Faircap: Open Design and Innovation

It has been four months since we started receiving HIF support to continue developing the Faircap filter. Since then we have made progress in defining the final 3D design and working with two labs to prepare the first series production, we also got the first functional prototypes working and we are now arranging the final details to launch the production in the next couple of months. The project is well under way and we are confident we will have an effective, low cost, high quality product at the end of the HIF support period, although as expected, the original time frame for final production has been delayed a little, which seems (somehow) normal in the development of any hardware product (we will explain more in future posts). Before telling you about our progress and as an introduction to this project’s blog we would like to write a little bit about the background of the project and how open design and open innovation could have a large positive impact in solving critical humanitarian issues.

Faircap CIC is a young social design lab which was born out of POC21, a technology innovation camp held in 2015 just months prior to the COP21 summit, where 12 open source and collaborative projects proposed by citizens, designers and makers tackling climate change issues were accelerated. Due to the increasing negative impact caused by climate change in water sources we prototyped a simple to use, low cost, water filter that could be screwed into a regular plastic soda or water bottle for people without access to clean drinking water.


For those who are not familiar with open design and innovation, it means that several people, from technical experts, designers or even end-users can contribute to find a common solution to a problem for the further development of an idea. The power of the crowd can offer different points of view that add value to the proposed solution and these proposals are further shared openly so that the idea can continue improving and evolving. It means that while a traditional research and development effort run by a company would require very large human, financial and technical resources, in an open source development methodology most of these resources come from the community. Open source first became popular in software development when Linux, an alternative and often better and more solid computer operating system was developed by programmers to manage and run large servers. Open source is now spreading to hardware, since a CAD design file can be shared digitally and then 3D printed anywhere in the world.

But the openness aspect of technology development is not new to the digital revolution that we are experiencing. Traditional science and academic research is built on top of other people’s ideas and findings, often published on specialized research papers that have traditionally been accessed only by scholars. Even in the private sector, technological ideas such as the invention of the graphical user interface or the computer chip were developed in a lab and then spearheaded the founding of hundreds of small innovative companies which became one of the most innovative and technological driven ecosystem that is now Silicon Valley.

The difference to traditional science research and corporate technological development compared to open source and open innovation is that now with more readily available information, from Wikipedia to blogs to platforms like Youtube or Instructables, with more open networks, events and crowdsourcing contests, everyone can potentially act as an inventor, designer or maker; consumers can become producers and all of them normally using shared intellectual licenses for the good of the commons.

One of the most important reasons is that it opens up many more opportunities for finding technical solutions by many more actors. While possibly before only public and private research labs or companies could offer a service or product to solve different problems related to emergency relief, health, energy, food, housing, education or economic development, there is now a growing army of makers, designers, engineers who are already very passionate in learning, sharing and using digital fabrication technologies who can also participate in coming up with innovative solutions. In the future even beneficiaries can be involved, for instance by assembling kits themselves for making sustainable energy systems or for drinking water. Open innovation and design transfers more power to drive change to the end-user, it promotes decentralized problem solving and makes beneficiaries responsible actors by promoting creativity.

Another important aspect of open innovation is that many of the resources needed to come up with a new product or solution are shared and therefore less funding is needed compared with traditional research and development funding, which often needs large capital investments to secure patent and intellectual rights for even small innovations. Having a lower development cost and being open means that those economic savings can be also transferred to the end user, hopefully by offering high quality products at a much lower cost.

This is also why the HIF’s support is critical to the Faircap project. We have crowdsourced the research and design phase and with the HIF support we are able to cover the costs of tooling, molding and testing and once this cost is covered the marginal cost for each single Faircap filter is minimal, since the bill of materials to produce each unit is very low. Furthermore, developing a product that could help people have access to drinking water in emergency situations following an open approach from the beginning means that we can involve a larger community of contributors to make improvements on one design or even propose new designs or parts for a water filtration kit system, which we are also working on. All in all, we hope to continue evolving the Faircap project in the long run with the support from many actors including regular citizens and humanitarian organizations whose experience in the field is invaluable too.