The idea of open-sourcing has been one of the driving forces of software innovation in recent years. Making the code available for anyone to improve, tweak and tinker with has delivered state of the art software for a fraction of the cost of the branded software, and is usually given away free. Programmes such as Firefox or Open Office have driven a train through Microsoft’s monopoly, and with so many people refining the code, they often turn out to be better than their commerical counterparts.
So much for software, but what happens if you apply the same open-source business model to the car industry? One British company is hoping to unleash the same level of innovation by putting the plans for their prototype hydrogen car on the internet. Riversimple‘s small urban car runs off a hydrogen fuel cell, along with the energy captured from braking. It’s already pretty smart, being four times cleaner than the cleanest car on the road at the moment, and that rises to forty times cleaner if the hydrogen is produced with renewable energy. If you think you’ve got the engineering chops to make it even better, all the plans for it are here.
Open sourcing is just the beginning of Riversimple’s radical business model. They’ve also rejected the standard shareholder model, so that private interest won’t ever trump environmental concerns. They also claim they’re not interested in selling cars. Most car manufacturers make their money by selling new models, and that means scrapping an old one – a business model that moves forward through obsolescence. Instead of buying a rapidly depreciating hunk of machinery, Riversimple will lease you one of their cars instead. It reinvents the car company as a service provider rather than a car manufacturer, a step predicted by books such as Cradle to Cradle, and already pioneered in other fields.
To find out more, there’s a great Ecologist article here, or watch the video below.