Sunday, March 19, 2017

SENSORICA’s footprint in Open Science

SENSORICA is presenting at GOSH 2017 in Santiago, Chile. This is a short document that we prepared for this conference. See more of our involvement here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

SENSORICA and health care

There is a growing recognition about the negative effects stemming from commodifying innovation through restrictive I.P. protection and exclusivity, especially in the medical field. Open Source Development methodologies in software emerged as the dominant form of collaborative innovation in the late 90’s and the trend has been spreading to a wider sphere of work. The IT infrastructure of today’s world enables peers to connect, share and collaborate on solving common issues through use of collective knowledge. Commons-based peer production is the term that defines such collaborative efforts by peers. The collaborators act as the stewards of commonly held wealth and assets which could be anything ; monies, knowledge, equipment, reputations, social capital etc.The beauty of such networks is that development for one project can be mixed and remixed to suit a variety of other needs. Traditionally, such endeavors have been part of a gift-economy where peers do not seek tangible rewards for their contributions. However, for larger scale and mainstream economic model, gift economy is not a viable method for development. The question, then, is how do we keep track of contributions to inform fair rewards?

That is where the Open Value Network model (OVN) comes in. An OVN is built around a core open source community, preserving its nature, and adds layers of governance, infrastructure and methodologies in order to make large scale, open innovation networks as predictable and accountable as traditional organizations, such as coops or limited liability corporations. In an OVN, contributions to a process, be it tangible items such as time and money or intangibles such as social capital, are recorded and whatever benefit is derived from this process is proportionally divided and distributed back to contributors. This makes open networks sustainable, by allowing the implementation of capturing and redistribution mechanisms. Networks have yet to gain public recognition, legitimacy and legality, but the jury is out already, the OVN model makes open networks fully capable socioeconomic agents.

SENSORICA is the first instantiation of the OVN model. It originated in Montreal, in early 2011. The initial focus of the network was to develop open source scientific research equipment using commons-based peer production methodologies. Indeed, most of activities are coordinated from the SENSORICA Montreal lab, a physical location where local affiliates can meet and work together. However, the Network Resource Planning (NRP) tools that Sensoricans have developed lays the foundation of a strong decentralized community without geographical borders. It allows tracking of the flow of resources through the entire system, at both micro and macro levels. NRP is the mainstay of all SENSORICA projects, and enables SENSORICA to practically implement the ideologies of collaborative and open innovation in a transparent and equitable manner.

The video bellow explains the idea in detail.

The wellness of societies and communities also depend on the innovation of its peers. Over the past few decades, the care aspect of communities has also been commodified. Healthcare and Education, the basics of human needs, have slowly been removed from the sphere of communities and instead, been handed over to closed and elitist institutions, including companies for profit-maximization. The result is a disjointed system where even these basic necessities are the purvey of the well-off. Moreover, in health care the quest for new cures and treatments is a quest for profits, and resources are mainly deployed in research and development (R&D) that promises good returns on investments. The illnesses of a few are forgotten. Just like with technological innovation, we, as a society, need to free knowledge and break down barriers to participation. For that to happen, Open Science will play a big part, meeting the requirement of creating open source scientific equipment and research methodologies that enable peers to do R&D on issues most important to them.

SENSORICA's position on Open Science

See more on Open Science on SENSORICA's website.

Guy Rouleau, the director of McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) announced recently in the Science Magazine that his institute was going to steer towards Open Science.
“We think that it is a way to accelerate discovery and the application of neuroscience.” (…) “There is a fair amount of patenting by people at the institute, but the outcomes have not been very useful” (...) “It comes down to what is the reason for our existence? It’s to accelerate science, not to make money.”
SENSORICA has already taken concrete steps towards implementing this vision. One of the first projects undertaken by Sensoricans was the Mosquito, a force-transducer with ability to detect micron-scale movements, designed for applications in biomechanics at the cellular level. Today, SENSORICA has over 15 projects for open source scientific instruments in different stages of development, some of them being used in University labs (see the full list). However, the main potential lies in the ability of the community to build upon these and many other devices and repurpose them to fit needs in diverse fields.

