Methodology

2. METHODOLOGY

 

“Every year I read another article about how Italy is struggling to find

 ‹‹their own Google›› when they already have it. It’s the Arduino-

they just don’t realize it yet.

Phillip Torrone, Senior Editor Make Magazine

User Entrepreneurship in OSH is a contemporary phenomenon applied in a real life context, which shows frequent and radical changes. Consequently, among available research methods case study is by far the most suitable one for the purpose of this research. Sure enough, a case study is focussed on an event, an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real life context, using multiple source of evidence, intended to focus on a particular feature or unit of analysis (Yin 1994). In fact, this method gives an opportunity to probe OSH area in depth in which multiple sources of evidence are available.

In order to set up the background for the presentation of case sample, the first paragraph of this section is devoted to the introduction of Arduino, followed by the description of the study method employed.

1.1.          Research context: the case of Arduino

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments[1]”. That is what is stated on the Arduino website, highlighting that their goal is to build a massive community of users that employ Arduino in their pieces of work.

There is little doubt that Arduino is the main actor in the OSH ecosystem:  communities of users recognize the predominance of Arduino, and the relevance of being a “social hardware”.

Below the origin of Arduino will be described, underlying the key elements of its success, what the Arduino audience is and what they do with it.

1.1.1.              The story

OSH has some similarities with OSS in its origin. Linux, the most important OSS example, started from users’ dissatisfaction of working with a closed and expensive Operating System. This is similar to what happened with Arduino. In 2005 Massimo Banzi was a teacher at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea[2] (IDII) in Italy where he received frequent complaints from his students that could not find an inexpensive, powerful microcontroller to drive their arty robotic projects.

The needs of his students led Banzi to discuss the problem with David Cuartielles, a Spanish microchip engineer who was a visiting researcher at the school, and thanks to the help of the Danish student David Mellis, the three were able to create the board and the programming language in five days. That is how Arduino, a simple microcontroller platform[3] was created and designed with the aim to introduce non-hardware and non-software types to embedded devices and give them opportunities to create interaction designs.

The name that the co-founders assigned was pretty random: “while we were manufacturing the first boards, we realized we needed a name…so I told David: let’s call it like the bar Arduino[4]…we can always change that” said Massimo Banzi.

Subsequently, the Arduino team[5] decided to put the schematics online, freely available to anyone, in order to support people with the same issues they had had, and to spread over the concept of OS with the first massive example of OSH where essentially:

  • the interface to the hardware is explicitly made public, so the hardware can be used freely;
  • the design of the hardware is made public, therefore users can implement and learn from it;
  • the tools used to create the design are free, thus others can develop and improve the design.

Hence, the Arduino board was conceived as a piece of OSH, which anyone is free to use and modify.

As a final remark, from the story clearly emerges that Arduino itself is also a successful case of User Entrepreneurship: Arduino was created in response to a need occurred in a problem solving context, later translated in a business opportunity.

1.1.2.              The fast success

The project started with 3.000 euro for the productions of 200 copies, with the concern of selling them from the Arduino team, given that Banzi’s school bought only 50 pieces. Nevertheless, immediately after they realized that several hobbyists and geeks showed interest in this project, thus the team started to think about building a business on it, focusing the entire strategy on the open source design: “see what has happened with the iPhone, they would copy you in any case” said Banzi, “hence we decided to keep it open using a Creative Commons[6] license called Attribution-Share alike, giving anyone the opportunity to modify and release new version of the hardware”.  Under the Creative Commons license, anyone is allowed to produce copies of the board, to redesign it, or even to sell boards that copy the design, without the need to pay a license fee to the Arduino team or even to ask for permission.

The only piece of Intellectual Property (IP) the team protects is the name Arduino, the main asset of the company which is trademarked. In fact, in order to ensure that the brand name is not negatively influenced by low quality copies, anyone who is willing to sell boards using that name has to pay a small fee to Arduino.

The basic version of the board costs around 26 euro, and can be purchased from hobbyist electronics websites. In particular, the company highlights that the boards are “made in Italy”, thus not using cheap labour and low quality materials: they had the Italian map stamped on the front of the first board, and also the names they used recall their Italian origin (e.g. Arduino Duemilanove, Arduino Diecimila, and Arduino Uno which is the last version).

