The Amazing World of Open Source Vehicles
Open Source Hardware Writ Large
The open source movement began with software hackers publishing their code on the internet to be freely used by anyone who wanted it. It grew from there to include large open source software projects like the Firefox web browser, which publish their entire source code online, are funded by donations, and are built and maintained by an army of volunteers. Through the creative commons licensing system media creators began to publish their music, written works, videos and artwork on the internet for anyone to freely use or modify. Finally, it began to move out of cyber-space into the world of physical things through 'open source hardware'.
Simply put, open source hardware means that a physical product is designed, and that the full details of the design are then published for anyone build their own replica, or tweak the design with their own improvements and share the results with the world. Sometimes the original design itself is created communally by the crowd, with each person contributing their own small part to the design.
The most famous examples of open source hardware are the small micro-controllers (miniature low power computers) like Arduino and Raspberry Pi which have very popular for hobby electronics in recent years. Following the open source hardware ideal, communities of users congregate around these open source systems, building their own projects using their Arduino to control a robot or their Raspberry Pi to control a smart home.
These micro-controllers and the communities of open source hardware enthusiasts which they have built around them are an excellent way to learn about computer programming, electronics and robotics, and to start making your own toys, gadgets and household electronics.
But there are other open source hardware projects out their which are much more ambitious and exciting. Fancy making your own submarine, for example? If so, then read on and enter the world of open source vehicles.
OSVehicle - Open Source Electric Cars
The OSVehicle project has given rise to two open source hardware cars - which they claim can be assembled in less than an hour.
You can buy a basic kit from the site, but the real vision of OSVehicle is for people to use this as merely as starting point for their own creations. Both the 'Tabby' and the 'Urban Tabby' are entirely open source, and have collected together an active community of makers, sharing their own projects and designs.
In addition to the current all-electric drive system and a 125cc combustion engine, a new hybrid engine is due for release in winter 2014.
The Urban Tabby
WikiSpeed - Crowdsourcing a Car Through Bounties
Another interesting project which is trying to make a fuel-efficient car through the wisdom of the crowd is Wiki Speed.
Although this project is more geared towards creating a consumer product which people will ultimately be able to buy, rather than blueprints or kits that can be used by hobbyists and makers, they are doing so through a truly innovating method borrowed directly from the open source software movement. Anyone with automotive engineering skills can register to volunteer as part of the 'distributed team of engineers', and if you manage to solve a problem or complete a mini-project from the site's 'challenges' section you can claim a cash 'bounty' as reward for your work.
The ultimate aim of WikiSpeed it to create a range of 'low-cost, ultra-efficient, road-legal vehicles' to help reduce pollution. All money earned through donations, or ultimate sales, will be reinvested back into the project.
Although it is still early days for MakerPlane, it is certainly one of the most ambitious and exciting projects I've found. Although making your own aeroplane may seem like an impossible task, its actually something which quite a few people already do. Just like with cars, it has been possible for years to buy 'kits' to build your own plane. But of course these kits are expensive, leave little room for innovation to the closed source designs, and offer you only a written instruction manual to work from.
MakerPlane aims to build a community of aviation enthusiasts to communally design an aeroplane which will be cheap to build, designed to make innovation and customization easy, and will offer the support of a community of makers to help newbies through the more difficult parts of the project.
The project only launched through an Indiegogo campaign in the summer of 2013, so there isn't a completed and air-worthy product yet - but there are loads of parts and prototypes already available, and it seems that the dream of an open source aeroplane is now not too far away.
OpenROV - Underwater Exploration
So - makers have taken over the roads, and soon the skies too; so what's next? The oceans of course!
OpenRov is an open source underwater exploration vehicle which can be bought in kit form or built from scratch. And if you think that sounds like something that would require a degree in robotics then think again - the OpenRov claims that putting together the kit version is a 'high school-level building experience'. Of course if you want to take it further then the designs are all open source, enabling anyone with the skills to easily make their own improvements and modifications.
If exploring the depths of the ocean seems a little bit scary to you, then perhaps you would prefer to sail serenely on the surface.
If so then you may want to take a look at the Protei project, and join the global community of people working together to build an open source sailing drone.
It is hoped that this will be used for ecological missions such as helping to clean up oil spills, but it if you've ever had a remote control boat then I'm sure you will agree that it would be damn fun to play with too!
Don't let the military have all the fun - build your own 'unmanned aerial vehicle' from open source plans and launch reconnaissance missions across your neighbourhood!
There are actually several thriving communities of makers contributing to open source drone projects. DIY Drones has developed a pretty advanced autopilot system that you can use on either a copter or plane, but you might also like to check out OpenDrone or OpenPilot.