The 3D Printable Heliostat and Interview With Creator

A little while ago Openalia posted about Google’s open source heliostat array code.

Well, now you can build your own DIY solar thermal farm. Adam (aplavins) has designed a 3D printable 2-axis sun tracking device.

Interview after the jump.

What’s your name and background?

  • My name is Adam, I’m a self taught DIYer.

Did you have any engineering experience before you started?

  • I don’t have a formal education in engineering or design but I don’t have any student debt either. The internet is my leaning tool and if I can’t get the information I need from there, I’ll go out and buy a textbook.

What made you decide to open source the project?

  • I’ve always been mechanically inclined, it comes naturally to me. The electronics and programming took more time to learn though. I’ve always liked building things, probably the first open source design I utilized was the McWire mini CNC mill. I didn’t have much disposable income to go out and buy a milling machine, but through the open source concept anyone on a low income is able to build any number of things from scavenged and hardware store parts. It was then I realized that open source was the way to go.

Did you choose one particular license over others? Why?

  • I chose the license that was the least restrictive to the end user. We live in an information age and information should be free and available.

Were there any tools/resources that were vital to your success?

  • The greatest tool ever created (the internet) made it all possible. Without it I wouldn’t be as far along as I am. Besides that, wikis, forums, blogs, mailing lists, groups, IRCs and others have all helped in the spread of information. They also allow people with common interests to find each other and chat so they can eventually meet in person and create hackerspaces, and collaboration groups.

Any tools that were just really cool that everyone should know about?

  • 3D printing and other forms of CNC on the local scale are going to be the next industrial revolution. They could even be the end of global capitalism and spawn a new society of free information and readily available technical solutions for everyone.

Could you suggest one really important skill people should learn first?

  • People need to realize that solutions don’t have to be store-bought. If something of mine breaks or I need something, I’ll first try to fix or make it myself before going to the store to buy the ready made part. In doing this, I’ve developed skills and knowledge in mechanics, electronics, design etc. that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It turns out that Doing It Yourself is also cheaper.

How much of the project was individual effort and how much was social?

  • The beauty of open source is that people can constantly improve on the design and it brings in people of different disciplines together. The heliostat for example was based on the arduino electronics (opensource). Gabriel at cerebral meltdown took this tech and built the electronics and wrote the code for the heliostat (also opensource). I took both of these and added the mechanical design and now there is a finished product that anyone can use, you’ll just need to assemble everything.

Are you anywhere close to feeling “done” with the project?

  • I have a working prototype, but I’m far from done with heliostat design. Next I’d like to make a larger tracker that can provide some or all of the power and hot water for my house. I also plan to make that design open source.

Do you plan on selling anything when you’re finished?

  • I do sell products that I’ve designed but I always provide the information for people to build it themselves. If someone doesn’t have the skills or tools to do the job, they can buy the finished product from me. The people out there that are ambitious though, have access to everything they need to make exactly what I have. It indirectly encourages people to improve their skills in a way.

What do you think about open source as a philosophy? As a strategy?

  • Open source is the future in my mind, proprietary information is a thing of the past. I don’t buy a product if I know it’s been designed with planned obsolescence or is unable to be serviced by anyone other than their own technicians. (Apple is the prime example here). A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t see any visible screw heads, don’t buy it. Eventually, because of the nature of open source, it will become more widespread and the alternatives will just fall by the wayside.

Do you follow any other open source projects?

  • The next really big opensource project is Open Source Ecology. It’s aim is to make every machine needed to build a civilization open source. Keep your eyes on this one because it’s going to be big.

In your wildest dreams, what would be open sourced next?

  • If we were able to opensource computing and semiconductor manufacturing, things would just take off, and it’s not too far away from what I read.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

  • If there’s one thing I want people to be aware of it’s cyclical consumption. Buying a new phone or car or other device on a yearly basis is an unsustainable practice. opensource is immune to this phenomena. It is inherently frugal and produces very little waste, it’s local and organic, it’s recyclable and scalable, it’s the future!
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