Figure 5 Arduino UNO: front (left) and back (right)

Source: http://www.arduino.cc

The success of Arduino is obvious.  From the 200 first boards sold in 2005, 5.000 Arduino board were built around the world a year later, about 30.000 in 2007, and more than 220.000 at the end of 2010. The trend is showed by figure 6, which is referred to the basic version of the Arduino microcontroller board (e.g. Arduino Uno).

Figure 6 Trends in the sales of Arduino’s microcontroller board

Source: Massimo Banzi, Arduino co-founder

The graph clearly shows a positive trend of the sales about the microcontroller board, therefore the first 1.000.000 boards sold could be reached within the next two years. Interestingly, the sales have a “seasonal trend”[7]: users buy Arduino boards mainly from September to April, while in the summer time the sales are declining.

To confirm the quality of the “made in Italy” board, Banzi highlight that about 100 out the total boards sold were defective and they get back from the distributors, “neither Apple has a lower percentage than us for the Ipod[8]. In fact, Gianluca Martino, who is the responsible for the production, manually test each board; in this way the team make sure their brand is not affected by unstable products, a key element for OSH users. In addition, in December 2010, “Il Sole 24 Ore[9]” featured Arduino in its list of the ten innovation of the decade, along with Apple, Facebook, Google and Wikipedia. The Italian economics newspaper is also promoting an online survey asking people to vote for the most innovative product among on that list. Up to 20 February 2011, about 23% of the Italians who participate in the survey believe that the best innovation of the last 10 years was made by Banzi& Co, ranking Arduino at the second place. Equally important, Wired Magazine in an article of January 2011 appointed Banzi as one of the top 10 web CEO worldwide[10].

Looking beyond the scope of Arduino’s figures, Google was consulted to reveal Arduino search results: up to 20 February 2011 the Arduino name is present in more than 4.3 million web pages[11], an additional indicator that shows the Arduino prominence in the web.

Currently, Arduino is employed by leading institutions like MIT Media Lab (they run a course based entirely on Arduino), NYU, Domus Academy, and companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Texas Instruments who use the Italian main board for prototyping.

It is clear that one of the success factors of the spreading of Arduino is given by the community: Arduino is also referred as a “social hardware”. Nonetheless, other OSH players strongly contribute to the promotion of the Italian microcontroller board. Below are reported the most prominent actors that for some extent are involved in the analysis.

Make: Projects is a collaborative resource for people who like to make new things. It is enhanced for creating projects that are visually rich and organized as step-by-step procedures with listings for tools and materials. Anyone can create a project by demonstrating how to make something.  Most importantly, anyone can edit any project in Make: Projects. While anyone can edit, only approved edits become public. That approval process depends upon the person’s reputation in the system, which is gained over time.

Instructables is a web-based documentation platform where passionate people share what they do and how they do it, and learn from and collaborate with their peers. The seeds of Instructables germinated at the MIT Media Lab to built places to share their projects and help others.

The website gains a lot of success and plays a key role for Arduino, given that they are usually to host an Arduino context that forces users to participate with their innovation. They are rewarded mainly in visibility, another important clue in the social hardware environment. As a result, they have an Arduino dedicate channel were people can post their project.

Their business model seems sustainable in the long run: they get royalties not only from advertisement, but also from subscriptions by premium members’ account which is becoming bigger.

Thingverse and The internet of Things are also platforms where users can share digital designs that can be made into real physical objects.

NYC Resistor is a hacker collective with a shared space located in New York City. They meet regularly to share knowledge, hack on projects together, and build community. Hardware is a physical product, and in contrast to software, it needs physical components in order to be produced, therefore there is also a need for users to have face-to-face meetings. Enthusiastic geeks can join public meetings in their offices.  This physical community spun off several companies: some of the members developed gadgets based on Arduino microcontroller and sold them through their online shops.

Ponoko is an online marketplace for users who want to make real things.

It’s where creators, digital fabricators, materials suppliers and buyers meet to make (almost) anything[12]”. They provide a fabrication service to enable others to make and sell products. As a part of the service, they are connected to the SparkFun[13] catalogue of electronic hardware into Ponoko system: in such a way the designers who use the Ponoko system can order Arduino electronics directly from SparkFun along with their fabricated parts with a single payment. As a result, Ponoko has a key role in the future of manufacturing: the employment of Arduino for custom-made laser-cut or 3D printed is leading to some great products.

