Big Gains for Open Aerospace: Interview with Open Research Institute CEO Michelle Thompson W5NYV

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by WE4B, Mar 2, 2021.

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  1. WE4B

    WE4B Ham Member QRZ Page

    Open Source is proving to be very important in keeping amateur radio in space. Here's a nice interview with ORI CEO Michelle Thompson W5NYV about how ORI, Open Source, ITAR and amateur radio.

    The Open Research Institute (ORI) is an OSI Affiliate project that works to facilitate worldwide collaboration in the development of technology. The past year has been a particularly exciting one -- achieving some groundbreaking wins for open source in aerospace. ORI’s co-founder and CEO, Michelle Thompson took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about their recent regulatory initiatives.

    DN: Can you tell us a little bit about the Open Research Institute's history and mission?

    MT: Open Research Institute's mission is to provide a friendly, safe, and accessible place to do open source research and development for amateur radio and beyond. We have been fully operational since March 2019 and have contributed technical and regulatory work central to the mission of the international amateur radio service. This work is useful outside of the amateur community because it allows a wide variety of organizations to use open source communications technology where they would otherwise have to reinvent a wheel, or restrict the work to US persons only.

    DN: It was a big year for ORI, with the determination that "Open Source Satellite Work" is free of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR.) What prompted ORI to draft a commodity jurisdiction request?

    MT: We were able to do this work due to the generous support of YASME Foundation, ARRL Foundation, and ARDC Foundation. Without their generous financial support and guidance, the technical and regulatory victories over the past 18 months would simply not have happened.

    The problem of how to deal with ITAR has been a decades-long challenge for the Amateur Radio Satellite Service. Complying with the proprietary/commercial rules within the ITAR framework is incredibly expensive. Getting the regulations wrong exposes generous volunteers to an unacceptable level of risk. However, using the proprietary/commercial rules has been the default approach for the Amateur Radio Satellite Service in the US since the 1980s. Proprietary and commercial approaches are not a good fit and have delayed, chilled, and prevented innovation and engineering development. International collaboration with amateurs in other countries has been almost entirely prevented.

    There is a much better approach that has been available to us all along within the regulatory framework. ITAR, and EAR, the companion rules from the US Department of Commerce, both have an alternate set of rules for open source and public domain work. Why not take full advantage of those? After many years of attempting to get amateur radio technical organizations in the United States to use the public domain carve-outs, it became clear that a definitive ruling was necessary. This ruling, or Final Determination, was achieved in late summer 2020. Open source satellite work has been determined to be free of ITAR. The second part of the regulatory process, which sought a similar ruling for EAR, succeeded on January 28th. An Advisory Opinion Letter process, to tie both of these findings together, is underway now.

    The goal of all of this work is to reduce risk to open source volunteers that want to work on satellites for educational, experimental, and public service purposes. The hardest part was the CJ Request to the US State Department, to address ITAR. That completed step was substantial forward progress for open source volunteers and activists. The determination has positive and enduring implications outside of the amateur radio projects that it primarily benefits.

    DN: That seems like fun news for anyone who's kind of a satellite geek, but what does it mean for the aerospace industry?

    MT: It means that there is a particular and significant regulatory ruling that allows the use of open source technology in aerospace. Companies are more free to use and contribute to open source satellite work. This means that companies can use open source technology in places where they really don't want to "reinvent the wheel". They can spend more time on things that truly differentiate their business. This saves money and increases the value of their engineering dollars. We see a huge positive benefit in computer networking by the use of open source technology. That same benefit can be had in aerospace by adopting open source work that benefits everyone, provides superior interoperability, and is publicly validated and verified.

    DN: That sounds like good news for open standards too. How collaborative would you say the aerospace industry is?

    MT: There are parts of the aerospace world where collaboration is absolutely necessary. Human spaceflight, where the safety of the people on missions is paramount, requires all organizations involved to comply with rigorous testing and exacting standards. Other parts of the aerospace world are not collaborative in any way. Designs are secret and information is not shared. For business reasons, a company should use open source technology where it helps increase safety, interoperability, and does not threaten their core business. Why spend time re-doing a design that exists as an open source implementation? Especially when those designs have significant investment, are validated, and in many cases have substantial flight heritage.

    DN: What comes next and how can folks help ORI in that work?

    MT: Donations of time, talent, and treasure are gratefully appreciated. We welcome anyone that wants to contribute to open source amateur radio research and development. You do not have to be an expert - you just have to be willing to become more of one along the way! If you have a project that needs a non-profit home, we want to talk with you. If you are an individual and you are interested in working on things like Low Density Parity Check forward error correction, or an open source implementation of DVB-S2/X, then we have openings right now in those areas. If you are looking to expand and enhance the wonderful open source polyphase filter bank work by Theseus Cores, then we are looking for contributors. Want to work on an open source amateur radio project a bit closer to home on Earth? We sponsor and support the M17 Project and they will enthusiastically welcome your time and energy.

