Hacking Europe

Part of the series History of Computing pp 219-239


Users in the Dark: The Development of a User-Controlled Technology in the Czech Wireless Network Community

  • Johan SöderbergAffiliated withGöteborgs UniversitetLaboratoire Techniques, Territoires et Sociétés/Institut Francilien Innovation et Société, Université Paris-Est Email author 

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“Ronja” is a piece of hardware used for sending data by means of visible light. The technology was developed by users in the Czech wireless network community. The philosophy behind the project states that anyone lacking previous knowledge of electronics should be able to build the device by themselves. In order to realize this vision, the mechanics and electronics were designed with generally available and off-the-shelf components. The instructions for building the device are published on the Internet under a free license. These principles have been summarized under the label “user-controlled technology.” At the center of the case study is a schism in the Czech wireless community over the commercialization of Ronja. The article looks at how the growing market demand for free space optics in the Czech wireless community called forth a redesign of the product in line with the requirements of mass production. The relation between a “democratization of innovation” and the entrepreneurship that flourished around the product was marked by internal tensions.