Parallax provides the electronics industry products that are technically innovative, unique, and economical. This is achieved by a combination of thoughtful, creative design and quality workmanship. The company was established in the ‘80s; however they adjusted their business in response to the OSH development.

Nevertheless, the question about the sustainably of the business is deducted. The discussion made about software in section 1.4 showed some differences between these OS movements. Software costs almost nothing to reproduce; the Arduino team, instead, has to pay something in order to produce its boards before selling them.  According to the classical economic theory, this approach should requires a patent in order to protects the innovation and rewards the risk the entrepreneurs incur, otherwise competitors can immediately rip off their designs and gain their market.  Currently, Arduino business model is based on the strategy to sell many hardware components, thus they will increase also the likelihood to sell their expertise as inventors. In fact, although anyone can manufacture a physical device even in China or in other countries with low manufacturing costs, communities of users will inevitably recognize that the inventor has some firsthand knowledge that is the most valuable asset, which can be sold to anyone.

As a matter of fact, Arduino makes little of the sale of each board, enough to get rolled into the next production cycle. They get 10% as royalties from distributors, so on the price of 26 euro (for the basic board) even the quantity sold so far, would not be sufficient to run the company.

However, the main income comes from the clients who want to build devices based on the board hiring Arduino founders as consultants.

Since 2007, Arduino run this consultancy activity through a company based in London, Tinker.it which had the goal to design products and services that “bridge the digital and the physical[14]”. They wanted to teach people how to use new technologies in creative ways through a hands-on approach, challenging existing design, innovation and research practices.

However, the market was not ready to this kind of services offered by the multidisciplinary design studio. It is still not wide spread the importance of design in innovation process, that is why “design companies are several step back the innovation currently available” said Banzi.

As a result, the company  shut down in December 2010, and in the meantime Arduino team was mainly concentrating on myriad of educational activities, which have been seen especially Massimo Banzi involved in this activities everywhere in the world. However, Arduino is going ahead on this. By the end of February 2011, they should create a real and “lean” company, with an Arduino store that link also potential users entrepreneurs. A comprehensive analysis of the future step that Arduino will likely made is reported in section 3.3, as a result of discussion with Massimo Banzi, who was willing to disclose in preview next strategies.

Overall, the success of Arduino is mainly based on the toolkits for user innovation (everyone can modify the hardware as well as the software used for prototyping), by the trial and error learning approach (design through prototyping), the easiness to use (USB interface), the design (no need for a factory to create the hardware) and Instructables (in the website there is every step of the invention).

In a nutshell: open approach, brand and community.

1.1.3.              Breakthrough from Arduino users

Geeks and anyone interested in programming and in interaction designs become immediately attracted by Arduino. The same was true among students, who could develop their own projects at a reasonable cost, but anyone in general can foster their creativity with Arduino. “You do not need to be an engineer to do it, anyone can open, modify, and change the hardware with the tools all freely available online” said Banzi [15].That is how people start to develop odd products, which allow them to interact with the environment. In addition, Arduino came exactly at the right time, in the new era of Do it Yourself (DIY). There is a resurgence of DIY among geeks interested in hacking and improving hardware, fuelled by ever-cheaper electronics they can buy online, build-it yourself publications like Make magazine, and Web sites like Instructables. Moreover, in this ecosystem the growing of Arduino community performs free labour as consultants.

Therefore, not only hobbyists and engineers were fast attracted by Arduino, but also artists and designers found it specifically designed for them. The Arduino microcontroller allows artists and designers to execute electronic-incorporated works without knowing the internals of the hardware or software easily and inexpensively. In fact, artists and designers are capable of completing tasks traditionally completed by electrical engineers, creating de facto an alliance of engineers, artists and designers under the Arduino umbrella. That makes a huge change, because engineers tend to design platforms for other engineers, not for artists, or kids who want to connect easily stuff to interact with object. In addition, Arduino usable design affects on creativity: users spend less time figuring out the inner workings and more time experimenting and discovering how it can be used in different environments or scenarios. In this context, it is important to consider that everything is supported by the Arduino community, which also helps to inspire other Arduino users.

Furthermore, Arduino as a tool for artists and designers is being introduced in art museums and galleries: the growing popularity reveals that artists and designers are embracing this as the tool was intended.

