Invest in open, repairable technology – a green industry: Mark Shuttleworth

In a well-received paper on industrial strategy (link given), Prem Sikka stressed that we need to invest in new technologies, green industries, artificial intelligence.

Mark Shuttleworth is doing just that. He built his first enterprise on existing free and open source software available for anyone to use and remix –  the commercially successful desktop operating system, Ubuntu Linux. He set up the Shuttleworth Foundation, a small social investor that provides funding to innovators who are helping to change the world for the better and could benefit from a social investment model with a difference. Mark believes in a global open knowledge society with unhindered access to essential information and limitless opportunities for innovation and replication.

As devices get smaller and more complex, glued assembly and soldered-together parts are making it impossible to get into and fix all kinds of devices, not just tablets and smartphones.

Access to repair and service manuals is an increasing problem. Using copyright laws, manufacturers limit consumer access to this information. Policymakers at a European level should not stop at mandating recycling, disassembly instructions should also be given for those who will reassemble and reuse.

The ‘circular economy’ isn’t just about recycling products; repair and reuse are also vital. Civic-minded people who post information on repairs on YouTube, bulletin boards and iFixit are a vital part of a repair economy.

One Shuttleworth investment was in the Restart Project, a London-based social enterprise that encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer in order to reduce waste: “We take local action to prevent electronic waste through hands-on, learning events where we help people fix their own electronics – and help others to do the same globally”.

The days of home vehicle repair appear to have come to an end with new software operated machinery and intellectual property restrictions meaning all are forced to pay big bucks to fix their machinery. ‘Big Tech’ has a repair monopoly.

In America, Nebraskan farmer Tom Schwarz used to buy second-hand parts to keep his machinery going: “As farmers we don’t like to spend a lot of money so we buy used components and mount them ourselves but now we can’t get the component and the tractor to talk to each other. So you literally have to bring Deere out to do all this or your tractor is not going to operate.”

He now has to call a dealer because of its software. When he bought a tractor he did not realise he would be bound to his John Deere dealer who holds the intellectual property rights to fix the diagnostic software that runs the whole engine.

However, dwindling farm incomes and open-source software are inspiring homespun hackers, helping to advance farming technology. At present, the risk for these farmers is that they will break their warranty.

In Canada, Manitoba farmer Matt Reimer has created a tractor that drives itself. See video and read more here.  See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GqBFfIoTEk and  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8JCh0owT4w

Journalist Jason Koebler told ABC that farmers are using software downloaded from Ukraine to avoid the onerous restrictions. “Farmers are hacking their own tractors. In places like Ukraine and Eastern Europe people in Ukraine are doing is uploading these versions of the software for free online, and people in Nebraska are pirating it and hacking their tractors with it. the software is sold to farmers without the encryption they have in other countries like the United States,”. “They’re essentially able to have access to the same technology the John Deere dealerships have in order to fix their things.”

Farmers and independent machinery repairers across the United States are now campaigning for the right to fix their own machinery. In Nebraska, a “fair repair” law is being proposed to allow farmers to repair their own tractor. If successful, the Right to Repair Act would make it mandatory for companies to disclose their diagnostic software and sell parts.

 

 

 

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