Friday, January 16, 2009

Open Source Design Need Software

If you have read my blog you might have picked up that my day job is doing Computer Aided Drafting(CAD) design of commercial piping systems. You probably also picked up that I am an proponent of free software. What you should also know is that I am very concerned with poverty issues around the world. I spend a lot of time, like many of you, thinking about how to solve the worlds problems. Also, my view is slanted by my position. Meaning I think about the things that I would need to solve the problems I would work on in the developing world. So, what have I concluded. Well, the world is full of problems that the best solutions are elegant designs. The developed world can afford inefficiencies that Africa can't. To enable developing nations to catch up many people are working on amazing technologies that make things better, faster and cheaper to produce in order to aid the poverty stricken regions of the world. Some examples are the One Laptop Per Child program that has been working to get computers into the hands of children around the world. If you like to listen to TED talks like me there are lots of people working on these problems.
The obstacle as I see it is the lack of Free Software for CAD/CAM and CNC. While there are small projects out there for this sort of stuff it doesn't even come close to projects like Blender3d and other similar technologies. I get exited about Open Source Hardware projects that could really have an impact like the self replicating 3d printer RepRap. But, it doesn't matter if you build a $300 machine that is like a $30,000 if the software to produce with it costs $6,000. There are a lot of challenges to solving the worlds problems and if we want a new Renascence of design we need the free software to do it. So this is my plea to the community. If you want to take on a project that could change the world here it is.
The next obstacles is the closed nature of the DWG format. Autodesk has exerted too much control over this file format. They have created an industry that relies on one of the worst file formats for design. It's closed and impossible to implement in open source. They frequently make changes to the format that break backwards compatibility and no one is really doing anything about it. They have almost complete control over the way that your world is designed. The impact of the DWG format is profound and we desperately need an open format to exchange design information.
This could not only have an impact on poverty but on science as a whole. Inventors can invent and build using computers to power innovation in the physical world. Architectural design could be kept as public record in an open digital format. It opens to the possibility for digital submission of designs for patents.
A new CAD system similar to AutoCad that is extendable to suit everyones needs isn't just a good idea it's a necessity. If you ask me it more important than any other free software project out there and no one is really working on it. That makes me sad and unfortunately I lack the requisite skills to even know where to start but maybe my little rant hear will spark something and then again maybe not. I'll keep doing research on it and keep my eye on the horizon and maybe one day if I get to a point I think I could do some thing I will. Till then I hope someone who does know what they are doing is working on it.