Several science museums have hosted Arduino, such Museum of Science and Industry, Exploratorium and the Science Museum of Minnesota, Triennale di Milano and Salone di Genova. Furthermore, Arduino has a relevant impact also at educational level: even students from high schools are able to do easy and cheap prototyping, subsequently several innovations are coming from school projects.

As a result, the list of projects running by Arduino users is comprehensive, almost daily updated with new projects presented in OSH platforms; however those innovations are not always translated into real commercialized products. The important aspect is that some of these projects are already available thanks to existing technology, however others they are purely innovative. The concept is still based on interactive design: users can make products that allow them to interact with the world.

In order to give an idea of these projects, table 2 shows a description of a selected innovations made by Arduino users. It is important to notice that this is only a short representation of the projects. They were selected among others which acquired strong interest in the Arduino community, and they were ranked among the top Arduino projects by specialized OSH websites and according to the comments the gadgets received from other users.

Table 2 Arduino projects made by users.

Project and inventor

Description

Kickbee

Created by the designer Corey Menscher, when his wife was pregnant

It is a stretchable band worn by a pregnant mother. Vibration sensors are attached directly to the band. These are triggered by movement underneath. The Arduino microcontroller captures the movement and transmits the signals to an application. When a kick is detected, a message is posted to a social network, which makes easy to share these short messages of “I kicked Mommy!”
Good night lamp

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

(CEO of Thinker.it)

It is a family of lamps which allow people to communicate the act of coming back home to their loved ones, remotely. When the bigger light is turned on, the owner of the smaller lamps turn on as well, which indicates the presence at home of the other person

Not so white wall

Dario Buzzini

It is an example of digitizing a mundane object,  making it interactive. Wall paper is imbued with an electrically sensitive ink and controlled by Arduino, in effect creating a low fidelity wall sized display screen

LilyPad

Leah Buechley

It is a wearable version of the Arduino designed to be sewn into fabric with conductive thread. The LilyPad was derived from the Arduino to be a fully integrated soft circuit microcontroller that was visually appealing. Buechley originally designed the LilyPad Arduino for children soft circuit class, but it was immediately embraced by artists and communities that drive new design

Bell music system

Tellart

Users can select a love song (or compose their own) and then watch it play in the Tellart offices. The system is composed of a series of bells that are connected to an Arduino. When a user zips a song over Tellart’s webserver, the Arduino gets notified and sets off the solenoids to play the bells. The bells then chime the song (for example, “Unchained Melody”) while you watch it streaming live

Secret Knock Gumball Machine

Steve Hoefer

 

It Is a candy vending machine that only dispenses treats when people knock the “secret rhythm” on its front panel

Oswash

Jean-Noël Montagné

It is an example of OS washing machine project which aims to “rethink the way we wash clothes around the world”, in accordance with economical, sociological, cultural and environmental aspects, giving an alternative to most of the people in the word who currently wash clothes by hand due to the lack of  resources

Solar Power Application

(Wolfe 2009)

It is an OS Monitoring System for remote Solar Power Applications that deals with the reduction of production costs, using open platforms to make solar monitoring available in developing countries where both the resources and general knowledge are particularly scarce

PH Probe

An ongoing project that aims to make laboratory tools that replicate the commercial ones for a reasonable price. In particular, in Latin America a PH probe is now under development, using Arduino as heart of the projects

Arduino espresso machine and boat

Timothy Hirzel

The inventor hacked an espresso machine and a boat

in connection to a nunchuck Wii controller, which receives signals through the Arduino

DIY Magic Mirrow

It plays animations based on input from various sensors the user choose. Featuring four characters, each character responds to the sensor inputs with its own personality

The table describes how users have created the most disparate and outlandish projects, just for fun or with the purpose of solving a particular need. Moreover, the selected projects show also how users made not only non-marketed products, but also goods embedding cheaper alternative technologies that already exist.