    We support and publish music and are actively recruiting for radio user experience and user interface designs. This is often considered nontechnical work, but it is the heart of any communications project. Our goals are accessibility and ease of use. This has to be designed in from the beginning and cannot be an afterthought.

    High-tech digital communications can be intimidating. The mathematics and techniques are often complex. However, they are not impossible for ordinary people to understand and appreciate. Open source is playing a critical role here, especially in the area of demystifying and opening up communications technologies that have traditionally been unavailable to the general public, or presented as impossibly difficult to understand.

    We spend a lot of time taking complex topics and breaking them down in new ways that make them relatable to those curious about the technology. This is fully in the traditional spirit of Amateur Radio in the US. The social and economic benefits of having a better trained population, more confident about their ability to understand and use digital wireless communications, are clear. This opportunity, to experiment and advance communications technology independent of commercial concerns, is one reason why the amateur radio service has been of such immense value.
    M1WML, VE3CGA, NR9V and 2 others like this.
  2. WE4B

    WE4B Ham Member QRZ Page

    ORI really should be congratulated for doing this work. To date, nobody else was willing to take-up the task. Good job ORI!
    WD4ELG and KK6QMS like this.
  3. M1WML

    M1WML Ham Member QRZ Page

  4. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    I am confused: my impression is that inventions and IP are key drivers on what enterprises use to "differentiate their businesses".

    Is Michelle saying that hardware invention should be OPEN SOURCE for satellites AND aerospace, and that all companies should only differentiate based on non-innovation factors?

    My impression has been that "re-inventing the wheel" leads to better wheels. Inventive IP has finite lifetimes and ultimately is always open source. Why de-incentivize efforts to reward inventors the opportunity to take their inventions forward with some assurance that it will not be stolen from them?

    Please explain.

    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
  5. N1IPU

    N1IPU Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    My ARRL membership dues went to these folks. Better payoff in the end.
    W5EFR and WE4B like this.
  6. KX8C

    KX8C QRZ Lifetime Member #153 Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    Open innovation can lead to many things ... IMHO that includes reduced salaries, loss of IP-retention, loss of jobs at small companies, and continued concentration of high tech at mega-companies with their high-priced lawyers making sure they don't have to follow the rules.
  7. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    There is nothing wrong with open source hardware. I am happy to see Michelle advocating this approach for those who want to make new technology, as a team, that way.

    There are two issues I see that are of concern in this interview--IMO:

    1) The advocation and implication that ALL new technology in aerospace and space should or MUST be "open source"--and that companies 'differentiate' by other things besides technology. That is basically saying we should abolish the existing and extraordinarily successful 'innovation economy' in the U.S.A.--founded on opportunity AND proprietary ability to take new concepts into innovations . As Kx8C points out, that would be a disasterous outcome for the nation as a whole and the notion of 'progress through innovation'.

    2) ITAR restrictions are not solely inveighed on "open source" . They are a burden on many, especially new inventions AND inventors with proprietary innovation. The sat restriction were and are outrageous and any change that allows inventors and "open source teams" to proceed is really the way to go. It is painful to see that this obvious shared ITAR concern is being advioated here as a justification for "open source" for the apparent death of "proprietary".

    3) It is a myth that proprietary inventions are not 'allowed' , ever, by inventors to be used in open source circles, with the sats. Who have you asked? What evidence do we have that this is a universal credo?

    Anyway, interested in differing opinions, Always helps to shape and or change my own.

    Chip W1YW
    KN4LGM and WE4B like this.
  8. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Kindly consider the following regarding the "open source" versus "proprietary" approaches with amateur radio innovators--

    Limor Fried, AC2SN is known as a big advocate of "open source" hardware. She is the founder of a company that provides various (mostly LED oriented) maker parts and kits. Incidentally, Limor was a student of mine at BU. So I know who she is.

    Limor is also a patented 'proprietary' inventor. For example, she holds US patent 9,226,369. This was filed and issued after she became an "open source" advocate.

    My point is that in the real-world, even "open source" innovators do 'proprietary' things.

    Room for both. MO.

    Chip W1YW
    W0RIO, KN4LGM and WE4B like this.
  9. N1IPU

    N1IPU Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Sure. Linux put so many out on the street. I think we would be better served to repair the patent situation if your worried about big business. Or maybe return to when Congress controlled the formation and existence of corporations based on public good.
    They actually used to do that prior to 1871.
    WE4B and KX8C like this.
  10. KX8C

    KX8C QRZ Lifetime Member #153 Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    All true and an interesting point about Congress, did not know that.

    Taking a tangent. I ran Ubuntu for 9 months at home. I did everything I needed ... except some ham radio and genealogy stuff that I just could not get over not running my preferred software in the way I wanted.

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