This June Otto DIY became the first company to certify open hardware in the Czech Republic, joining the growing community of creators who are freely licensing their Open Source Hardware in Europe. Their product is certification unique ID: CZ000001 in the Open Source Hardware Association’s certification program. We caught up with the company’s founder Camilo Parra Palacio to learn more about the company and its future.
Otto DIY serves a global customer base with an activity community. On your website, you offer several maker and builder kits—alongside accessories and replacement parts. Who are your customers and what do they do with your robots?
Our customers are very diverse, from hobbyists that usually buy our maker kits, passing through parents and makers, up to schools, hackerspaces and even universities. Building the robot is just the starting point. Our customers use Otto to learn coding, engineering and design. Some just want to have their own dancing robot that they customize, and add or create a new personality.
Your company is the first-ever to certify Open Source Hardware in the Czech Republic. What inspired you to submit your interactive robots for certification?
From the start of the project I wanted to have a ¨legit¨ open source hardware product. You see many projects that are inconsistent with the OSHWA definition of open source out there; I think we (as a community) should all follow a universal standard to avoid confusion.
You are using the CERN Open Hardware License for your products. It is one of only a few licenses that have been created specifically for hardware, but according to the certification data adoption of the CERN license is lagging. Why did you select this license for your hardware?
As you said it is one of the few licenses created specifically for Hardware. I think it is a better approach for these licenses, rather than trying to adapt software practices that are very limited in the world of hardware in many cases. For Otto DIY as a company registered in the Czech Republic, It made sense to select CERN since it was created in Europe. Nevertheless, I did not notice the lack of adoption, so maybe for new projects we will consider other licenses. We are open to recommendations here.
Beyond the electronics, you also use 3D printing as a production process. Many other open hardware projects do this early on, but they have not made it to full production like you have. What are the pros and cons of using 3D printing technology in this way?
The pros rely on flexibility and constant changes we can make to the design. Even though now it has been almost a year without changes to the STL files, at the beginning it helped a lot to be able to make fast changes as the project evolves. We gather feedback, we can experiment with new colors, materials and even features. The problem is when you are in this middle point, where you need to produce a lot in a short time.
The solutions are: A, Keep 3D printing. You buy more 3D printers, but that means you need to hire someone to take care of the “mini farm.” or outsource but usually that increases costs. Or B, go the injection molding route, which we have considered but you need to reach orders for over thousands per month. And even though it could lower the cost per set a lot, you have to be sure the design will work over time.
The reason why other open hardware projects do not succeed using 3D printing is likely to be because their project does not fit with this additive manufacturing process, it could be size, application or cost related. We are happy to say that our customers actually see that as an added value for the project, the fact that robot kits are made on demand and that they can replace parts in the long run try new designs.
The open nature of your production techniques and product itself mean your product can copied. What has been your experience with this? What do you do so that your customers continue to buy from you?
I love to see when the project is copied, that means it is successful. If you make an open source hardware project and nobody replicates you, you are doing something wrong. Now, people that copy and sell, I have to admit without even knowing the philosophy of being open… It feels weird to see people making money from your creation at the beginning, but that just pushes you more to take your project to a commercial level.
What I did not like was people scamming others saying they were “Otto DIY”—this happened to us, someone made a Kickstarter campaign under our name without any compensation to our project. We were just starting, so not much could be done there. Nevertheless, we stayed in business and grew up beyond that, people indeed keep buying from us and many admit the difference is that our original kits are much better quality versus the knock-offs.
Every time we see someone selling Otto robot kits, we see it as an opportunity to cooperate instead of as a competitor. We have multiple programs running for these collaborations that unite the community.
What is Otto DIY working on now and thinking about as we head into 2021? What does the future of your business look like?
From the start of the project we knew education was the key to do a have an impact in this world, to teach robotics and the importance of technology skills for the future. So we are gathering all the resources that we created in almost a decade of experience in this industry and are putting them into a Learning Management System we called Otto Academy.
We will have courses and lessons in multiple topics around technology including—but not limited to—coding, electronics, 3D modeling, 3D printing, design, mechanisms, creativity, and even now we have Artificial intelligence interactions with our new Otto Scratch AI. We are thinking about teaching best practices in open source. Teaching online will be a huge complement to our kits. In the diagram below you can see our vision.
What advice do you have for people to aspire to turn their Open Source Hardware projects into products like you have?
Make an open source hardware (OSH) project, only if you agree totally with the OSH philosophy. Do not to use it as some sort of marketing gimmick in your crowdfunding campaign or because you want to attract sales, that is not how a project should start. You should start with the community and adding value—or solving a problem—that most likely won’t have have immediate reward. The reward is in the improvement you make to this world.
Learn more about Otto DIY by visiting their website: ottodiy.com.