1.2.            Multiple case studies research design

There are many reasons for choosing the case study methodology to conduct this research. First of all, it enables to gain a holistic view of OSH, providing a rounded picture given the many sources of evidence used (Gummesson 1991). Secondly, a case study is useful in capturing the emergent and immanent properties of an instable context like OSH that is changing very quickly (Hartley 1994). Thirdly, it is more suitable in an exploratory analysis when the goal is to provide and answer to “how” questions which aim to explain a certain phenomenon (Yin 1994).  Finally, a case study might allow also generalizations of the findings that can lead to some form of replication nor strictly related to User Entrepreneurship and OSH (Mohd Noor 2008). The process used in the case studies is described by the figure below[16].

Figure 7 Stage involved in conduction case studies

Source: Mohd Noor (2008)

Procedural characteristics. In this study, the procedural characteristics are grounded on taking into account that there are many variables of interest, multiple sources of evidence, as well as transversal theoretical propositions to guide the collection and analysis of data (Yin 1994). Case studies based on multiple sources of evidence have proven to be rated higher in terms of overall quality than those that relied on a single source of information (Yin 1994). As a result, this reflects positively on the validity of the qualitative data provided.

Typology. The type of case study employed is exploratory, given the aim to provide information in order to gain new knowledge and to fully understand the problems.

Design. The research design is based on Strauss’s grounded theory approach (Strauss and Corbin 1990) on a multiple case studies. The research context described in the previous section is made by Arduino. In fact, after screening the OSH environments, the centrality of Arduino clearly emerged.

Since the aim of the research is to understand how the change in the OS technology from software to hardware can foster users to become entrepreneurs, the investigation is conducted in two separate steps.

Firstly, an in depth analysis of Arduino as the background of the research context was made in the first paragraph of this chapter, for its uniqueness and success in OSH context, as well as the impossibility to isolate the two concepts. In this phase, the other key players in OSH environment who positively affect innovativeness on the users’ side are highlighted and discussed in appendix 1.

Secondly, starting from Arduino, in the next section the search will merely be focused on a qualitative multiple case studies, with the aim to study how OSH users innovate and then commercialized the selected Arduino based projects. Given the novelty of the field of study and the analysis run, the choice for multiple cases seems appropriate as it allows checking consistency of any similar results. Moreover, multiple case studies should follow the replication and not the sampling logic approach. This means that more than two cases should be included within the same study because the approach enables comparisons to be made as well as they give the possibility to draw patterns across the cases and obtain more reliability in the overall results (Yin 2004).

1.3.          Data gathering

For collecting evidence, the primary source of data is represented by a semi-structured interview, the best alternative in a situation where there is likelihood to have only one chance to interview the sample (Bernard 1988)[17]. It gave a very high level of flexibility, allowing new questions to be brought up during the interview according to what the interviewees’ state.  Moreover, a semi-structured interview allows interviewees a degree of freedom to explain their views in their own terms, preserving reliability of information. Semi-structured interview is guided by an interview guide (appendix 1), prepared beforehand, which provides a framework for the interview. In fact, it was prepared respecting a guideline “grouping of topics and questions that the interviewer can ask in different ways for different participants” (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Moreover, it helps to focus on the topics at hand without constraining them to a particular format and to give the freedom to tailor questions to the context (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Furthermore, in order to facilitate the interviews, a map of possible answers was created, thus it helped to identify easily informants ideas.

Another important reason for employing this methodology approach is that not all questions are designed and phrased in advance. The majority of questions are created during the interview, allowing both the interviewer and the person being interviewed for the flexibility to probe for details or discuss the hot issues presented.

Since semi-structured interviews often contain open-ended questions the discussions may diverge from the interview guide. The interviews were tape-recorded and later transcribed. Interviews partner were informed and gave authorization for the recording[18]. Complete transcripts with data collected by interview were transcribed thanks the audio recorded up, for verification of accuracy and correction necessary.

An initial exploratory semi-structured interview was conducted with two anonymous educated users with deep knowledge of user and open innovation, as well as experience in OSH environment. Moreover, essential feedbacks from two academics well-read in the topic of the research were incorporated before the analysis and during the preparation of the interview guideline.

The interviewees were approached directly by email, and they were informed well in advance about the topic of the project and the framework of questions that were to be asked. Therefore they had the possibility a priori to decline the invitation if they did not fit suitable for the analysis or simply if they did not wish to participate in the research.

