Open sourcing prosthetics, one amputee at a time

Open-source methodologies are being used to improve prosthetics, perhaps proving that open source has "legs" beyond software.

Some argue that open source only works in large markets. One Iraq veteran begs to differ.

In a fascinating article in the most recent Scientific American, Iraq veteran Jonathan Kuniholm describes how his Open Prosthetics Project (OPP) is using open-source methodologies to bring enhanced prosthetics for a market that may only number 100,000 people. The goal? Invite amputees and other interested onlookers to "pimp my arm."

In fact, given the small size of the target market, it may be that an open-source approach is the only credible way to proceed, as Kuniholm notes:

The reality is that there's no traditional economic incentive to do work and make improvements on prosthetics. That doesn't mean that nobody cares, but most people don't have the money or know-how to magnify whatever efforts or improvements they make. I think we can generate far more societal benefit if we give away information than if we commercialized and sold the ideas. Our goal is to create a way to share these efforts and improvements with anyone who needs them.

An Eclipse or Mozilla Foundation for prosthetics, in other words.

What a great testament to the potential power of open source, offering hope of improved prosthetics. It's great to see open source delivering exceptional software. It will be even better to see it delivering improved medical technology.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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