go back in time, I'd be like, it's OK, Nadia, you can talk to the Internet. They probably won't eat you.
Ayah Bdeir [01:01:27] Or if they did, you don't care.
Nadya Peek [01:01:31] Yeah. It'll be fine. Yeah.
Christina Cyr [01:01:38] Honestly, if I knew everything that I would have to go through at this point, I never would have started. It's been absolutely brutal. And thankfully, I had no idea. You know, I thought how hard could it be to make a cell phone, to make a smart phone, you know? Surely I can I can do this. I had no idea idea about supply issues and how difficult it is to get the attention of some suppliers. If you're a small company and also just being taken seriously, you know, being a small company, you know, trying to achieve a very complex product. And that's all an uphill battle. But wow, I really I really love my job, though.
Ayah Bdeir [01:02:27] So the tip is don't ask too many questions before you start.
Christina Cyr [01:02:32] Don't ask too many questions. Just be super curious. It'll be fine. And then also, you know, when you have a deadline approaching, you're like, I have to ask this question. I have a deadline approaching. I have this product right now. So, you know, it forces you into uncomfortable situations that you would normally not ever venture into. And because of that, you know, you you grow a tough skin and you become a really brave and you're not afraid to ask the stupid question or be naive about something, you know, say I have to ship tomorrow. So please, can you explain this technical detail to me that, you know, everybody assumes that I should know already. You know, kind of thing.
Lenore Edman [01:03:16] So I think that's really the the thing is that if I had been much more forthright about asking questions, that could have made things easier. I don't know if I would have started business. It's so much work. But but that knowing how generous this community is and how willing they are to ask questions. I mean, if I had known that then, maybe I would have asked more. Maybe I would have learned faster because I would have been more willing to ask the questions. So that's a good takeaway, is that this community is really generous. If you're in the in the channels and asking questions, you're probably going to get really good information. So reach out. There are so many experts and people who aren't experts but are willing to help you research things or ask or answer what they know.
Nadya Peek [01:04:03] So I would never learn to to solder with leaded solder. Useless skill to be good at. Be gone leaded solder.
Ayah Bdeir [01:04:14] All right. I think that that was a really nice tip for everybody. Don't hesitate to ask questions. The community is great. Generous. Don't be shy. I would like to use my soapbox for a minute and to say something that is very important for me that I think it's always been very important for this open minded community and that I did know when I started that I think is even more important today than when I did that, which is design an inclusive environment from when you start a company, your team, your discussion group, your forum, whatever it is you're designing designers to be. Is it from being one that means inclusive freedom from different ethnicities, different genders, different technical backgrounds, languages, and because it gets very, very hard afterwards if you don't do that. And it is also extremely important. Even more so this day and age. So, end of soap box. Thank you, everybody, for being on this panel. Please chat on discord afterwards. We were thrilled to have you and have a great day.