SENSORICA's Mosquito system - by photo Daniel Brastaviceanu

Open source scientific instruments cost only of a small fraction to produce and to maintain, compared to their proprietary equivalents. This reduces the costs of innovation and widens participation in research. Professor Joshua Pearce from Michigan Tech University, and contributor to the SENSORICA OVN mentions in one of his papers:
A case study of a syringe pump with numerous scientific and medical applications is presented. The results found millions of dollars of economic value from a relatively simple scientific device being released under open-licenses representing orders of magnitude in-crease in value from conventional proprietary development. The inescapable conclusion of this study is that FOSH development should be funded by organizations interested in maximizing re-turn on public investments particularly in technologies associated with science, medicine and education.
During its six years in development, SENSORICA has prototyped formal relations with Universities and medical centers, demonstrating how the crowd and the institutional academia can successfully interface, opening wide and filtering participation in medical research, allowing discovery to go towards what matters to people, not just to Wall Street. The Mosquito sensor has been developed in collaboration with the Montreal Heart Institute and Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, the Manipulators have been developed in partnership with McGill University. Numerous students have done their internship within the SENSORICA lab, not only practicing their technical skills, but also learning how to operate in a network-type, highly collaborative environment. See SENSORICA’s Interns webpage.
--> Lower cost open source scientific instruments lower the barrier to entry to medical research.
--> Interfacing institutional academia with open networks frees research topics from the narrow profit motive and speeds up innovation
In early 2015, SENSORICA partnered with Breathing Games to produce an open source therapeutic device for kids suffering from cystic fibrosis. But this project is very different. As we are designing the hardware device, we are also thinking about how the data generated from its use during therapy sessions will be managed. It turns out that the blockchain technology can truly revolutionize how therapy and medical care are administered, and how the medical data is managed, and SENSORICA has already embarked in blockchain applications development.
--> blockchain and other p2p technologies create the possibility of new health care services
The vision for SENSORICA is to demonstrate the economic viability and practical superiority of open innovation. Since innovation has been segregated from community for the better part of the last century, the possibilities of applications are endless. We are not claiming to have the solution all the problems that our health care system is facing, but our past experiences have allowed us to peer into a new realm of solutions, enabled by the new digital technology and the new socioeconomic processes it has made possible.

There is a lot of criticism for commons-based peer processes pertaining to their ability to deliver large scale solutions, while being self-sustainable. In other words, the conclusions point to the persistent need of traditional forms of organizing innovation, production and distribution, in order to fuel these new processes: one needs to have a paid job to contribute to open source development. The flaw in these arguments is that they analyse these new practices within the traditional capitalist paradigm. Commons-based peer processes are part of a new socioeconomic paradigm, which prescribes its own underlying theory of value and its own capturing and redistribution mechanisms. Saying that open innovation is unsustainable is factually false, even within the capitalist regime. Arduino, for example, is a very successful commercial operation relying entirely on open source hardware and software technology. Most successful 3D printing and personal drone commercial operations also rely on open source, as well as operations that provide blockchain applications. All these new and disruptive technologies are dominated by these new types of ventures who know how to steward open networks. Something is going on here, for those who have eyes to see. And all these organizations are only hybrids, in the sense that their structure have capturing mechanisms that function in a market-driven economy, while relying on commons-based peer processes for innovation. SENSORICA has data that shows, perhaps for the first time, how capturing mechanisms that are fully compatible with the logic of the p2p economy can be gradually introduced within this transitory economy, to become dominant in a very near future.

We do not have experience in pharmaceuticals. We cannot prescribe today a method through commons-based peer production to deliver a new drug, going through all the norms and regulations. The monetary costs associated with this type of ventures are huge, and if we transpose the challenge in an OVN setting it would require the deployment of an amount of resources and a complexity that we cannot sustain, at this point in time. But we do not see a hard barrier... As these systems scale, one day they will be capable of undertaking such challenges. Alternatively, we do have extensive experience with scientific instruments and less costly, and less regulated therapeutic devices. This is the path of least resistance for OVNs to infiltrate the care domain and gain strength. Joshua Pearce's conclusions show that once open source-based scientific instruments enter a market niche it totally disrupts it, putting traditional companies out of business, as they cannot sustain their operations at such low product prices. This trend is starting now with medical devices, like this 30$ DIY EpiPen example. Operating at lower prices, the monetary rewards an organization gets for the product, doesn't mean that we are going towards poverty. The zero marginal cost tendency, driven by open innovation, only makes sense in the capitalist paradigm. These new organizations pull other benefits from non-market-based sources, which are forbidden to traditional for-profit enterprises. We need a different type of accounting in order to determine the wealth of network-type organizations, one that goes beyond monetary currency, because innovation, production and rewards are more and more driven and organized by new types of currencies, by new types of symbolic systems, by current-sees [a concept proposed by Arth Brook].

Written by Abran Khalid and Tiberius Brastaviceanu

The text has been remixed from a post for a book made by Tibi. Please see here for the original text.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Crowdfunding capacity for peer production

Disclaimer: This blog entry reflects the thoughts of the author and does not speak on behalf of the Sensorica OVN. 

