Cohabitat Gathering Talk

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note: you can download the slides, minus videos, here.


Hi. My name is Marcin. I'm a farmer and technologist, born in Poland, now in the US. I sarted a group called Open Source Ecology, and we took on a very Big, Hairy, Audacious goal. We've identified the 50 most important machines that allow modern life to exist – the tools that we rely on every day, whether we know it or not – everything from a Tractor, to an Oven, to a Ciruit Maker. We call this the Global Village Construction Set.

Are we reinventing the wheel? Yes! Let me tell you a story.

I finished my 20s with a Ph.D. in fusion energy, and I discovered...that I was useless. I had no practical skills. The world presented me with options, and I took them. I guess you can call this the consumer lifestyle.

So I started a farm, in Missouri, and learned about the economics of farming. I bought a tractor – then it broke – I paid to get it repaired – then it broke again – and pretty soon... I was broke, too. I found that the truly appropriate tools that I needed to build a sustainable farm and settlement – just didn't exist yet.

I needed tools that were robust, modular, highly efficient and optimized, low cost, made from local and recycled materials, designed for a lifetime, not obsolescence. I found that I would have to build them myself.

I did just that, and tested them – and found that industrial productivity – can be achieved – on a small scale. Then I published the 3D designs, schematics, instructional videos, and budgets onto a wiki. Then contributors from all over the world began showing up, prototyping new machines, during dedicated project visits. So far we have prototyped 8 of the 50 machines, and the project is beginning – to grow on its own.

We know that open source has succeeded with software, and tools for managing knowledge and creativity, and now, the same is beginning to happen with hardware, too.

We're focusing on hardware because it's hardware that can change peoples' lives in such tangible, material ways. If we can lower the barriers to farming, building, and manufacturing – then we can unleash massive amounts of human potential...

And not only in the developing world. We've seen lots of excitement from American farmers, builders, makers, who can harness our published library to start: a construction business, parts manufacturing, organic community supported agriculture operations, or just to sell power back to the grid. Our goal is a library of instructional materials – so complete, so clear – that a single burned DVD is effectively a civilization starter kit.

I've planted 100 trees in a day, I pressed 5000 bricks in one day from the dirt beneath my feet, and I've built a tractor in 6 days. From what I have seen, this is only the beginning.

If this idea is truly sound, then the implications are significant. A greater distribution of the means of production, environmentally sound supply chains, and a newly re-discovered DIY culture – can hope to transcend – artificial scarcity. We're exploring the question – what are the limits – of open source hardware – in what we all can do, to make a better world?

Four Minute Section 2: Habitats

How does our work relate to the building of sustainable habitats? In America, we have this (slide: army of identical cookie cutter houses and identical people pushing lawnmowers in front of them), and since I left Poland in 1984, it appears that Poland is now following suit. From the Communist Bloc to the American Bloc – where's the sustainability? The above implies complete dependence of the community and its members - (slide: the blue pill) – on everything from energy to materials to ideas livelihoods. What if we had this? (slide: same graphic, except now the people are pushing the different tools of the GVCS as if they were their new lawnmowers).

What I mean by that is what if local production came back to our neighborhoods? I mean everything from Apples to Apps. That includes Zero Energy, Zero Carbon, Zero Emissions, Zero Waste, and Zero Jobs (slide: FAB TREE HAB) – where we pursue our deepest interests?.

Is it true that if we as civilization transcend material scarcity – then we can pursue cultural and scientific advancement – which is much less resource intensive than the present economy of artificial scarcity?

We are testing the limits of prototype community as above: a modern standard of living, no invading colonials like McDonalds, Walmart, and China, and no artiificial scarcity so we can pursue our deepest interests? What are the real limits to this?

They are those of our collective imaginations. Why?

Because 4 megawatts of power fall on every acre of land. (slide: Ausra). Humans can covert that to useful electricity at 10% efficiency easily. Our plan is to open-source and reduce the cost of solar concentrator electric power, just as we have lowered the cost of tractors and compressed earth brick presses by a factor of 5-10 by open-sourcing them. It is only a matter of information access. Information is power.

