Is there an "Open Source" Equivalent in Small Boat Design?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Luckless, Mar 24, 2010.

  1. Luckless
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    Luckless Senior Member

    I often browse the New Posts on these forums while waiting for other things to finish, (Yes, "Compiling!" really is a valid excuse to not be working.) and I often find one point coming up fairly frequently. That is one of the price of obtaining plans for small boats.

    My main back ground is Computer Science, and a common hobby is to work on software that gets released to the community in general, with the condition that anyone is free to modify that software for their own needs, but they must play nice and share changes with the community. In all it has produced a lot of good software. (And a lot more really bad software, but that is the nature of a community, not everyone is perfect at what they do.)

    I've poked around for a community similar to that in the boat building world, but I haven't found any group that actually produces Designs and plans to share, but only building tips and general small snippets.

    Does a community like this actually exist, and designed at least one plan worth sailing? I fully understand the amount of hard work that goes into decent designs, but the same can be said of complex software designs and yet many of the greatest minds in the software world still have pet projects that they don't mind sharing.

    If no one knows of such a community, any thoughts on what are the key points holding it back?
  2. daiquiri
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    daiquiri Engineering and Design

    I believe that there are some free projects around. For example, Alik has done a sailboat few years ago and has offered it for free to the community. Also, there is the FAO free project for fishing boats, downloadable from the FAO site.
    That said, there is one important issue which differentiates the case of open-source software from the case of an open-source boat, imho (at least in countries with a working legal system):
    - if an open-source software turns out to work badly, the damage which may result is mostly of economical nature.
    - if a boat built according to open-source boat plans turns out to be flawed, the resulting damage is still an economical one, but may also result in a loss of human lives.
    Who goes before the court in the latter case?
  3. Luckless
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    Luckless Senior Member

    Bad open source can lead to loss of life just as easily as bad Open Design. Do you know how much health care and safety related things rely on variants of Linux?
    It is still an issue of course, but one that has no easy answer in either case.
  4. Brasstom
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    Brasstom Dedicated Boat Dreamer

    Duck Works Magazine (and plans store) has a few designs and designers who share without cost. Other than that your best bet is older plans, found in Popular Science Magazines or old boating magazines, and the like. Sadly it's true, just as in the software world, that these are generally not as thorough or detailed plans, and are rarely very complex (I doubt you'll find many 45 foot world-cruise capable yachts for free!)

    nevertheless, free plans do exist! I think they're brilliant to entertaining the imagination and getting one closer towards understanding boats and design, and helping us day dream our way towards being able to afford the design we really want! :) <- almost forgot, Stevenson Projects. In addition to the brilliant weekender, they have a few older plans for free!

    Hope that helps!
  5. mcollins07
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    mcollins07 Senior Member

    Advancing the discipline


    I’ve been involved in boat design for a good while now, and I am also professional software developer, with experience as an open source contributor, as a methodology consultant, and as a teacher/mentor to developers. There are a number of points which strike me as major differences between software development and boat design which contribute to the hurdles of an open source boat design community.

    We need a little common language to discuss the differences in the processes.
    Looking for common steps in a simplified development process which applies to both boat design and software, we can identify 1) determine requirements and specification, 2) make a design, 3) build it, and 4) test it.

    The biggest differences are in the relative cost of the steps of the development process.
    The second difference is in communications within design activities and within the processes.

    Now, I don’t want to offend anyone with the next statements. It is an observation regarding general trends of relative cost when making comparisons between different industries. It is not intended as a reflection of skills or the value of skills. If anything, perhaps this information should encourage boating industry to pay more for design efforts.

    In software development the cost of design is relative large in comparison to the build and testing costs, when compared between industries.
    In boat building the cost of design is relative low in comparison to the build and testing cost, when compared between industries.

    This observation can be argued, but I think that would side-track the discussion. So, if you want numbers, pm me.

    There are a many factors which contribute to the difference. Most noticeable is the ease of changing software. Software – means easy to change. Software development was somewhat revolutionary as an engineering discipline because it was soft, easy to change. Development methodologies, such as “Test First” , eXtreme Programming, Agile, leveraged the low cost and speed of iterating through the process steps.