The interviewees were conducted individually with sixteen informants with duration from 30 to 90 minutes, from 13 December 2010 to 17 February 2011. All the interviews were done via telephone/Skype or mail, depending on access as well as on the preference of informants[19]. While three interviews were run by video calls, eight interviews were based on email interactions. However, due the direct contact which took place, it is possible le to exclude any selection biased problem. In fact, as it will be explained in the last section of this chapter, the collections of data, although with different means, did not affect the overall quality and trustworthiness of the results.

Interviews were conducted in the informants’ native language[20] (which was English in all the cases apart from an exception in Italian), in order to extract the maximum data and to get as nuanced perspective as possible on their experiences.

On the other hand, the interaction with Massimo Banzi was possible thanks to his participation in three seminars hosted at Università Bocconi[21], plus an additional interview made through Skype instant messaging on 14 February 2010.

Moreover, the actively participation in online communities was fundamental to get more information directly for users especially for the selection of the cases discussed in the next paragraph.

1.4.            Cases selection

Recalling the first section of the chapter, the starting point for the multiple case studies is the involvement of Arduino in the users’ business. The sample scouting was a rather long step, during which many sources where examined. Before starting the selection, a guideline was set up to support the identification of the right partner according to a short check list. This process was also carried out after the interview as a double check, to verify the correctness on the Web and that no misinterpretations were made.

On the whole, the goal was to seek for users who become entrepreneurs in the OSH environment, by involving to some extent Arduino in their businesses.

These are individuals who clearly show from information available to the public those characteristics, which thanks to online tools and community perform innovation activities through Arduino in an open environment for various reasons.

The partners were found in different ways. In the first step, the selection was inspired by three seminars hosted at Università Bocconi by Massimo Banzi, so these cases were used as a starting point. Moreover, they were also the first new ventures that Arduino tracked.

In the second step, external sources were involved, which gave a great added value to the whole analysis. First of all, Arduino playground was carefully analyzed. In this section of Arduino’s website, users post their projects, therefore it was possible to identify also the users who commercialized their ideas. Moreover, platforms and magazines like Instructables, Make Magazine and Wired were involved in the process. Furthermore, some methodologies used by companies in order to identify idea’s evaluation were applied (section 1.1). These included: collaborative filtering (seeking for information in Arduino online communities); broadcasting (posting a short announcement in two important OSH platforms: Instructables and The Internet of Things).  Finally, thanks to the same logic of pyramiding, it was possible to receive indirect recommendations to contact a certain user.

It is important to notice that the selection of cases and informants were not always separated, as for the purpose of the analysis the information needed about the company is strongly related with the person who builds it. The amount of information gained was different in each case as the organisational structure of the different cases and availability of the informants had to be taken into consideration. Nevertheless in all cases the basic information needed for the research was acquired.

The conclusions coming from the previous section show that the Arduino microcontroller is based around learning and sharing knowledge of the tool used. Rather than keeping it secret, it builds upon the creativity of an entire group of people rather than the small team from which it is originated.

Arduino is licensed with a share-alike creative commons license, which means that users are encouraged to share designs, reuse, and remix these designs to adapt the Arduino for their work that they can also sell to end-users. In that sense, Arduino fosters users to become entrepreneurs.

After a thorough screening among the most innovative and unique projects, some are selected and the innovators contacted for an interview. Selection was based considering the user’s starting point, the innovativeness of the products, the impact they made on the OSH ecosystem, the popularity among online communities, and the “intensity” to which the user became an entrepreneur.

The companies build by Arduino users from where this research is focusing on are listed by alphabetic order in table 3.  Appendix 2 shows the other cases that were selected, but not analysed given that user entrepreneurs declined the invitation or they were not reachable.

Moreover, a more exhaustive sheet for each company is included in the Appendix 3.

Table 3 Study sample

Case

Description

Starting Point

Adafruit

Limor Fried and Phillip Torrone[22]

It provides users in short of time or skills a wide range of tutorials, kits and small projects that meet the need of electronics beginner

The founder (Fried) just came up with some new projects, which received interest from users

Ardustat

Dan Steingart

It is a substitutes expensive gears with cheaper two electrode system, primarily characterizing by capacity and power delivery of small batteries, to harvesting devices such as photovoltaic and thermoelectric.

He was a researcher at Berkley who needed massive prototype to be done. During his activity, accidentally came up with this idea; he did not want to sell it, users contacted him.