The rest is straightforward. If you have tons of energy, then you can convert raw resources to the substance of modern civilization, such as smelting aluminum from clay or silicon from sand. That is also known as modern civilization and the digital age.

Contrary to public opinion, the material and energy basis for modern civilization AND the digital age are no way in short supply. (slide: peak oil)

Let me say that again.

Contrary to public opinion, the material and energy basis for modern civilization AND the digital age are no way in short supply. (slide: peak oil)

This Cohabitat Gathering (slide: brochure announcement for the CG) is a great forum to discuss such controversy. Humans throughout history have been known to take giant leaps of progress. (slide: Apollo taking off to the moon and fire). Since we have run out of frontiers, the only places left are space or actually getting it right on Earth (slide: earth). In this great turning point in history – we need to re-learn what it means to live sustainably – regeneratively – and resiliently – and without hurting others.

Humans don't get it right all the time - (slide: car buried half way in the earth at 90 degree angle or similar fubar situation) - but we know the general direction. We can extend Maslow's Pyramid to human settlements. The highest point of evolution for any settlement is not the megalopolis (slide: 20-lane-highway traffic jam), but a settlement that returns production back to its own borders – eliminating superfluous shipping – whether it's your own body in traffic jams as above or the shuffling of materials a few times around the world before they end up in a certain product that you use (slide: select materials flow slide). Global shipping of non-luxury items is not resource-efficient – and community-based solutions are a more favorable design. Our goal is bringing production back to America, or Poland, or fill in whatever country you're from, or resource-based economy. Re-learning to tap the wealth from local resources is the next step in industrial evolution.

Can we do that without the damaging side-effects of industrialization? If we go local, we wouldn't have it any other way. Technology should reconnect us to nature: economics and ecology are the same when we get it right.

Open Source Ecology, our name - means integration of humans and technology with nature, by means of open source development. We think that the Open Source Economy is the next economy. (slide: open economy) This is an old idea – also known as sharing. It is feasible, and it could be the new engine of economic systems – because shipping of information is free. There are also many advantages to an open source system - such as a proprietary system not having a 24/7 development cycle across the globe. So think of open design fueling local productive enterprises – which reduce the cost: best-practice open source design instead of expensive IP; local production instead of exporting local wealth; unleashed collaboration as opposed to competitive waste; lean operations vs. huge overhead.

Take the case of housing and the Global Village Construction Set to see how open hardware can help. Start with the Tractor (slide), Bulldozer (slide), backhoe (slide), loader (slide), and trencher (slide) – add the sawmill for producing lumber(slide) and CEB press for producing bricks(slide), and you can build structures. The bioplastic extruder (slide) provides glazing from plants – for windows or greenhouses if you want to grow food year-round. The hammermill (slide) can be used for preparing biomass insulation, stabilized in-situ with mycoculture - for superinsulated thermal design at the cost of biomass and soil. Cap this with rebar, structural steel, and sheet metal roofing (slide: housing infrastructure product ecology graphic) – and your house is covered and standing. For energy, go with the linear solar concentrator electric (slide) system, and if you need water, then there is the open source well drilling rig (slide) in the set. To this, add open architecture designs – such as Architecture for Humanity or ARCH Society (slide: those websites). If you have all this as part of your community's solutions, then the main cost that you have left – is convincing your local building officials that you're not crazy. (slide: some cartoon of a poor guy in front of a grand jury) Otherwise your costs could be literally - free from available natural, local, and recycled materials. To help with permits, factor e farm will be prototyping all these techniques, and we will provide hard data that can soothe local officials.

A typical new housing development – may give you a house for $250k. Imagine if you could take an owner-builder option instead, and pay $25k for the same house?

That's our plan. Here's the basic business model: We develop the GVCS and supporting documentation of technique. Now get 2 farmers, 2 engineers, 2 master builders, 2 fabricators, and 2 managers into that village of 100 homes. These people produce. Cluster developed on 200 acres, it's a conservation development. Take your average Cost of Living - $13k per year for cars, housing, and food. Instead, you pay this to the 2 farmers, builders, engineers, fabricators – to provide your food, housing, energy, and cars – plus anything else, really, because these fellows are living in an economy of abundance, so the motive turns to serving your community. You pay only $5k/year. That's our program in a nutshell. Ending your contribution to all wars and foul geopolitics is your bonus, if you care about that. You can pay in local currency, because you have access to all productive facilities. Full productive infrastructure, sauna, pool, bathouses, fab lab, orchard, nature trails, high speed internet, included. Then people can really get along – contribute to knowledge and creativity – if that's your community's contract.

