Peer Production and Desktop Manufacturing in the Case of the Helix T Wind Turbine Project

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Full reference: Kostakis, V., Fountouklis, M. & Drechsler, W. (2013) Peer production and desktop manufacturing: The case of the Helix_T wind turbine project. Science, Technology & Human Values, 38(6): 773 – 800.

Summary

This article set out to show, through the Helix_T wind turbine project, two things: first, on a theoretical level, that CBPP is not limited to ICT, but that in conjunction with the emerging technological capabilities of 3D printing, it can also produce really promising hardware, globally designed (with the direct or indirect support of Commons-based communities) and locally pro- duced. Second, beyond its illustrative role as a case study, the Helix_T also contributes to the quest for novel solutions to the urgent need for (autonomous) renewable sources of energy, more as a development process and less as a ready-to-apply solution. And while the Helix_T does not offer huge amounts of energy and suffers from several shortcomings, we showed that it is possible to create a low-cost, DIY wind turbine with 3D printed modules in a cost-effective way to provide individuals with small amounts of clean energy. The illustration has also worked in theory by showing that it is possible to produce innovative hardware based on CBPP. The case shows that for someone with only very partial initial knowledge, it is feasible to start a similar project based on an interesting idea and to succeed in implementing it through the collaboration with Commons-oriented communities while using CBPP products and tools.

Given the trends and trajectories both of the ICT paradigm on one hand and the problems of the currently, still-prevailing industrial modes of production with all their collateral damage on the other, this may be considered both a positive result and a message. We trust that projects similar to Helix_T and projects that are more complex, such as the Open Source Ecology or the WikiSpeed car, will soon be investigated, documented, and analyzed by science, technology, and society scholars. More research could take place at the intersection of modes of social production and modern desktop manufacturing capabilities (from 3D printing via laser cutters to computer numerical control hobby- sized machines), since some, such as Anderson (2012), see there the emergence of an opportunity for an economy less driven by commercial interests and more by social ones. As a hyperproductive mode, CBPP forces the for-profit entities to adapt to its characteristics, ‘‘thereby further integrating it into the existing political economy, but not without the transformative effects of its market transcending aspects’’ (Bauwens 2009, 121).

This passionate mode of production (Moore and Karatzogianni 2009) may well be part of a new type of capitalism that has been developing since the beginning of the current ICT-based techno-economic paradigm, and that has many postcapitalistic aspects that may be capable, under certain circumstances, of rising to a dominant role and of building an alternative form of civilization in the distant future. For the present, CBPP and its conjunction with desktop manufacturing demonstrate the dimensions of technology that can be brought into play for the democratic reorganization of our industrial society as it exists, but from a different perspective than the tendentially atomistic and authoritarian culture of ‘‘modernity’’ (Feenberg 2002).

More info

  • The page of the Helix_T wind turbine project on Thingiverse here.
  • See more publications.