    When teaching newbies to code, one of the first goals is getting the student to the point that they can ask the computer (compiler). This allows a form of automated instruction regarding basic syntax. The student’s activity could be viewed as making a design, build, test iteration within a short amount of time, and very little material cost.

    The build process of boats typically consumes real materials and months of time. The build cost of software consumes electricity and only minutes.

    The cost of testing boats, even models is relatively high. As pointed out before, the use of improperly engineered boats can even cost human lives. These cases most likely could be viewed as a lack of, or improper testing. Testing full scale boats is expensive, thus often shorted or not done. Remember Captain Ron, “if it is going to happen, it is going to happen out there.”

    Humans place their lives in the hands of software every day, multiple times without even giving notice that they are doing so. Quality engineering in software is the norm. For example, each time you get in an automobile, not to mention an airplane, your life is reliant on software. The high quality in software performance is expected by the general public, in spite of products like MS. The high quality can be attributed to refined development processes and liberal amounts of testing.

    So, in regard to:
    Lower the cost and time of building.
    Lower the cost of testing designs.
    Improve communications between designers
    Improve communications between designers and other roles in the boat industry.

    A conscious concerted effort to improve communications between practitioners of a discipline always enhances the discipline. This forum has made significant contribution in that regard. There might be lessons learned from the software industry regarding improvements in intra-discipline communications. The software industry produced formalized meta process languages such “Rational Unified Process” which provides a common language for discussing development process among software professional, both technical and business roles.

    Here is a question for the professional boat designers. If a small group of professional boat designers come together as a team, can you quickly communicate to each other your roles in the design process? Is there a common language to describe the activities and responsibilities of the roles? What tools would you use to collaborate with? What obstacles would you run into if that same group were to be collaborating across oceans? Would transferring CAD files and other files suffice for communications? Sharing with the rest of us the language that you use could be very productive. A description of roles and responsibilities for a team of designers could be a step toward collaborative boat design teams that are greater than the sum of their parts.

    Perhaps the greatest opportunity to improve and quicken the iteration cycles is in testing. Methods for testing aspects of a design reduce the cost of large scale testing of the integrated product. Materials engineering is an example where incremental testing is currently used. A new material will be exhaustively tested so the new material’s characteristics can be published and used by boat designer.

    Applications like Leo’s Michlet software, which gives quick low-cost feedback on hull designs, are likely to have a major impact on the boat design process and the boating industry. Software applications like this and/or advances in model testing will help shorten the iteration cycle.

    ~ Michael
    1 person likes this.
  6. Paul Kotzebue

    Paul Kotzebue Previous Member

    There's WLYDO, or World's Largest Yacht Design Office, led by Bob Perry on the Cruising Anarchy forum at Sailing Anarchy.
  7. u4ea32
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    u4ea32 Senior Member

    In a way, there sorta is Open Source yacht design, its nearly all Open Source.

    You can simply walk up and measure any boat you see. Especially in a boat yard. Lots of photos are available, and you can derive lines from those quite easily using most design programs.

    There are lots of performance reports. Some magazine reports try pretty hard to be consistent. A given author is usually pretty consistent, simply because its easier to always measure the same stuff. So you can use that data to correlate design features to performance, but there is a lot of error.

    Many published formulas that were derived from test data, instead of first principles, are also widely used. These tend to be both useful and simple. And some seem to be incorporated into any design software, so using these formulae are simple.

    So there is certainly the same effect of shared wisdom across the industry across all time. The numeric formulae are similarly shared over a dozen decades.
  8. marshmat
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    marshmat Senior Member

    Excellent post, Michael. I won't pretend to be able to address all of it.

    A common, shared way of communicating design intent and ideas would certainly be of great benefit- many engineering firms have such communication in-house, but I can't think of more than a handful of cases where it extends outside of one company.

    Software engineers have a huge advantage here in that they can go through a complete design iteration in a matter of days, even hours. Their design process can evolve ten or twenty generations in the time it takes a structural engineer, or an architect, or a yacht designer to do one project.