Botanicalls

Rob Faludi[23]

It is a system that monitors house plants and phone/twitter plants owners when they need to be watered

School project, made by four students, they run a small company

Bug Labs

Peter Semmelhack

and

Maurizio Arienzo[24]

It is a new kind of technology company, enabling a new generation of engineers to build any type of device they want, without having to solder, learn solid state electronics, or go to countries like China. It is “LEGO” computers, plug and play, modular system for building devices. VC funded

The founder (Semmelhack)

was frustrated by lack of system for non-welder people like him (hobbyist with software background)

Chumby

Bunnie Huang

It is an OS computer. Web connected, licensing to third partier. It is VC funded, and it employs a particular form of license, given that not everything is “open”

Group of five enthusiastic users interesting in widget players and hardware design

Dangerous Prototypes

Ian Lesnet

It is an OS reverse engineering tool, new to OSH started as a community project on Hack-a-day

Hobbyist, he never intent to sell the projects. Later, users showed interest and he was contacted by a company

DIY Drones

Chris Anderson

DIY Drones is an Arduino-based autopilots for unmanned aerial vehicles. It allows people to make drones at 10% of commercial cost; however the goal is to reach 1%

Dissatisfaction by the use of Lego Mindstorm in projects made by Anderson for his kids. However, community recognizes the business opportunity

GardenBot

Andrew Frueh

GardenBot is a garden monitoring system. This means that thanks to the sensors put in the garden, GardenBot will show charts about conditions  in order to take care of it

Hobbyist, he never planned to sell it; he was contacted by users and recently also from a company

 

Garduino

Luke Iseman

Garduino is a computer that runs gardens. In particular it waters plants when they are thirsty, similar to GardenBot.

 He is the only user with business background, involved also in other interaction projects. E.g. how to monitor chickens in the yard.

Laser Harp

Stephen Hobley

Laser Harp is a musical instrument made of light. The performer can create music by placing their hands in the beams. Not only does “breaking” the beam produce notes, but sliding the hand along the beam will also change the sound

Hobbyist, he never intent to sell it. Later, users showed interest and they contacted him. He is planning to become bigger perhaps though an external production

Libelium

David Bordonada

Libelium leverages on Cooking Hacks websites, which tries to spread the electronics to everyone by making it affordable, easy learning, fun and supported by a big Community

They made the SquidBee, a device based on Arduino, thus they decide to be open putting everything online. Cooking Hacks is one of the product line they manage

Maker Shed

Dan Woods

“Launched originally as a source for back issues of MAKE Magazine, the Maker Shed expanded rapidly to meet the demand for ‘projects in a box,’ otherwise known as kits”

Thanks to the projects posted on Make, they recognize the opportunity to open a web shop, highly requested from users

MakerBot

Bre Pettis

It is a free desktop 3D printer capable of printing plastic objects. Since many parts of it are made from plastic and the printer can print those parts, it is a self-replicating machine, from which it is possible to print useful stuff

NYC Resistor was the starting point of the project: the sharing knowledge with other geeks was fundamental

SparkFun

 

Nathan Seidle

The company set out to make finding the parts and information that geeks need easier, more intuitive, and affordable so everyone can create awesome projects. 19 million dollar revenues in 2010: by far the biggest OSH player. Seidle built the company before the introduction of Arduino, nevertheless its current success were possible thanks to it

Same of Arduino: too hard/costly for him to find components. While working on a class project, Nathan realized how difficult it was for the individual to get the parts necessary to make an electronics prototype come to life

The Blind Theatre

Stahl Stenslie

The project turns the body into the stage of a sensorial theatre. The play contributes to the critical understanding of the body’s importance in our visually dominated culture.

Several interaction designers are involved in these projects. Fundamental the role of the Counsellor of Norway for funding the activity

Word Clock

Doug Jackson

It is a clock that tells the time using English words. He the project on Instructables.com, and won the Arduino challenge. Since then, he has been helping many people all over the world construct their own

Hobbyist, he participated in the context and the public exposition allow him to support other users to do it

 

Although the study is based on sixteen cases study, which should be a very robust number for one of the first exploratory research in OSH, the Arduino projects under investigations are only a small part (but still the more important, see section 2.5) of the ones currently available: OSH projects in general increase at an exponential rate, and the expectations for the future are increasingly positive (see figure below).

