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Open Source Takes Flight

Jul 31, 13 Open Source Takes Flight

Open source has been used to help indie developers get a leg up. Ouya is the first indie-developed video game system based on Google’s open source Android operating system, and while that seems pretty impressive, it is nothing compared to the MakerPlane.

Wired magazine reported this week that an open-source airplane is now being developed in Canada, and that the designers are looking to crowd-sourced funding to finish the project.

There is a world of difference between a video game console and an airplane, not to mention a world of regulations for vehicles that can take flight. However, this isn’t grounding the developers of the MakerPlane, who hope to develop a small, two-seat aircraft that qualifies as a light sport aircraft and is affordable, safe and easy to fly.

Building an aircraft at home might seem like a bad idea, but actually it goes back to the earliest developers of flight, including the famous Wright Brothers. Those aviation pioneers built their bikes in a garage, or bike shop, as the case might be. Of course, they didn’t have to deal with things like the FAA.

Now, that hasn’t stopped the home-built movement, which does produce some interesting results. All these planes must adhere to strict rules set down by the Federal Aviation Administration and the aviation industry, but the LSA category is actually there to encourage people to fly and to develop these smaller aircraft.

The category calls on aircraft that are limited to two seats (so no hopes of someone hoping to creating their own Dreamliner sized aircraft), while the maximum weight is set at 1,320 pounds. The LSA has a limit of 120 knots (138 mph).

What sets this project apart is that unlike other home-built aircraft developers, the makers of the MakerPlane are looking to give away the plans. Typically, those planes are where the money is.

The MakerPlane could break with the mold, and provide a way for people to build their own planes for under $15,000. It is looking to provide all the technical information, including ways to integrate a home-built aircraft with a variety of open source systems for controls and even traffic and collision avoidance systems.

The timing of this also comes as other technologies are converging with open source, including the ability to utilize 3D printing. All this could certainly open the doors for more hobbyists; but the question needs to be asked, at what cost?

While there are plenty of would-be Orville and Wilbur Wrights out there, the question is whether building an airplane should be so easy? We do live in a world where a pressure cooker can be turned into a bomb, and where dangerous people look to do crazy things.

Do we need to make it so easy to build an open source aircraft that could be used for some terrible deed? Will drug smugglers, who are already trying to make submarines to sneak drugs into this country, find a way to utilize this technology as well?

Of course, the counter point to this argument is that the actions of a few shouldn’t punish the law abiding. So, perhaps we should think not of the bad things that such an open source plane could offer bad people, but instead think that perhaps it could inspire those to take flight.

Just take a cue from Icarus when using open source.

Image Credit: John Nicol / MakerPlane

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