This week is about invention, intellectual property and income. The goal of this assignment is to develop a plan for dissemination of our final project. That is, how would you scale the production of your final project beyond producing one of them. Are you going to give it away? Are you going to sell it? Are you going to license it? Is it a business, a product or a service?
My final project FAB 9000 consists of two things. It consists of hardware which is the physical product (the arm itself) and software. The project will be digitally available for free globally after Fab Academy hosted in github and it is expected that manufacturing will be done locally.
The project is Open Source Hardware and Software licensed under MIT license. At the beginning I didn't want (to bother) to license the project, but someone pointed me that I could be in trouble if someone follows my steps and someone gets injured, they could blame on me or even prosecute me. I chose MIT license because is simpler and shorter than other licenses. The three key points of the license are: One: the project is delivered "as is" with no warranty or responsibility whatsoever. Two: do whatever you want with the code. And three: give attribution.
I can see it clear as water. Open Source is the only way to go. In the upcoming digital revolution in fabrication, do not even think of selling anything that leaves the user locked out with no possibility of modification or fixing. I think people will only buy open source products even if they have no intention of repairing or customizing them by themselves. I can even guess that Governments will force some level of open source in the products in order to reduce the increasing amount of waste that is being generated because no one has idea on how to fix all the crap we consume.
The motivation to disseminate this project and continue its development after Fab Academy is mostly social and educational. Social because it will be open source and there will be a community of people contributing and improving it. Educational because it will help students to understand the concepts behind a robot arm. A robot arm will be a key tool in digital fabrication. Those 5 axis milling machines are just 3 axis milling machines evolving towards a robot arm.
Collecting money imply the creation of a company (a profit LLC maybe) so that you can collect and pay taxes. I would never do it alone as a sole proprietor. I would not trust a company of one person. I would find one or two more people and create this company.
The idea of the income is giving away the design and software, and then sell the physical product, related merchandising and support services. Since the project is open source, both hardware and software, there will be no income coming from it. That is, everyone will be able to download the design and the code for free and make or modify their own units locally.
The first part of the income will come from selling the product, either in kit or fully assembled. Now, why would someone buy something that they can produce by themselves? Because I think that:
a) There are lots of people (including me) that do not have time to/do not want to bother to/ do not know how to make it and they will just buy it most of the time. From us (the company who created FAB 9000) or from other vendors. Our main advantage is that since we are the developers we are supposed to have more knowledge, provide better technical support, be able to introduce changes in the design and the software according to customer feedback, etc. and it will likely increase the number of sales (at least that is what I would do if I had multiple vendor choices), and:
b) We'll be also supposed to produce parts or assembled units faster and with better quality than anyone else. This would help in reducing the cost of the product to a level that, even if someone is thinking of making one for himself, it won't be worth it. Think of ordering materials, trials and errors, calibrating machinery, etc. It's free, but no one said it was easy.
The second part of the income will come from selling merchandising related to the product. This requires hiring a graphical designer and making a cool and nice brand for the product. This is ESSENTIAL. If you want the people to wear your brand, they have to love it. You call me fussy, but sometimes I do not buy an app in the App Store just because they have an ugly icon. Do you want me to put your ugly icon in my nice phone? Same here, if you want them to wear your T-shirt or buy your coffee cup, they have to love the design and be proud of wearing it. A web designer will also be required in order to make a nice online store, agile, so that people can buy in very few steps in order to capture impulsive purchasers (I know because I am probably one of them).
The third part of the income would come by selling services like technical support and customization of hardware and/or software. If the product is bought from us there will be a warranty and some technical support for free and later customers can buy extended time. But even if they build the arm from themselves or buy it elsewhere, they will still be able to hire those services.
Crowd-sourcing would not be an option at this stage of the development since it requires a reliable product. But it will be considered when the project has acquired a mature state.
Finally, if you are wondering if I could make a living from it, the answer is probably not.
What I learned
Scaling the production of your project from prototype units to production is not easy at all. But sooner or later you will have to face it, because research is very cool but you have bills to pay and you have to feed your children and eventually you will need some money to continue your research. This assignment makes you step into the shoes of your customer and answer the following questions: why would someone buy that? how much would they pay? Will it be enough to continue with research and development? If you want to make a living from your research, I recommend you to take these two online courses, one from edX: Innovation and Commercialization and another one that Paul Giron (one of my buddies here) recommended me from Stanford's Coursera: Startup engineering.