Make Magazine Interview

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Date: 7. February 2011

1. Tell us about Open Source Ecology. How was it started?

Open Source Ecology (OSE) was started to contribute to a global commons of open source information - with a particular focus on the tools of production. I started OSE in my last year of my Ph.D. program - as a response informed by what I perceived to be a general societal lack of true collaboration and openness - which I saw even in academia. I noticed that even academia were turning into branches of proprietary corporate research and development - as opposed to their original mission of culturing open knowledge toward the benefit of everybody.

2. How do you find others to collaborate with? Can anyone get involved?

We publish video and other documentation on our blog. Anyone can get involved. We are currently reorganizing and putting up a new website. Our focus is to facilitate meaningful involvement from a large group of global collaborators - and we are reorganizing with this central mission in mind.

3. How did you conduct your research to pinpoint the industrial machines included in the Global Village Construction Set?

We took each of the basic services required for a community infrastructure, and selected the best tool to meet that need. We evaluated these tools by the Product Selection Metric to quantify the importance of our selections.

4. What is your prototyping process? And what are the challenges of making machines that have interchangeable parts, motors, and power units?

The prototyping process follows all the steps from conceptual design to CAD to fabrication to testing, while considering all the desirable properties - known as OSE Specifications. For a more detailed description, you can see our 30-step GVCS Development Template. The main challenge in this process is interface design. The challenge is how one interfaces - or fits together and connects the wide array of disparate modules and interchangeable parts. While mainstream industrial design focuses on dedicated functional parts - we need to design the additional element of interchangeability for interoperability. This is not a trivial issue, yet it is critical for designing a more human-friendly, lower cost, multifunctional technology set. In Lego blocks - one simply snaps two blocks together to connect them. With real mechanical hardware, this is not as easy - as the heavy weight, different power levels, and different geometries need to be considered. We have demonstrated that interchangeability is indeed feasible with life-size mechanical hardware.

5. How many machines in total do you hope to prototype? How many are already done?

We've identified 50 of the most important machines that allow modern life to exist – the tools we use every day - everything from a tractor to a bread oven to a circuit maker. We have so far built 8 prototypes and we have one full product release - the Compressed Earth Brick press. Our goal is ambitious - to finish the 50 tools within 2 years and a $2M budget. We are currently reorganizing to meet this goal, and we are optimistic about the development. I have recently been selected as one of the TED Fellows, and we expect this to put us to the world stage. We got featured in Grist Magazine, Gizmodo, and FarmHack recently, and our momentum and team is building. If you are interested in joining the development team, we are looking for Subject Matter Experts and organizational development assistance. Our greatest current challenge is not interest in the project, but absorbing new participants. We are working to address this issue. We are also developing our nonprofit funding component, where we think that a significant portion of funding for the rest of the Construction Set will come from foundations and individual donors. Contact us at opensourceecology at gmail dot com if you can help.

6. Are the machines being currently used anywhere?

Our machines are being used and tested at Factor e Farm. You can see videos on our blog from last season - starting with Final Construction Blog Post of 2011 and moving backwards. Moreover, we have sold 3 sets of the Tractor-Soil Pulverizer-Earth Brick Press package, which we will produce in our forthcoming production run in April. These will be our first examples of people using the equipment outside of Factor e Farm. These users' applications include a startup CEB construction business and an organic farm.

7. Tell us about OSE Tour USA.

This is our lecture tour throughout the USA. I have been invited to a number of speaking opportunities to raise awareness and support for the project. If you are interested in hosting a lecture and if you can cover travel and an honorarium, then we are open to invitations.