How the Internet, Sharing and Digital Fabrication are Enabling a New Wave of Open Source Hardware
Thingiverse.com was started on a lazy Saturday afternoon in late October 2008. I was at the local hackerspace, NYC Resistor, with my friend Bre Pettis. As usual, we were tinkering with our RepRap machine and dreaming of the day when 3D printing would be ubiquitous. As we worked, we chatted about what it would be like if you had a 3D printer that could make you anything you wanted. We decided that one of the coolest things would be the ability to download designs from the internet that your 3D printer would then turn into real things.
We then asked ourselves what that would look like. HELLO WORLD We did some quick Googling and found that almost all the 3D model repositories on the internet were behind paywalls. We were shocked and appalled; the future of digital fabrication was supposed to free us from the tyranny of distribution costs as we applied the techniques of free software to hardware. Being people who prefer action to words, we set out to build a site that reflected what we wanted the future to be.
Thingiverse COMMUNITY was built from the ground up as a place for people to freely share their digital designs for physical objects. We built it to be as inclusive as possible. It will accept almost any digital file, so long as it a design for a real, physical object. In fact, most of the early designs on the site are vector drawings for laser cutters. Later, we branched out with support for 3D models, electronics, and designs intended for CNC machines.
Once the rough framework was in place, we started adding features to encourage open design and collaboration. The first step was a licensing system that allowed users to very explicitly state the licence which the listed files were available under. Designers can choose from a number of licences, including Creative Commons, CREATIVE COMMONS GPL, LGPL, BSD, and Public Domain. The licensing is even available in a machine-readable format on the page itself. We also wanted to encourage collaboration CO-CREATION by including a derivatives system that allowed people to upload modifications to a design. This feature was a hit because it allowed modified designs to easily give attribution, as well as creating a nice tree structure of all the derivative works available. This was a victory for both the designers and people who wanted to improve on designs that were already available. The designers got credit for the initial work, and the users were easily able to find the latest designs.
The result of this is that Thingiverse is now home to nearly 4,000 open source OPEN EVERYTHING objects. It has over 5,000 active users and nearly 1 million downloads across all of the design files. It is home to a huge variety of open source hardware projects. On Thingiverse, you can download open source bottle openers, statues, robots, toys, tools, and even 3D printers. REPRODUCTION It is the largest repository of open source hardware on the Internet and a wonderful place to share your things with the world.