Uniqopter - an Open Source Hardware Aircraft Project

On the face of it an open source aircraft project sounds a little absurd. Aircraft projects are expensive endeavors, why would we choose to give the technology away as we develop it?

Well, there are some good arguments. If any of you have looked into patents, how they are filed, who files them and what they are used for, you will be aware of the general misuse or at worst abuse of the patent system.

Most of the new aircraft companies use patents to form a ‘patent cloud’ to perform a number of functions:

  1. To create the impression of a high level of unique and valuable intellectual property to impress potential investors
  2. To create the appearance of a large amount protected proprietary information, where there actually is minimal innovation, to discourage anyone copying any aspect of your design
  3. To protect actual unique ideas and real innovation

Considering the expense and effort that a startup company ends up sinking into intellectual property protection; is there a viable alternative?

  • What would happen if you did not protect your technology?

  • What would happen if you made your technology freely available to all licensed under one of the Open Source and Open Source Hardware licenses?

The R&D component of an aircraft startup company is not the majority component of the overall cost for a well run program. You have all of the company systems to develop, you have a manufacturing facility and plant to stand up, you have management, engineering and manufacturing staff to recruit and train and you have a huge amount of working capital to cover raw materials and vendor items for aircraft in manufacturing and for warehoused items before you get to revenue.

If you were to start an aircraft development program and do it completely openly and publicly would people copy your design and try to get to market to compete with you?

The answer to that question is  “probably not”. The amount of capital needed to be invested, even if you sidestep some part of the R&D costs through the use of publicly available technology, is very large. Is it likely that a competitor would risk that amount of capital on an unproven idea that is not their own?

There are several aspects that mean this is very unlikely.

  1. Unproven designs are risky. It is very likely that any competitor will wait for you (the original OEM) to get to market first and let you fully mitigate the technological, regulatory and market risks before they commit that level of investment.

  2. As anyone else can also compete with any potential competitor there is a strong  disincentive to make the level of investment as the risk of facing additional competition is high.

It appears that an Open Source approach can offer a significant disincentive to competition.

What are the advantages?

  1. Avoidance of the costs of filing and defending patents, relocation of these funds to more important needs of the company.

  2. Increased public attention and PR value of being the first to take this approach.

  3. A level of community involvement in development, checking and scrutinizing of design concepts.

We are planning to go further and make all of the company’s operational systems also public domain, including:

  1. Engineering systems – document numbering, change and release control, configuration control

  2. Certification and compliance systems

  3. Quality system

  4. Manufacturing process specifications

  5. Work orders, warehousing, scheduling

  6. Human resource policies

Every aircraft startup company has to develop all of these systems. They are all regarded as proprietary by each company and as such they are all guarded and kept confidential. And they are all very similar.

These systems are so similar that almost all aircraft companies could adopt a single standard for these systems as a baseline and make small modifications in house to meet their own specific needs.

This approach will be both disruptive and very beneficial for the whole industry – especially for startup companies. Would it democratize the aircraft development process?


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