They did it again!

In the spring of 2015, the SENSORICA network delivered another important proof of concept for commons-based peer production. We demonstrated that equipment for peer production can be endogenously crowdfunded.

Everyone today knows about crowdfunding. In case you are just returning from a trip to Mars, crowdfunding is a new way to raise funds which involves hundreds or even thousands of individuals, the crowd. If you need money for a venture, instead of going to the bank for a loan or getting venture capital you can now use websites like Goteo, IndiegogoKickstarter, etc. You present your project on one of these platforms and ask people from around the world to fund you. Crowdfunding is either a donation scheme, people help you to achieve something without expecting much in return for themselves, only a good feeling for having contributed to a good cause, or a pre-sale scheme, people give you money upfront for a service or a product that doesn't need to be finished before the crowdfunding, that you will deliver a few months later. There is also crowdfunding for equity, where people give you money in exchange of shares in your venture, but very few countries have permissive laws for it.

You can find a lot of stories about individuals or small groups who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their product ideas. This shows that crowdfunding democratizes innovation.

It didn't take long before companies caught up with this trend, realizing that they could not only finance the productization phase (transforming a prototype into a manufacturable product at a competitive price) but also get immediate and valuable feedback from the market (if people finance you before you even have a finished product that means that you have a market, and they might even tell you how to improve your product).

So, before we see what SENSORICA did different, let's review a few important features of crowdfunding in general.

Most crowdfunding is used as a pre-sale scheme, Kickstarter being the most popular platform. Goteo is more for open source projects, or for projects that have a social impact. Crowdfunding for equity seems to be adequate for financing infrastructure or capacity development, but it is still in its infancy. 

Almost all the crowdfunding mechanisms are dissociated from the ventures that are using them. They are centralized platforms owned by a classical organization that acts as a mediator between project initiators and their support crowd. 
The crowdfunding model is fueled by three types of actors: the project initiator who proposes the idea and/or project to be funded; individuals or groups who support the idea; and a moderating organization (the "platform") that brings the parties together to launch the idea.  [Wikipedia]
There are also a few examples of self-crowdfunding, where organizations run their campaign on their own platform. This practice is problematic though, because people see in it a conflict of interest. When a third-party that specializes in crowdfunding is used, people trust that the same rules will be applied to everyone and that the data displayed during the process reflects reality.

But things are changing very fast now. Within a year or so, crowdfunding will be implemented on p2p infrastructures based on block chain technology. This means that the centralized crowdfunding platforms (the website that lives on a proprietary server or cloud, Kickstarter for example) will become entirely a p2p processes (will not be websites hosted on a private server or cloud anymore, instead the information will live in a bunch of interconnected machines, individually owned by everyone who uses the system). Simply put, the block chain technology (and who knows what will follow next) decentralizes funding even further. If traditional crowdfunding allows people to fund each other using a centralized proprietary platform, this new technology eliminates the proprietary platform, the company in the middle, and  puts the same people in charge of the process. See more here.

Born in 2003, crowdfunding is already making a leap forward, leaving platforms like Kickstarter wondering about their own survival. The new p2p (or real) crowdfunding, based on block chain technology, can give much more flexibility to projects or ventures. The problem is that its time has not come yet. It is technologically possible, but the world around it hasn't advanced far enough for it to have a proper ground for implementation. This is where SENSORICA and its proof of concept comes in.  

SENSORICA is not a typical organization. It is an open value network. It is an open network that does peer production. It is a cluster of open enterprises. It is, in my opinion, the most audacious attempt to implement commons-based peer production of hardware, started in February 2011, one year and 3 months after Satoshi Nakamoto published his paper "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System". It is the furthest humanity has gone into hard core peer production, building peer-run physical labs, peer governance and normative systems, methodologies for open product development, as well as legal structures compatible with all that. SENSORICA is the proper type of organization for p2p (or real) crowdfunding.  

Recent technologies like Ethereum, which also builds on the block chain technology, have made possible new types of economic entities, the so-called DACs, for Distributed Autonomous Organizations. The first implementations of DACs are quite simple, service based, see for example Peertracks. But this technology will very soon mature to fulfill the needs of p2p hardware innovation and production, which is very complex. This will most probably become the infrastructure on which open value networks like SENSORICA will be built in the not so far future.

All that to say that in parallel with the continuous development of crowdfunding there is also a continuous development of organizations, following the same philosophy, based on the same logic, enabled by the same technology. The two movements are about to merge into a coherent economic system, operating on new principles. We are already passed half way into the transition and we can already see what's on the other side.

