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Design with an open hardware platform

Inspired by Google’s Project Ara we imagined a world where their open hardware platform and module market place was expanded out beyond smartphones.

It’s a world where product development is transformed from an expensive, bespoke and slow-to-market process to one where products can be developed more easily, allow everyone from established hardware developers to start-ups to be more experimental and adaptable, and get products to market with less investment of time and money.

It would allow end users to have the freedom to create exactly the products they want, customise them over time and potentially reduce the amount of duplicate consumer electronics they own, delivering more innovative, flexible, democratic and sustainable products.

To begin exploring this world, we have created concepts for the types of products that would be more easily realisable in this world.

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Wear

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Move

Move

A robot printer that autonomously navigates its environment to scan and print the surfaces it travels over. This could offer creative and practical possibilities for people working in everything from fabric/pattern cutting, interior design to construction and surveying through to just plain printing fun with the your kids.

In a world with a module market place this product could be more easily created from existing processor, battery and Bluetooth modules with the development of two unique models to enable the product, a printer head and a motor/wheel module. By allowing easier product development this allows ideas such as the robot printer to reach the market and allow users to find compelling uses for the product. The development of the motor/wheel module might for instance prove a "killer module" that enables other product developers to create products that the original hardware developers never dreamed of.

Wear

Wear

A bespoke wearable device that addresses a patients medical needs through biometric monitoring as well as their emotional needs with an instant connection to medical staff and access to their treatment timeline. The device can also be reconfigurable to adapt to different stages of their treatment journey. In the concept shown the device transforms for a pregnant woman throughout all stages of labour and beyond. In the early stages of labour at home the device is configured with a belly worn tocometer to measure contractions and allow direct communication with the hospital. In the second stage of labour it measures heart rate, stress levels and drug delivery. In the third stage, after delivery the device is configured for more emotional needs to allow a direct connection between mother and baby allowing them to share each other’s heart beats and live image when they are not in directly in physical contact, for instance while in their cot or on a neonatal ICU.

Using the Ara platform could allow hospitals to provide much more bespoke medical devices than currently available. With an established system of medical specific models, new innovative modules and devices could potentially be developed at a faster and cheaper rate than in the current system of device development. Having continuous monitoring of patients biometrics could also provide a wealth of big data to help improve future treatment plans.

Play

Play

This music concept allows musicians and music makers to configure bespoke products to create unique sound performances by bringing their preferred digital and analogue modules together. The product could be configured for the one man band where it’s more about on board instruments with a single input, output and Wi-Fi connected keyboard and/or effects pedals through to a sound engineers configurations with multiple analogue and digital inputs to manage a band’s sound on the fly anywhere they need it.

We imagine a large audio module marketplace could be created from established music equipment companies like BOSS, MARSHALL, SHURE, VOX, KORG based on classic analogue equipment musicians have grown up on through to the latest start-ups delivering unique new audio modules perhaps developed by DJ’s and record producers, a Mark Ronson module anyone?

We can only hope this exciting open hardware platform takes off. In Googles own words "Ara’s success is predicated on a rich, vibrant, and diverse ecosystem of modules from a myriad of developers.” We think that opening up the platform beyond smartphones could bring greater opportunities for success in the form of these concepts or in more conservative way with the adoption of module slots into current product formats to facilitate connectivity and upgradability to help products last longer. Recently both Fairphone’s FP2 (designed with our assistance) and LG’s G5 have brought modular smartphones to market showing that there is an appetite for these more flexible products.

We think that an open hardware platform could lead to a product development revolution.