There are two kinds of parrots…
So in the summer of 2012, Petrone (then an engineer at a Portland startup) launched a site where flexible matrix boards and laser motion sensors could be sold alongside build-it-yourself weather monitoring kits and robot birds. Almost immediately, Tindie began attracting favorable attention from the indie hardware community—and then expanded from there. Today, around 600 inventors sell more than 3,000 different hardware products, which have shipped out to more than 80 countries around the world. Some customers are hobbyists like Petrone, but others are large entities like the Australian government, Google and NASA. These days, Petrone says, “NASA’s purchasing department just calls my cell phone.”
The site has also gained a strong following from hard-core DIY types. Just as Etsy became the go-to marketplace for craft creators, Tindie has become the primary hub for hardware aficionados. “We are definitely part of and supportive of the maker movement,” Petrone says. “We fill the hardware side.”
While Petrone achieved his goal of creating a marketplace for hardware projects, Tindie also inadvertently made a second contribution to the hardware world: it now stands as the largest collection of open-source hardware on the planet. “Nothing on the site is patented, and the vast majority of sellers have their source code and documentation links available right there on the page,” Petrone says. “Open source has become very much a part of the brand and what people within the hardware world associate with us.”
Part of the reason software has led the open source charge is that it has the advantage of being “lightweight,” Petrone explains. “It’s a case of atoms versus bits.”
Historically, big companies have dominated hardware production for two simple reasons: manufacturing is both expensive and difficult. Hardware requires physical objects, which entail manufacturing costs and, usually, shipping. But a precipitous drop in prices—which some attribute to the rise of cell phones, which made components cheap—is helping to lower the barrier to open source entry for hardware, as are crowd-sourcing platforms such as Kickstarter.
For companies and makers, the revenue model for open source hardware is still being worked out, since a person could potentially exploit an open source platform and sell it for profit. But as Arduino— a micro-controller for DIYers, and the most successful open source hardware project to date—shows, people tend to buy the $30 original version rather than the $10 copycats. “Most people want to support those who are actually contributing and putting the sweat and time into the project,” Petrone says. “You don’t get the same warm fuzzy feeling when buying a closed product as you do when you support someone who is creating an open one.”
As for Tindie sellers, monetary support has so far not been a problem. There is so much demand for the open source products sold on the site that the waiting list alone contains nearly half a million dollars’ worth of orders. For Petrone, “This has been something incredibly interesting to see because, ultimately, it’s a totally new market that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
Tindie, however, is likely only an early example of what is to come.
“I think open hardware will start coming into its own in the next ten years,” Petrone says. “Apple’s not going to open source their products anytime soon, but Tesla could.”
This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of Popular Science with the title, "The Etsy Of Hardware." It has been expanded in this web version.
Ask a simple question, get a comprehensive answer
Assange slams Germany for continuing to sell weaponised malware
Schizophrenia is known to be passed in families, implying genetic origins, but no single mutation has ever been shown to cause symptoms to emerge. It turns out, that's because different "orchestras" of mutations working together cause a range disorders that until now had been understood as a single disease. These results emerged from a new approach to studying the illness. Scientists examined the DNA of 4,200 people with schizophrenia and 3,800 healthy controls, looking for places in the genome where a single nucleotide -- the smallest unit of data in DNA -- had mutated. They found that none of the individual mutations produce significant risk for the disorder on their own. However, particular clusters of mutations create risk of developing schizophrenia and different symptoms. Eight have been found so far, and they expect to uncover more.
"This is better than saying that someone either has or doesn't have the disease," Dr. Igor Zwir, a lead on the study, tells Popular Science.
The study could have broad implications for the severe mental illness, which appears in about 1 percent of the population. Sufferers can experience a range of symptoms from delusions and hallucinations to disorganized speech and apathy. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published in 2013, called for interpretation of schizophrenia along a spectrum, but, according to Zwir, no comprehensive method for doing so existed, leading doctors to rely on trial and error for treatment.
"You can have one patient on seven drugs," he says. "One doesn't work, so they try another, and another, and another, and another. The problem is no one knows how to divide schizophrenia into groups."
By looking at the genetic roots of the disease instead of symptoms, Zwir hopes doctors will be able to be more direct in their treatment.
According to Zwir, the next step is to develop inexpensive targeted tests for the groups of mutations that produce schizophrenic symptoms. That could lead to a future of quicker, more effective care.
by Julik and Aaron
An international agreement to phase out use of chemicals that damage the ozone layer appears to be working. A new report finds that ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere are down by 10 to 15 percent, and that the ozone layer is by and large getting thicker.
The reason is that nations have followed through on commitments made under the Montreal Protocol and related pacts to phase out use of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and halons, according to the new assessment (PDF) released this week by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. About 300 scientists contributed to the report.
The ozone layer is a thin film of gas in the stratosphere. It protects the Earth from the Sun's ultraviolent rays, which can cause skin cancer, eye damage, and other forms of ill health for both animal and plant life on Earth.
CFCs and halons were common in products like refrigerators, fire-fighting foams and aerosol spray cans. But from the early 1970s onward, evidence mounted that UV radiation broke down these compounds in the mid-stratosphere (about six miles above the Earth's surface), resulting in the release of chlorine and bromine atoms that break down ozone (O3) molecules. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one chlorine atom can rip apart over 100,000 ozone molecules.
After the Montreal Protocol came into effect in 1989, countries began phasing out manufacture and use of ozone-destroying substances. There have been signs in the past 10 to 15 years that the atmosphere's "ozone column" is thickening in places, suggesting that the ban is working. The new report estimates that by 2050, the ozone layer in the Arctic and middle latitudes should return to roughly the condition it was in in 1980. Because natural atmospheric conditions cause air pollutants to concentrate over the poles, the seasonal ozone hole over Antarctica each spring (which has caused changes in the summer climate of the Southern Hemisphere) will take longer to heal.
A side benefit of CFC reduction is that it may be helping to blunt the progress of global warming, since CFCs are also powerful greenhouse gases. The assessment estimates that in 2010, lowered emissions of ozone depleters equated to keeping around 10 metric gigatons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, “which is about five times larger than the annual emissions reduction target” for 2008-2012 under the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty.
There are some warnings in the report as well. Some of the compounds being swapped in for ozone depleters – such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – are also potent greenhouse gases. If their use increases as predicted, they will contribute quite a lot to surface temperature rises.
As well, carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) levels remain unexpectedly high, even though the substance was banned under the Montreal Protocol. Participants in the treaty reported no new emissions of CCI4, which was used in fire fighting and dry cleaning, between 2007 and 2012. NASA credits the high levels to "unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources."
The UN assessment also warns that the options available for stopping future damage to the ozone layer are becoming limited as most of the most straightforward actions play themselves out. These have ranged from ending the production of ozone-harming substances, to the destruction of "banks" of destructive chemicals and upgrading to appliances that don't contain CFCs. Presumably more ingenuity will be required on humanity's part to continue making progress -- by coming up with new, safe chemicals and technologies -- as well as not repeating the mistakes of the past.