So what did SENSORICA demonstrated? Sorry for holding it, I am trying to save you the best for the end  : )

SENSORICA used its network resource planning and value accounting system (NRP-VAS), in a context of peer production, to endogenously crowdfund a piece of equipment for the first time in its history. In other words, this is the first time a p2p network that is focused on hardware innovation and production has used a crowdfunding mechanism part of its own infrastructure, not as a service from an external platform, centralized or not.

We used the NRP-VAS to co-finance a $4,000 3D printer. 11 SENSORICA affiliates have contributed to this purchase. The example might seem insignificant for the untrained eye, but there is a lot more behind it.

First, there is the issue of trust. Most of these participant affiliates have never seen each other. Two of them live in the US, the rest live in Canada. Some of them are so far away that they will not even be able to use the 3D printer. We passed the trust hurdle. Participation was a bit slow in the beginning, but after we reached a critical mass it got easier. This is trust in a system, trust generated by processes, trust generated through openness and transparency, not so much trust in each other. This is what makes a system scalable and reproducible.

Second, there is the complexity that comes with co-purchasing. Who owns it? What's the agreement between the co-owners? Who can use it and under what conditions? Who is going to pay for maintenance? How are we going to deal with community use, and commercial use, and other types of uses? It is not simple, but this is what technology is good for, reducing complexity or hiding it behind user interfaces.

We created a co-owner agreement and we implemented new functionality within our NRP-VAS to handle the printer's use logging and to perform calculations to account for the material used in the printing process, usage time, technical assistance, etc. For example, is someone makes commercial use of the 3D printer the cost is split into:

  • cost of the material used, 
  • some % will go into a maintenance budget account for the 3D printer, 
  • some % will go to a general infrastructure maintenance and development account,
  • some % will go to pay back the co-owners (the agreement stipulates that once they are paid back plus 20% to cover their risk, the 3D printer becomes part of the pool of shareables), 
  • some money will go to pay a technician, if needed.    

All that complexity is absorbed by the technology that we are developing.

NOTESENSORICA's NRP-VAS is not decentralized, it is not using block chain technology, because this new p2p infrastructure is not ready yet to handle all the complexity that the open value network is dealing with. This will probably come in two years from now. Moreover, when SENSORICA was created the block chain technology was still in its embryonic state. Therefore, it is probably difficult for the untrained eye to understand how this new SENSORICA proof of concept fits with new pure p2p processes. Think of SENSORICA as p2p at the socio-economic level, but not entirely at the infrastructure level. This is still a work in progress.

This crowdfunding endogenous to an open value network was implemented using the Custodian's financial tools, a Paypal account (open the webpage where the contributions where gathered). See definition of a Custodian. All the contributions were recorded into a virtual account on SENSORICA's NRP-VAS, specifically opened for the purchase of the 3D printer. Once the printer was purchased this account balance went back to 0$.

The lesson here is that an open value network is able to not only crowdsource and crowdfund innovation and production, but also infrastructure development. The tools used by SENSORICA, a p2p organization at the socio-economic level, are not entirely p2p, but we are building understanding and valuable experience, and we are anxiously waiting for the block chain technology to mature.

By Tiberius Brastaviceanu
By AllOfUs

Open value networks and global economic fairness

Disclaimer: This blog entry reflects the thoughts of the author and does not speak on behalf of the Sensorica OVN. 

In February 2011, economic fairness became a real possibility with the launch of SENSORICA. The new economic model proposed by this network promised open access to economic activities for everyone in the world, with a system for fair redistribution of benefits, based on merits. 

SENSORICA is an open value network. People propose projects and develop them in collaboration with others. The affiliates use open project development methodologies and generate tasks that are made available for anyone in the world. The time, the cash and any material resource that are used during the execution of a task are logged. A contribution accounting system compiles all the input to projects and displays a profile of the economic activity. If the project becomes a commercial venture the revenues are redistributed to all the participants, without exception, in proportion to everyone's contribution. The venture belongs entirely to the participants, anyone can join, any time. We call these ventures open enterprises. SENSORICA is an incubator of many open enterprises. 

Since the inception of SENSORICA we spent a lot of time developing the open value network model, building infrastructure, designing new methodologies, refining the open governance, implementing a proper legal structure, and developing open new technologies. In 2015, SENSORICA is closer than ever to become an economic success, with a few projects to be crowdfunded during the summer and a few service offerings that have already generated revenue.
This post is not about revenue generation and sustainability. The main goal is to illustrate economic fairness, to show the world how we are fulfilling our promise. 

