A Hint of the Potential of Open Sourcing

This example is not open source, but it suggests the potential of opening processes up.

Musgrove, Mike. 2006. “Lego’s Robot Redux: Hackers, Longtime Fans Help Revamp Kits To Build Better Gizmos.” Washington Post (29 July): p. D 1.

“In deciding to revamp the aging Mindstorms robot line, Lego turned to its most faithful core of fans: enthusiasts and hackers who had banded together to form their own online support network. In 2004, Lego e-mailed four of its biggest Mindstorms fans across the United States.  The team members spent 10 months advising Lego as the Mindstorms Users Panel, discussing their dream lists of what the next kit should and should not be.”

“Lego’s star chamber, later expanded to 14 members, helped shape what the new robots will be able to do and which parts come in the 571-piece kit. One member was even able to pressure the company into building a part that makes its debut in the new Mindstorms set — a rare event at Lego, which treats every individual piece with reverence.  The new part is a connector that allows two long pieces to be joined at a 90-degree angle.”

“The resulting toy has much more up-to-date technology than the original set, including a USB 2.0 port for fast downloads and Bluetooth for wireless connections.  With the right parts and programming, a Mindstorms robot can dance in response to sounds or follow the beam of a flashlight.  Lego even decided to embrace the hacker community, which has spent years altering the electronic brain of the system to make the robots perform beyond what Lego had intended.  The company is making public the new source code, which is the programming that runs the unit, and allowing users to modify it and share their changes, as long as they promise not to profit from it.”


5 comments so far

  1. Mark Thoma on


    We first met in the late 1970s when I went to Chico as an undergraduate (Fisher, Gallo, Adams, Hefner, Hope, it was right when Eckalbar first arrived, around that time period). I grew up near there, in Colusa.

    Max mentions your books – I rememeber you once showed me the ouline of the next one you had planned which was written out extensively on the chalk board in a conference room or something.

    I’d run across your name one other time at a group blog, but wasn’t sure it it was the same person.

    I’m now at the University of Oregon, and run the blog Economists’ View.

    Say hi to everyone for me.

    Mark Thoma

  2. Doyle Saylor on

    One of the issues with open source is the bottle neck your example highlights. There were 14 people in the core group. Microsoft announced an automated application called photosynth, similar to stitcher which combines pictures photo mosaically into large giga pixel images. Microsoft writes:

    Photosynth begins by processing an image and creating a point cloud that gives the image a unique identifier, a DNA-like profile that describes the features that have been recognized in the image.

    Once you have this ‘Image DNA’ things can get really interesting: Photosynth could show you other photos that have similar features to the one you ’re currently viewing.

    Annotations, tags, or even URLs could one day be applied to an image and transferred to similar images.

    Photosynth could connect your photographs into a seamless web of images and information, allowing you to browse a virtual universe of interconnected scenes that constantly evolves and changes over time.

    Which I take to mean that for for a given image ‘classification’ any number of images can be applied to that image. This would break the bottle neck. Especially in regard to the limitations of text based content. That is provide a way around the relative lack of information in written words.

    So the network (world wide photo production) constantly updates the network knowledge base automatically.
    Doyle Saylor

  3. Doyle Saylor on

    Here is a video that describes the networked use of photos would be like. http://labs.live.com/photosynth/video.html

  4. Johncy on

    Nice blog

  5. banshee on

    ay carumba!!

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