[Day 2] Low-Tech Alternatives to High-Tech in Open Science Hardware


In many settings high-tech solutions may not be the best solutions, and we often don’t NEED things to be high tech - a low tech solution can sometimes be more effective. Attendees agreed there are many opportunities to use locally available skills and equipment to make things, including artisans / craftspeople and traditional equipment and manufacturing techniques (such as lathes, glassblowing, welding etc rather than laser cutters and 3D printers). There are challenges on both sides with getting the open science hardware community and traditional artisans to work together – but it can benefit both sides if we can make it work. Participants were keen to continue the discussion and will form a working group to move things forward and explore getting funding to convene a gathering specifically on this topic.


Attendees & Introductions


Hamish – likes to reuse & repurpose things

Chris Mushi – Twende – teach ppl how to solve their own problems – this is perfect

Dorcas – planning to start a makerspace – wants to learn about heaper ways of doing it

Felipe Fonseca – was part of a computer repair project – disappointed by the yoda head explosion from FabLabs – lots of traditional knowledge was being kept aside. Wants to work with new techs to help ppl repair things that are discarded. Also interested in more activist side of making.

Ben – works with honeybees – don’t have much money – reclaim devices – open them with a hammer and repurpose what’s inside

Jenny – Biology background – lots of biology eqpt doesn’t NEED to be very hi-tech – basic functions – also Dir of a Community lab that got donated an autoclave – interested in repairability, having schematics available etc

Andy – works with field biologists in the field – heavy to carry a lot of stuff so if you can craft with natural materials around you it helps – and need tools that are repairable in the field

JP – surrounded by hi-tech all day long & wants to hear about low tech

Joel – background in jewellery making & kinetic sculpture, deep history in craft – loves making tools to make tools – sees the necessity of β€˜just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should’.

Lou – looks at barriers to access in South Africa – ppl in Zimbabwe talking about difficulty of doing stuff because of high cost of importing parts. But local technicians have skills in glassblowing & other crafts – how can we use those

Leslie – works with Arduinos – freelances for Adafruit – likes low-tech – volunteers for public lab to bring things to communities that can’t afford

Reddy – Linking lots of products together make it complex – water mgt technologies are needed – should be transparent and easy to use. Business models drive things to be not repairable.

Yanick – from Kabakoo, Mali – space for collaborative wandering – use tech, mostly low tech, to solve local problems – it can be very impactful – their building was built using an ancient African technique – reduced elec bill by 70%

Shubhi – runs a makerspace in Hyderabad – only way maker movement can be successful in India is by low tech – 60% of their population are artisans and carpenters – makers need low tech, artisans have skills – but how to connect – there are so many suppliers out there – also a social thing – students at uni don’t interact with traditional craftspeople

Anna – works on local manufacturing, very interested in how we can tap into the skills and equipment for traditional manufacturing that are available in many places, and help to make them more competitive

Valerian – from STICLab – using locally available resources and low tech to solve community problems – e.g. making 3DP & CNC machines from e-waste. Use low tech and open hardware and softwares to develop all those things

Jessica – from Boston – landscape architect & sculptor – teaches to a very diverse student body – things need to be low tech to be accessible – can we develop low tech things to make it more visible

Moritz – setting up a research lab – most of specialised hardware is too expensive and does too many things – also involved in a research collaboration with several African partners – wants to have equipment that can be used in different labs for equivalent results.


Intro from Lou – seems like everyone is thinking along the same lines, we don’t always need such expensive equipment. What do we need to engage the open hardware community in thinking about low cost ways of manufacturing stuff, and what would we need for the artisans to engage them in making OScH

Felipe – need to understand cultural practices – in Brazil we have gambiarra – similar to jugaad, frugal innovation. The ultimate making lab is the city. Bike repair, craftsmen, etc, the skills are there. It is the ability to transform matter. It’s not just about making & fabricating. They are trying to map those skills in the city - how can we understand what skills are there.

Shubhi – great idea – if we map Hyderabad and show where are carpenters etc – we need to document that knowledge. At a local level have a map with the low-tech alternatives

Anna – MakerNet Alliance has started to think about this and would like to convene a working group on this topic.

Felipe – making is also about some basic operations – find parallels between digital fabrication techniques (cutting, adding) and older ways to do the same things

Joel – there’s a flip happening – in the North we have fablabs & 3D printers quite widely available, but to find a craftsman with specialised skills is completely different – it’s completely the opposite in the global south. How do you engage with the craftsperson – to engage with a 3DP you have a file – what is rules / structure for sharing information with artisans

Anna – example of 3DP sample given to carpenter who could then reproduce it, whereas he couldn’t make any use of an engineering drawing.

Reddy – there are many skills out there – e.g. plumbers use lots of battery operated things – many things come and they fix it. The question is Universal Basic Income – once we bring a technology it is replacing the number of jobs. This is a current challenge. The business community is not interested. In India there is not a single course at any level in biomass cookstoves – but most people still use that technology. Even if someone is using technology it is a replacement of someone’s livelihood. It makes life easier. There are decentralised manufacturing operations.