In January 2015 Atelier Barda, a group of architects and designers from Montreal, trusted SENSORICA with a contract to design an interactive imaging system, to be installed in Forillon National Park, in Gaspesie QC, Canada, which is administered by Parks Canada, a branch of the federal government. The project was executed in an open way. Three SENSORICA affiliates answered the call and delivered successfully, exceeding the client's expectations, who was a bit skeptical in the beginning, knowing that he was dealing with a new type of organization. One of these affiliates, Abran, lives in Pakistan. The project was coordinated using SENSORICA's new open service providing methodology, mediated by our virtual infrastructure.

In the end, the revenue was distributed according to everyone's contribution, and Abran was paid as if he was working and living in Canada. 

credit to Massimo Sestini—Polaris
Europe is now dealing with a major social problem caused by waves of immigrants coming from Africa. This crisis is exacerbated by the drama surrounding the death of a few hundreds of these unfortunate people, who are desperate enough to put their lives in danger by crossing the Mediterranean sea, using inadequate means, lead by human traffickers who are mostly interested in profiteering. A social problem coupled with a humanitarian crisis that keeps politicians on their toes and pushes them to use extreme means, to militarize the Mediterranean sea using UN forces. Are these desperate human beings invaders? Are they the new enemies of Europe? Or are they the result of colonialism and victims years of political interference and economic exploitation? Are guns the solution to this problem? Or more economic fairness?

While our western governments, who created the problem in the first place, make it even worse, we are developing infra-national economic structures, a peer to peer economy, to address the problem at its core.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Problems in peer production

Disclaimer: This blog entry reflects the thoughts of the author and does not speak on behalf of the Sensorica OVN. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hybrid models, trying to bridge corporate models with open innovation

Disclaimer: This blog entry reflects the thoughts of the author and does not speak on behalf of the Sensorica OVN.  

On May 14th SENSORICA and the OVN model were presented (by Tibi) at POINT - Atelier de cocréation et d’innovation. We also actively participated in a workshop where attendees were given the chance to understand the value accounting system and to apply it to a fictional case (see embedded document below). Five workshops were running in parallel on different topics around open innovation. We got great feedback and we were pleased to see that other groups picked up the value accounting system concept and integrated it into their own cases, along with other ideas.  

Among the participants, we had representatives of companies and consortia, as well as academics, all eager to learn more about open innovation. The working definition of open innovation was very broad. I (Tibi) presented the more restricted concept of open source innovation

One interesting observation
People are trying to bridge open source with the corporate model by creating hybrid models. It seems to me (Tibi) that the proposed hybrid models were lacking a deep understanding of the organic nature of open communities. Almost all of them featured mechanisms of control and value capture that can compromise the sustainability of the open community, which is narrowly instrumentalized to supply innovation to the box (i.e. a classical entity, corporation or other, that has well-defined boundaries such as a fixed number of employees bounded by contractual relations, limited budgets, limited production capacity, etc.). Arduino, a working hybrid model, seems to work well. But not everyone is able to walk that fine balance between extracting value from an open community and nurture this open community. 

In the end, these people are invested in the box and their natural reaction is to preserve it, while they are trying to rip the benefits of open innovation. The natural state of open innovation is open source. This happens within communities or networks, which are open (access to participation), transparent (access to information), decentralized (allocation of resources) and horizontal (access to governance and decision making). All this is fundamentally incompatible with corporate models. 

During this event I realized that you can have 3 main attitudes with respect to open source innovation (open innovation in its pure sense).

  1. tabula rasa - Find a new self-sustainable system of production and distribution that fits on top of open source innovation. This assumes that this new mode of innovation dominates all the other ones and therefore, new modes of production will eventually self-organize around it, leading to a new type of economy. I personally bet on commons-based peer production and more precisely on the OVN model.
  2. opportunism - Find a way for existing corporations (or other classical structures or boxes) to capture the value through open source innovation. This leads to a dilution of the open source innovation concept to simply open innovation, and to the creation of hybrid models. This attitude assumes that the corporate model is still viable and that it can co opt the new modes of innovation. I personally think this is the wrong attitude. 
  3. pragmatism - Realize that open source innovation is dominating other forms of innovation, and that new modes of production will eventually structure around it (might be the OVN model). But in order to establish flows from the classical economy to the new during the transition period, we can create hybrid structures like Arduino, Adafruit and so on. 

The problem of bridging corporate models with open innovation is a false one, and can only be perceived as a problem during the transition. The new natural state of economic production is, in my opinion, Open Value Networks, because they build on open source.

See also my article Open Source Hardware meets the p2p economy