THE BLOG
10/02/2016 09:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rehab Addict's Nicole Curtis and Hackers Agree : Open Hardware Rules

They say necessity is the mother of invention and it also happens to be responsible for transforming Nicole Curtis from a waitress/real estate agent into the TV star of Rehab Addict. Much like the dozens of high-tech makers highlighted in Thomas's book Making Makers, Nicole's early challenge of "I had no money" galvanized her to find ways to turn beat up old houses and trash into high-value treasures.

Her approach has been enormously successful. Nicole routinely shows her Rehab Addict fans how to remodel their homes and save a fortune. For example, she redid a bathroom by upcycling what others discarded for a tenth of the cost of putting in a new bathroom. Her videos provide the how tos for anyone with similar problems -they represent the "source code" to rehab a house.

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Nicole using a torch to patina a wood makerspace sign. Photo credit: Bernzomatic

Interestingly, this factor of 10 savings also happens to be what hardware hackers have shown to be the cost savings for sharing the source code for the most sophisticated scientific equipment.

There is a name for this type of sharing -- open source hardware. The concept of open source is not only well established to save money, but it is also a technically superior method to create tech itself. The secret to open source is that with more people collaborating, better solutions rise to the surface. People can build upon one another's best ideas without worrying about intellectual property.

Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design. Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.

In her upcoming book Better Than New, Nicole tells her story. When she started knowledge was sparse - now YouTube "basically has how to do everything".

In general the open source hardware movement has been led by high-tech industries - those making 3-D printers like Aleph Objects and state-of-the-art electronics like SparkFun. They have found common ground in the Open Source Hardware Association that now represents 100s all over the U.S.

This all comes naturally to those into home improvement. Nicole explains, "There is not a sense of proprietary items in my world. I always want to share it - because honestly the more I share about my work the more cool stuff people do. It is contagious."

Nicole is far from alone. More than 135 million American adults consider themselves "makers". Most are more than happy to share their genius to reap in the rewards of the open source ecosystem. Open source hardware advocates know the more they share, the more they benefit from the help of others hacking their work and making it better.

Nicole recently invited fellow makers from across the country to enter a project that benefits their community and uses a torch in some way for a chance to win the funding to help bring it to life.

"I believe we can truly 'make' a difference in the world around us, and am thrilled to partner with Bernzomatic on a program that helps provide funding to jump-start inspired projects. Saving old houses and rebuilding neighborhoods is my way of contributing - but I cannot wait to see how people use their passion and ideas to give back."

Oct. 31 is the deadline to submit an idea that involves the use of a torch. Ten finalists will be selected, and then it will be up to America to vote for their favorites. The three finalists with the most votes will receive a $15,000, $7,500 and $5,000 grant respectively, plus Bernzomatic tools. The top submission will receive a working day with Nicole Curtis to kick-start their project. The seven remaining finalists will each receive $1,500 and Bernzomatic products.

It will be great to see all the new ideas inspire others in the open source hardware community.