Figure 8 Increase of OSH projects over the years

Source: OSHW annual -Torrone, MAKE magazine

The figures presented by the bar chart above enhance even more the goal of this research, so it acquire stronger importance to understand this projects given the lack of research in academia.

1.5.          Research validity

According to the hermeneutics, the interpretation of interviews is not without preconceptions. It is not fully possible to interpret correctly participants’ thoughts as well as the information received might be biased for some reasons. For example, the fear of exposure of sensitive information might lead informants to omit relevant information, perhaps as a part of a new unimplemented strategy or to disclose information that does not affect the “open” approach, rather their business that is several cases is at the first step. To decrease these natural biases and fulfil the quality requirements of the case studies, the analysis is supported by external detailed information gathered on the internet, such as OSH platforms, companies’ websites, web reviews, and article in specialized magazines which allowed for the exploration of the company’s business model and its evolution over time.  In addition, the active participation in online communities (e.g. Arduino, DIY Drones and Instructables) supported the mapping of the study, not only in the pre-selection phase of companies, but also in the validation information received during the interviews. Regarding the sampling, the popularity of the cases, along with their participation in the first OH Summit, a unique event in this context, ensured that selected companies have high reliability. In addition, some of those are cases were showed by Massimo Banzi during his teaching seminars, to show how Arduino empowers users. Another criteria that ensure the credibility of the sample used is the inclusion of some of the company in the “One Million Dollar Baby” talk already presented in the introduction section, in which the speakers describe the business opportunities presented in OSH showing how thirteen of the new and established ventures build profitable businesses. Finally, the choice of multiple case studies guarantees high confidence in the overall results, thus the findings can be considered very robust. The examination of a quite high number of firms enhances the accuracy, validity and reliability of the results by capturing the holistic essence the subject that has been studied. A possible biased problem could be raised in the data collecting method, given that it was not possible to use the same tool for all the interviews. Nevertheless, given the real world study context in which the research in being part, the best alternative were used in order to decrease any possible biased, raising the trustworthiness of the results given that the interaction made by email and/or instant messaging like Skype gave the same level of reliability as in the case of personal phone interviews.  In few cases the informants did not reply properly to the questions or they just missed some information, nevertheless the informants were contacted again for further explanation. Thus the tools, although different, seems not showing biased results.


[1] Source: http://www.arduino.cc/ First accessed 10 September 2010.

[2] Ivrea is a town and commune of the province of Turin in the Piedmont , a region of north-western Italy.

[3]Microcontrollers are small computing systems used for low power and low memory purposes. A microcontroller consists of a microchip on a circuit board with read-write capabilities, memory, inputs and outputs. Source: Alicia Gibb website http://aliciagibb.com/ First accessed 27 October 2010

[4] Arduino is the name of the Bar in Ivrea, where the team was used to hang out.

[5] Composed also by Tom Igoe and Gianluca Martino.

[6] Source: http://creativecommons.org/ First accessed 4 January 2011

[7] Not showed by figure 6 given the lack of exacts seasonal trends

[8] Banzi at OH Summit, 23 September 2010

[11] Source: www.google.com  Arduino keyword. First accessed 10 September 2010

[12] Source: Josh Judkins, Ponoko team.

[13] One of the companies included in the sample presented later.

[15] Banzi holds a degree in Engineering.

[16] In contrast to Mohd Noor, in this study the cases analysed are 16 and not 4 as reported in the original figure.

[17] Although some user entrepreneurs were willing to participate in the study, their tough schedule would not guarantee a second meeting.

[18] In one case a technical problem occurred during the interview, thus the complete transcript is not available. However, it is possible to exclude any biased problem given that all the information were carefully taken during the interview thanks also to the patience of the partner.

[19] One of the issues raised by the informant was to manage the different time zone from Europe to USA, where the large majority of interview partners are based.

[20] One interview partner is Norwegian; however English is its second language that speaks fluently.

[21] The seminars were hosted at Università Bocconi on 25 November 2008 and 2 December 2010 as part of the course “Technology and Innovation Strategy”, and on 4 October 2010  at SDA Bocconi-Master in Marketing.

[22] He is Make Senior Editor, working along with Limor Fried, who is the Adafruit founder

[23] He is one of the four founders

[24] He joined the project in a latter moment, and he had a central role in translate the ideas into a successful open business

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