Open source design has the potential to play and crucial role in the development of next generation infrastructure. As third world countries develop rapidly and even leapfrog first world countries there is a massive opportunity to equip new cities with smart and resilient infrastructure. Moreover, first world countries – especially America — are planning to heavily reinvest in infrastructure and upgrade its technological sophistication. Much of this new wave of infrastructure will focus on embedding sensors that allow officials to wirelessly monitor the health of a bridge or building. However, this new revitalization of infrastructure will also focus on sustainable and renewable energy so that new cities do not deplete limited natural resources at the same rate as old cities. First, I will discuss Masdar City and their role in inspiring open source infrastructure innovations. Next, I will discuss ICOS, a community of software engineers and developers that use open source for infrastructure.
Masdar City is a hotbed for renewable energy and sustainability innovations in infrastructure. This city allows individuals to interact with and help test open source and proprietary products as customers. GE, ABB, Siemens, BASF and dozens of other companies are testing their products and innovating is Masdar City (1). The first aspect of this city that involves open source is the Masdar Institute which disseminates knowledge about the products and their deployment to students and the community. This open knowledge helps inspire others to learn about existing solutions and innovate new solutions. However, intellectual property is prized in Masdar and remains the driving force behind the majority of innovations in infrastructure. Despite this reality, many of the companies participating in Masdar have a mix of both open source infrastructure solutions and proprietary solutions.
ICOS is a community of developers created by URENIO research for smart cities. They services are addressed to city authorities and infrastructure managers who want to implement smart solutions. Cities want to be cohesive, competitive, and sustainable and open source solutions are best fit for them because “they don’t compete on software development and don’t create advantages on proprietary software” (2). URENIO is part of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the Faculty of Engineering, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and they help cities use existing software, re-use software, and spend less. Smart infrastructure and open source software enables city officials to automate traffic monitoring, analyze water usage trends, save money, manage traffic patterns (3).
All in all, I believe that open source design can have a profound impact on infrastructure but not without the incentives driving IP-protected innovation in parallel. Master City highlights the achievements of IP-driven infrastructure innovation in renewable energy and sustainability although they spread research and knowledge to others through the Masdar institute. In contrast, ICOS provides open source software and developing services to cities seeking to upgrade their infrastructure with smart features. Ultimately, as the third world and first world countries begin to invest heavily in infrastructure a proper balance between open source solutions and IP-solutions will drive innovation and lead humanity into an age of sustainability and safety.