With the assistance of a specialist, people from around the world can manufacture a custom-made hand. The OpenBionics Project, which creates designs for robotics and bionic devices, is a good example.
No patent fees are required. Since a large part of manufacturing is done locally, less transportation is needed. Maintenance is easier, and products are designed to be as durable as possible.
OpenBionics’ first prosthetic and robotic hand. OpenBionics – www.openbionics.org
Another example: In France, small-scale farmers need agricultural machinery to help them with their work. Large companies seldom produce machines for small-scale farming. If they do, maintenance costs will be high, and farmers may have to adapt their farming methods to the logic of machines. After all, technology is not neutral.
The farmers then decide to design their agricultural machines. The machines are produced to meet their own needs, not for sale on the market. As a global commons, they share their designs. The needs of small-scale farmers in the US are similar to those of their French counterparts. They also do the same. After a time, the two communities begin to communicate and form synergies.
This is the story of the nonprofit network FarmHack in the US and the co-operative L’Atelier Paysan in France, which both produce open-source designs for agricultural machinery.
We have explored with our colleagues to explore the contours and emerging modes of production based on the convergence of digital knowledge, software, and design, as well as local manufacturing technologies.
This model is called “design global, manufacturing local,” and we argue that it can lead to inclusive and sustainable forms of production and consumption. This logic follows that knowledge and design (which are light) become global, while manufacturing (which is heavy) is local.
Knowledge sharing tends to reduce the amount of material that is transported, and it encourages people to collaborate for a variety of reasons. Profit motives are not completely absent, but they are peripheral.
Open, decentralized resources can be used to design a variety of products, including medicines, furniture, and prosthetic devices. They can also be used to create farm tools, machinery, and other items. For instance, the Wikihouse projects produce designs for homes; the RepRap communities create designs for 3D printers. These projects don’t necessarily require a physical base, as the members are spread out all over.
How are these projects funded, though? Commons-oriented projects experiment with different business models, from receiving state funding (a grant for research) to individual donations (crowdfunding).
The design is created as a digital commons on a global scale, while the manufacturing happens locally, usually through shared infrastructures. Vasilis Kostakis, Nikos Exarchopoulos
The open, local design communities that are globally connected do not practice planned obsolescence. These communities can adapt these artifacts to local contexts and benefit from mutual learning.
In this scenario, mountain people in Ecuador can connect with mountain farmers in Nepal to share their knowledge and stop any collaboration, which would lead them to be solely dependent on proprietary information controlled by multinational corporations.
This idea is based in part on the cosmopolitanism discourse, which states that we all have equal moral standing even though nations treat us differently. The dominant economic system treats physical resources like they are infinite and locks up intellectual resources like they are finite. The reality is quite different. We live in a world that is limited by physical resources. However, non-material resources can be digitally reproduced and shared at very low costs.
Transporting electrons has a lower ecological footprint than coal, iron, or plastic. Locally, the challenge is developing economic systems that draw on local supply chains.
Imagine an acute water shortage in a large city. Within a year, the city could be completely dry. In a cosmological approach, global networks will be involved in solving the problem. A water filtration prototype is being developed in one part of the globe. The system is based on an open-source digital design which can be 3D-printed.
This isn’t fiction. This is not fiction. There is a Cape Town-based network called Stop Reset GO that wants to host a cosmolocalisation event in which people will work together intensively on solving this problem.
Cape Town, STOP Reset GO teams begin experimenting with this in order to overcome their real-life challenges. They document their modifications and open the next design version. Other locations around the globe are now using this new design to solve their problems.
Future research and limitations
This new model has two limitations: its main pillars are information and communication, as well as local production technologies. These issues can be resource extraction, exploitative labor energy usage, or materials flows.
From a political ecologies perspective, a thorough evaluation of these products and practices is required. What is the environmental footprint of a globally designed product that was locally manufactured? How much do users feel they are in control over the technology, knowledge, and skills required to use and manipulate such a product?