Open-source appropriate technology

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Open-source appropriate technology (OSAT) is appropriate technology developed through the principles of the open-design movement. OSAT refers to, on the one hand, technology designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economic aspects of the community it is intended for. On the other hand, OSAT is developed in the open and licensed in such a way as to allow their designs to be used, modified and distributed freely.[1][2]


Open source is a development method for appropriate technology that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. Appropedia is an example of open-source appropriate technology. There anyone can both learn how to make and use AT free of concerns about patents. At the same time anyone can also add to the collective open-source knowledge base by contributing ideas, observations, experimental data, deployment logs, etc. It has been claimed that the potential for open-source-appropriate technology to drive applied sustainability is enormous.[3] The built in continuous peer-review can result in better quality, higher reliability, and more flexibility than conventional design/patenting of technologies. The free nature of the knowledge also obviously provides lower costs, particularly for those technologies that do not benefit to a large degree from scale of manufacture. Finally, OSAT also enables the end to predatory intellectual property lock-in. This is particularly important in the context of technology focused on relieving suffering and saving lives in the developing world.

The "open-source" model can act as a driver of sustainable development. Reasons include:

  • It enables localization for communities that do not have the resources to tempt commercial developers to provide local versions of their products. It thus minimizes the need to ship materials over long distances and organizes material activities accordingly;[4]
  • Local manufacturing also makes maintenance easier and also encourages manufacturers to design products to last as long as possible;[4]
  • It can be free as in "gratis" as well as free as in "libre", an important consideration for developing communities.[5] following the lateral scaling concepts of Jeremy Rifkin.[6] It thus optimizes the sharing of knowledge and design as there are no patent costs to pay for.[4]

Ethical considerations[edit]

For solutions, many researchers, companies, and academics do work on products meant to assist sustainable development. Vinay Gupta has suggested that those developers agree to three principles:[7]

  1. I will not permit any human being to be deprived of life-giving technology by the profit motive.
  2. Any works that I patent I will make available to others who are engaged in humanitarian activity for free, except where this would breach other contractual responsibilities.
  3. I will not use patent law to slow the pace of innovation or service delivery to the needy under any circumstances.

The ethics of information sharing in this context has been explored in depth.[8][9]

Support in the literature[edit]

  • It has been investigated how open sharing of designs, specifications, and technical information can enhance effectiveness, widespread use, and innovation of appropriate technology.[3]
  • OSAT has been proposed as a new model of enabling innovation for sustainable development.[10]
  • OSAT has been claimed to assist in development of medical technology particularly for the developing world.[11][12][13]
  • It has been claimed that the sharing of design processes, appropriate tools, and technical information enables more effective and rapid development of appropriate technologies for both industrialized and non-industrialized regions.[14] In addition, it is claimed that this sharing will require the appropriate-technology community to adopt open standards/licenses, document knowledge, and build on previous work.[14]
  • OSAT can be used to generate renewable energy[15]
  • OSAT in ICT[16]
  • OSAT and peer production[17]

In education[edit]

  • At the university level, the use of open-source-appropriate technology classroom projects has been shown to be successful in forging the connection between physics and social benefit:[18] This approach has the potential to use university students' access to resources and testing equipment in furthering the development of appropriate technology. Similarly OSAT has been used as a tool for improving service learning.[19][20] MIT has completed a study looking at the usefulness of using appropriate technology education and its relation to OSAT.[21]
  • It has been proposed that the evolution of the open-source 3D printers can enable a new method of development for OSAT[22][23]

Open source scientific equipment[edit]


Appropriate technology is designed to promote decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient and environmentally sound businesses.[25] Carroll Pursell says that the movement declined from 1965 to 1985, due to an inability to counter advocates of agribusiness, large private utilities, and multinational construction companies.[26] Recently (2011), several barriers to OSAT deployment have been identified:[27]

