Wikifactory is one of our amazing partners on the TFF Digital Labs. We have integrated their social platform for collaborative product development on the Digital Labs giving TFF Challenge participants free access to tools and a global community with whom they can collaborate on open-source hardware and design. Learn more in this interview with Christina Rebel, their Co-founder and Chief Communities Officer. You can find Wikifactory in the Knowledge Lab at www.tffdigitallabs.org.
Can you start by telling us a bit more about Wikifactory and your role as the Co-founder and Chief Communities Officer?
Wikifactory is a social platform for collaborative product development. We’ve been inspired by the best practices of software and product development, and have built our platform from the ground up. Our mission is to connect designers, makers, engineers, developers, and creative problem solvers with tools to facilitate their work. Work being projects of all kinds, from telescopes and biotech to furniture design, educational robots, ceramic 3D printing, and biomaterials, this is all very exciting stuff.
As Co-founder, my responsibility is to make sure that we stick to our original vision as we develop, which is to enable anyone to start a product company from anywhere. As the Chief Communities Officer, I am responsible for building and curating the community, bringing in open-source hardware design projects from around the world and help onboard them to Wikifactory. I also make sure that we continuously improve our platform and develop it in a way that serves our community’s needs.
We are excited about bringing Wikifactory onto the TFF Digital Labs. Can you tell us what to expect from you on the Digital Labs?
We’re excited to be part of the Digital Labs as well! From our modules, you can expect: resources on best practices and examples of open-source hardware & design that can be used as a reference, as well as tips and tricks on how best to develop your hardware projects. Information about the agile methodologies you can employ, and guidance on how to document your project, and create a viable project that others can/will deploy across the world.
What we want from the Digital Labs is for these changemakers to be equipped with the tools to develop their projects. We give guidance on how best to take advantage of our tools and our community, in your software food challenge projects. As a team, you can use our collaboration tools to work with your team or the greater global Wikifactory community of 6000+ product developers, to see how they can support and improve your projects.
What does the existing ecosystem of open hardware for food innovation look like? Any notable projects you want to share?
A thriving ecosystem of open hardware for food innovation is without doubt what I am most excited about. What we see a lot at Wikifactory is that people working on food and agriculture-related projects apply the openness mindset we most frequently see in software designers. Given enough consideration, all problems can be dissected. They might not have all the answers but as a global community, we can arrive at solutions faster if we just share openly.
A remarkable project that comes to mind is BuzzBox, a neat tool that was developed to listen to the bees. The idea is to identify patterns as reactions to the queen bee, the weather, or anything really. The concept of merging software and hardware to tap into an area where we really don’t have any prior knowledge is really fascinating.
The TFF Challenge calls on the next generation to create solutions for more sustainable and inclusive food systems. Is there a particular idea or solution space that would excite you most?
Solution spaces that I’m particularly excited about are focused on increasing the viability of small-scale biodiversity systems. Capturing ecosystem data to then generate optimum farming solutions is very interesting, and also solutions around food waste, recycling, and farming equipment. Through the use of sensors and small automated systems, we can actually monitor and grow small scale farming that is nutrient-rich and diverse. It’s incredibly interesting because systems like permaculture can only be improved by receiving better data. This is something that we can develop with systems technology, and part of that includes innovative solutions to the parametric design of actual ecosystem data. There is a lot of work that needs to be done there.
From a management point of view, I am excited about projects that contribute to a greater catalog of open-source hardware. For example, farming machines that we can put in the hands of those who need them, not only to learn how to build but also how to manage and repair them. This is crucial to ensuring work autonomy and self-sufficient livelihoods. These areas are particularly exciting for me.
How would you describe the impact of open-sourcing projects on the speed and likelihood of innovation?
With open-sourcing, you are not limited by a team’s knowledge or skills, you can tap into the crowd, therefore it’s more about the speed or likelihood of innovation. The impact of open-sourcing comes down to the ability to deploy new products without having to ship components around the world. It’s fundamentally revolutionary.
The promise of open-source merged with flexible production machines offer a huge opportunity. We are then able to produce locally and on-demand, which e.g. can have a massive potential impact on disaster relief. It can help developing countries leap over industrialization, straight into innovative supply chains and circular economic models.
What are your top 3 tips for open collaboration?
First, share early and share often. It is better to start getting feedback and improve on the basis of that feedback. This has a two-fold benefit—involving others can help them and yourself understand and convey how you are thinking about the process.
Second, I cannot stress enough how important it is to document properly. Record videos, photos, voice notes, etc. in the process of developing or deploying your designs and their instructions. Don’t try to assume all responsibility yourself, team source your documentation where possible.
Third, I encourage projects to be very clear as to how others can help. Ideally, your project is something that people can and want to contribute to. On Wikifactory, each project has an issue system where you can specify what improvements you need. These are concrete invites where you involve the community to help resolve those issues quicker. In that sense, the top open project would share files, documentation and very concrete input as to how others can contribute to that project.