Four Minute Section 3: The Open Source Microfactory: Towards Industry 2.0

You may be thinking that we are exaggerating when we say for FREE. What we mean is that if we have the required machinery, then we can convert rocks, plants, water, and sunlight into the substance of modern civilization. That's what modern industry is doing on the global scale already ( slide: factories belching smoke) - and our experiment is testing – what is the smallest scale at which this is possible? ( slide: supercool green community with local production). Like Shumacher and Gandhi, we think that Small is Beautiful - so we're developing the Open Source Microfactory.

What are the limits of the open source production – for enabling communities to capture local wealth and keep it from leaking out? (slide: the ghetto). What if every community could produce its own cars (junk it) (slide: microcar icon), renewable energy equipment (slide: solar concentrator), food (slide: tractor icon), lumber (slide:sawmill icon), brick (slide: CEB press icon), fuel (slide: biomass pelletizer icon)?

Those of us who are paying attention to open source physical production have already seen a number of amazing results. These capacities now include 3D printing – such as the RepRap Project, which allows you to build a 3D printer for $400 in parts, whereas commercial printers used to cost $10k prior to the advent of RepRap. These include Protei – the open source, remote controlled oil-spill cleanup drones – which are to be run via a massive multiplayer online game? Or how about Boutique Biology – open source tools for gene sequencing? Or open source MRI that can drive down the cost of healthcare in certain backward countries? (slide: the USA). How about an open source 5-axis CNC torch/router table (slide: this project from Kickstarter) or open source industrial robot (slide: OSE industrial robot icon)? Manufacturing tools are becoming open source, and we're contributing with the Open Source Micro-factory (slide: Microfactory Product Ecology) - a critical building block for any civilization-from-scratch building effort.

The Microfacotry involves the full production chain from melting metal ((slide: induction furnace icon) to precision machining (slide: cnc multimachine) and automation (slide: industrial robot) and many processes in between. It includes other computer-controlled fabrication tools (slide: reprap, torch table, circuit maker, industrial robot, laser cutter icons). Our machines are designed such that machines can make replicas of themselves - becoming self-replicating (slide: cnc multimachine + induction furnace working on scrap metal yield cnc multimachine and induction furnace (simplified replication graphic)). We are including circuit makers (slide: circuit maker slide) to make the electronics required to make some of the machines, and we are including an induction furnace to generate steel from scrap. This allows us to make all the parts for building tools like tractors and cars, (slide: add onto the induction furnace slide the engines, motors, generators, one by one) their engines, motors, and power generators, – at the cost of scrap metal plus human skill. This is intended for a new, robust productive engine of Industry 2.0 – a scenario of distributive, local production via flexible fabrication, fueled by a global repository of open source design.. We are including even the production of cutting and welding gas from water and electrical gnerators for producing electricity from local biomass fuel pellets. With the tools of the Open Source Micro-factory, our goal is to demonstrate that we can build other tools that allow us to enjoy all of modern technology up to 90s level of semiconductor fabrication – in computer controlled clean-rooms made from compressed earth bricks. (slide: clean room)

We've seen many promises of techno-utopias in years past ((slide: some silly technogadget from the 50s) – but ours is not the same. We are injecting a measure of techno-reality – by opensourcing the wheel rather than reinventing the wheel – to make technology appropriate, not frivolous or destructive. Does it look like we're developing technology? Actually, we are developing a human interface to technology -- so that we can use technology responsibly – machines for the service of humans, not for humans to serve the Machine. Open Source Production can take us half way to a better world. The other half is evolving as humans. If we aradicate artificial scarcity, then we have a hope to grow as human beings instead of continuing to struggle with material security as the ongoing underlying force in human relations. It is our hope that the work of Open Source Ecology helps to get us closer in that direction – and evolving to freedom.