Lou – we are thinking about small scale manufacturing

Anna offered to collect names from people interested in mapping

Leslie - One neighbourhood knows where the craftspeople are, but another may not

Shubhi – there are different districts – makerspaces are typically not in the districts in the city where craftspeople are

Lou – mapping doesn’t have to be exhaustive, it just has to offer some opportunities to help people engage with alternative methods of production

Andy – this echoes a discussion we had at Africa OSH where Jaiksana of ASKotec was talking about finding refugees with manufacturing skills

Anna – we are exploring collaborating with UNHCR on the data they collect on refugees – what they already collect indicates that there are a lot of people with manufacturing skills.

Lou – so many skilled people out there

Felipe – traditional craftsmen are shy to be in urban middle class situation – you have to encourage them – but can be very successful when they are done

Lou – pairings can add value to both sides

Joel – having a makerspace is about having things accessible – if you use a craftsman, people will have to pay for the service or the skills

Anna – it is not free to run a makerspace

Lou – lots of issues – cultural barriers, how to think about issues of consistency – how to make plans available – Maybe we could start

Felipe – one of his side projects is writing – called Making in the City – he has seen an association called PING In France – invite people to bring their stuff to repair – gets a lot of retired engineers – has lots of retired engineers – can this idea of repair cafes be useful in open science? Also work of Lee Vinsel & Andrew Russell – US researches – project called the maintainers – research on maintenance

Jenny – picking up on the repair cafΓ© point – Ugo Vallauri runs community in the UK – international repair day is next week – maybe next year for International Repair Day as GOSHers we could do something in our institutions – in her experience there is always a pile of equipment in universities that isn’t working - so this is one concrete thing we could do

Yanick – 2 experiences from Bamako – in the beginning they had a discussion about the location – interesting that Shubhi said the place where the makerspaces are is usually different from the makers – they went to the low income neighbourhood because they wanted to work with artisans etc – they have more challenges being there – eg more days without electricity than in the higher income areas. Being located in the low income neighbourhood where the majority of the population lives – makes it easier to get the type of people they want to get. Target people who want to work but don’t have resources to set up their own space. So they can meet their clients etc in the makerspace.

Shubhi – they don’t have money to afford a shop.

Yanik – so they target those who have several years of learning in their own workshops, and who are ready to start a new place. Goal is to use makerspace as a temporary transition to these artisans having their own workshop

Shubhi – turning towards making ppl into entrepreneurs – concept of grassroots innovations – there are more chances of people from lower backgrounds coming up with more radical solutions – when they do that and build something useful – they need a bit of a push to help them get it to the market – so they turn into entrepreneurs.

Reddy – Govt in India understaood that education is not helping people find jobs – they are now giving space and training to vocational skills – at least one million people every year are being trained in construction techniques. Many services even DNA detection of seeds for farmers. There is a movement towards to technologies – they want employment.

Anna & Dorcas - Kenya also has a program for vocational skills development

Lou- In South Africa vocational skills are becoming less valued – the government is moving towards high tech

Jenny – are there other aspects specific to Science open hardware?
Anna - most of these concerns also apply to other sectors

Jenny – even with 3DP you can’t be so precise

Felipe – 3DP part of microscope – if you print it in a very controlled environment with aircon, very dry, it will last for a while – but in a humid, hot place etc – it will not be that durable

Aga – it’s very important that if we e.g. redesign the microscope to be made by traditional methods, that we don’t try to replicate what the 3D printer would have done - remember that artisans have other skills – use their skills and don’t try to replicate

Jessica – working with female studenst in Sri Lanka – they can’t produce the paper without being compensated

Jenny – Portland state university has a glassblowing course – they are struggling because people who teach it can make more money elsewhere

Valerian – in Tanzania – challenge engaging local artisans is language – software for 3D modelling etc – it is all in English – how do you address this?

Joel – translators! But is it too technical and complicated for that?

Hamish - You need to translate the training manual too

Lou – linguistic barriers are a problem everywhere

Valerian – another problem – if you arrange an event, they are scared to come, because they think everyone will be speaking English.

Leslie – you need another database of open source translators


  • Anna took email addresses and will contact people about the working group.
  • GOSH can do International Repair Day events next year (no person assigned)
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Thanks for that, @annasera. As commented during the session, I’d like to add some references about related themes. The first ones are mine :wink:

Then there are other interesting approaches as well:

And @jcm80 mentioned the International Repair Day (next week):

Plus, a 10-year collection of links on β€œgambiologia”:

And I have a half-written book on β€œmaking in the city” as a side project. When I decide to do a kickstarter campaign to finish it, I’ll let you guys know :sunglasses:

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And of course, this video everyone must have seen:

@jcm80 @efeefe @shubhi @agnieszka @saibhaskar @loubez @Zengirl2 @valerian
I don’t know everyone’s forum name, please tag others if you know who they are - please all feel free to edit the notes from today’s session

the above post, has been set up as wiki post. so it can be re-edited by everybody on this forum.

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Also useful to link to a relevant session from last year’s GOSH: Low-tech technologies (Frugal Science Jugaad Science)