    I'd also note that, by and large, boats are emotional purchases, while software design is economically motivated. That's not to say that programmers aren't aesthetically sensitive (witness the recent Ubuntu button layout war), only that it is much easier to get ten programmers to agree on the quickest, most elegant way to solve a problem than it is to get ten naval architects to agree on what a particular boat should look like.
  9. sorenfdk
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    sorenfdk Yacht Designer

    That's not Open Source Yacht Design - that's copying!
  10. marshmat
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    marshmat Senior Member

    A few more thoughts....
    Ahh, "Compiling...." in my case it's "Processing....", such are the wonders of Matlab.

    The question about the price of plans, though, deserves further scrutiny. Now, I'm a big fan of the open-source software movement and I use a lot of tools developed that way. The cost of commercial software can very quickly add up, grossly out of proportion to the benefit the vast majority of users gain from it. I could easily install $50,000 worth of software on my machine, use all of it, and not come anywhere close to justifying the cost. But in the case of a boat, especially a small one, the cost of plans is such a tiny fraction of the total expenditure. What's $50, $100, even $500 for a set of plans when you'll have to spend $1000, $2000, $10000 on materials and hardware?

    For one, I'd say that it's a fair bit easier to make software design collaborative (good code tends to be modular, programming projects can be broken down into relatively independent subtasks).

    It's probably also worth noting that there are far more competent, qualified programmers than competent, qualified yacht designers.

    That's not to say that open source in the boat world can't happen, or shouldn't- just that I don't think it will happen to any great degree anytime soon.
  11. idpnd
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    idpnd Junior Member

    What you're really looking for is boat designs published under an open documentation or creative commons license, rather than "free of charge" designs.. Time to invent it perhaps?

    Perhaps you can find older designs that would be in the public domain or convince designers to release their designs under an open license?
  12. Luckless
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    Luckless Senior Member

    What I'm really looking around for are tools and where to obtain the general knowledge to help with a custom design (Short of actually going to school for it. I've already made the mistake of turning a hobby into a career with Computer Sciences.), one that I do all the number crunching on, and then pass off to a a hired engineer to double check, sign off on, and offer suggestions.

    The bit on the Open 'Source' was just a random observance.
  13. daiquiri
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    daiquiri Engineering and Design

    Well, then you are looking for either a formal training in boat design or... books. There is really a huge number of titles available on that subject.
    And then, as you already could see it, there is - a truly open-source knowledge database about boatdesign-related topics.

  14. Guest625101138

    Guest625101138 Previous Member

    If you are after a displacement boat then Michlet/Godzilla will get you the underwater hull shape for particular constraints you choose. It is free software and very powerful - although it does not look it. Basic knowledge on boats and how to get it started helps - read the manual.

    To produce an image of the hull and consider layout you can use Delftship. It is free for the basic version. Delftship is quite intuitive once you understand the concept of surface modelling rather than solid modelling. Play with all the menus.

    If you are going to power the boat with sails then JavaFoil will get you up the learning curve on foils quite quickly. It is free software. You will need to come to grips with the basic jargon of foils.

    If you are going to use a motor to power it at displacement speed then JavaProp will get up the learning curve on props. It is free software. It avoids most of the jargon used for marine props. It loses relevance if you are working at higher speed where cavitation becomes a consideration.

    There are other free engineering design tools around that allow some form of structural analysis but you really need knowledge of engineering to use effectively. There are also empirical rules for strength that can be used for the sort of conditions that boat hulls are exposed to. The ultimate question for a recreational boat is how hard can it hit something solid without breaking up or suffering a disabling hole.

    If you are self taught with computers then I expect the quickest way to learn about boat design is to actually build a few boats in a scale you can easily afford. I suggest at least 1.5m long. Prove the design tools I have listed to your satisfaction before you go up in scale. You also need to spend some time on full-size boats if you have not done that.

    Same applies with having the design reviewed as you would with your computer science. There are good NAs around who will review the design. The more detail you provide the easier it is for them. A good one may even bounce in a few ideas for you to consider. No matter who you are there is value in having the design reviewed by someone not tangled in all the detail. It helps if you keep track of the decisions for various options. Sometimes certain decisions become obsolete through the process so you may overly constrain the design if you do not go back over the detail. This may be something you have seen with software design. The one big difference is that a fatal flaw in a boat design might be literal - quite different to a computer locking up.

    Rick W
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