  • AT seen as inferior or "poor person's" technology
  • Technical transferability and robustness of AT
  • Insufficient funding
  • Weak institutional support
  • The challenges of distance and time in tackling rural poverty.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joshua M. Pearce, "The Case for Open Source Appropriate Technology", Environment, Development and Sustainability, 14, pp. 425-431 (2012)
  2. ^ Pearce, J. M. (2014). Free and open source appropriate technology. in The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization, 308. ISBN 9780415782265
  3. ^ a b A. J. Buitenhuis, I. Zelenika and J. M. Pearce, Open Design-Based Strategies to Enhance Appropriate Technology Development", Proceedings of the 14th Annual National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance Conference : Open, March 25–27th 2010, pp. 1–12
  4. ^ a b c Kostakis, Vasilis. Roos, Andreas. New Technologies Won’t Reduce Scarcity, but Here’s Something That Might. Harvard Business Review, 2018.
  5. ^ Zelenika and J.M. Pearce, Innovation Through Collaboration: Scaling up Technological Solutions for Sustainable Development, Environment, Development and Sustainability 16(6): 1299-1316 (2014). doi:10.1007/s10668-014-9528-7
  6. ^ Rifkin, Jeremy. The zero marginal cost society: The internet of things, the collaborative commons, and the eclipse of capitalism. Macmillan, 2014. ISBN 978-1137278463
  7. ^ Vinay Gupta, "Starting an anti-patent-abuse appropriate technology political bloc?"
  8. ^ Shea, P. (2014). Community arts and appropriate internet technology: participation, materiality, and the ethics of sustainability in the digitally networked era.
  9. ^ Bentley, C. M. (2014). Exploring information ethics for inclusive open development. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries.
  10. ^ Pearce J., Albritton S., Grant G., Steed G., & Zelenika I. 2012. A new model for enabling innovation in appropriate technology for sustainable development Archived 2012-11-22 at the Wayback Machine. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 8(2), pp. 42-53, 2012
  11. ^ Amy Kapczynski et al., "Addressing Global Health Inequities: An Open Licensing Approach for University Innovations", Berkley Technology Law Journal 20 (2005): 1031–1114.
  12. ^ Stephen M. Maurer, Arti Rai, and Andrej Sali, "Finding Cures for Tropical Diseases: Is Open Source an Answer?", PLoS Medicine 1, no. 3 (December 2004): 183–186.
  13. ^ Sinha, S.R. and Barry, M., 2011. Health technologies and innovation in the global health arena. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(9), pp.779-782.
  14. ^ a b Joshua M. Pearce and Usman Mushtaq, "Overcoming Technical Constraints for Obtaining Sustainable Development with Open Source Appropriate Technology", Science and Technology for Humanity (TIC-STH), 2009 IEEE Toronto International Conference, pp. 814–820, 26–27 September 2009
  15. ^ Louie H. Experiences in the construction of open source low technology off-grid wind turbines. In2011 IEEE Power and Energy Society General Meeting 2011 Jul 24 (pp. 1-7). IEEE.
  16. ^ Pscheidt, M. and van der Weide, T.P., 2010. Bridging the Digital Divide by Open Source: A Theoretical Model of Best Practice.
  17. ^ Rocco, G.R., 2015. Developing Maker Economies in Post-Industrial Cities: Applying Commons Based Peer Production to Mycelium Biomaterials.
  18. ^ J. M. Pearce, "Teaching Physics Using Appropriate Technology Projects", The Physics Teacher, 45, pp. 164–167, 2007
  19. ^ Joshua M. Pearce, "Appropedia as a Tool for Service Learning in Sustainable Development", Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 3(1), pp.45–53, 2009
  20. ^ S. Murphy and N. Saleh, "Information literacy in CEAB's accreditation criteria: the hidden attribute", In Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Innovation and Practices in Engineering Design and Engineering Education, 2009. Hamilton, ON July 27–29, 2009
  21. ^ Grue, Amanda J. An investigation into and recommendations for appropriate technology education. MIT. 2011
  22. ^ Kentzer, J.; Koch, B. ; Thiim, M. ; Jones, R.W. ; Villumsen, E. An open source hardware-based mechatronics project: The replicating rapid 3-D printer, Mechatronics (ICOM), 2011 4th International Conference, 17–19 May 2011. doi:10.1109/ICOM.2011.5937174
  23. ^ J. M Pearce, C. Morris Blair, K. J. Laciak, R. Andrews, A. Nosrat and I. Zelenika-Zovko, "3-D Printing of Open Source Appropriate Technologies for Self-Directed Sustainable Development", Journal of Sustainable Development 3(4), pp. 17-29 (2010)
  24. ^ J.M. Pearce, Open-Source Lab: How to Build Your Own Hardware and Reduce Research Costs, Elsevier, 2014.
  25. ^ Hazeltine, B.; Bull, C. (1999). Appropriate Technology: Tools, Choices, and Implications. New York: Academic Press. pp. 3, 270. ISBN 0-12-335190-1.
  26. ^ Pursell, Carroll. "The Rise and Fall of the Appropriate Technology Movement in the United States, 1965–1985". Technology and Culture, Vol 34, No. 3: 629–637 (July 1993)
  27. ^ I. Zelenika and J.M. Pearce, "Barriers to Appropriate Technology Growth in Sustainable Development", Journal of Sustainable Development 4(6), 12-22 (2011)