The Open Source Ecology crew are pointing towards an open-source revolution in the design process, and well beyond it, into autonomous economic alternatives that side step current paradigms of scarcity in our society. But before the revolution must come the experiments that exemplify its necessity; enter the Global Village Construction Set, 50 co-created open source machines to build and maintain a small autonomous village community.
Picture a modular set of appropriate low cost but high-tech machines parked next to a workshop capable of not only fixing but making all of them, with a laptop in the middle of it offering an online live portal to all 50 machine plans and their successful adaptations, all evolving daily through a global network of grass roots user communities, and each set being used daily to sustain a village worth of people.
The design of these devices has been kicked off by OSE, but is open to contribution from the world of specialists and enthusiasts that are wiki and tech savvy. To avoid too many cooks spoiling the broth OSE have set precise guidelines (check them out) for project protocol, user input & feedback to contain the chaos and keep the open-source open. Leadership through action, task responsibility and realistic time commitments are all requested from potential contributors before they join up, to further promote quality & timely work. They work with open-source software as much as possible, use the wiki platform for documentation, conduct most all communications are online (email, wiki, forum, project management platform), and have just launched opensourceecology.org.
The nature of their open-source design approach has the potential to create families of adaptations (dependent on user environments) fulfilling a level of ‘appropriate’ technology beyond the capacities of most contemporary commercial products. This design process requires patience and organization, but welcomes the magic of a many mentors and the skills and experience of many more. Patience and deadlines are not easy bedfellows, but OSE have set themselves the challenge of having the 50 machines ready for production by 2012 with a budget of 2.4 million US$ (dubbed the 50/2/2 goal) so that they can then test the set as a whole. By this time hundreds if not thousands of people’s ideas and visions will have been infused into the GVCS, becoming a pretty damn impressive example of crowd sourced design methodology put into practice.
I didn’t get much response when I offered up my analogy of ‘burning man meets biodome’ when I spoke to Nikolay (OSE Media Officer), but he said that the ‘Lego set’ for humanity has stuck, giving reference to the aspired modularity of the GVCS collection, one of the many requirements that are thoroughly laid out in the GVCS development strategy. The set of 50 Machines have been determined through many criteria: not currently having adequate open source plans, having immediate significance to a village economy, having production power, and the obvious: having the ability to be produced locally (they also share a longer list of attributes which capture the OSE ethos well). The machines also fall into one of two categories: they are task specific (e.g. brick maker), or they can contribute to making other machines (e.g. torch table). Whilst there may be machines beyond this 50 it gives a solid goal to reach this priority set to facilitate the GVCS experiment. I was curious to the absence of wheelbarrows, bicycles and other such tools, but discovered they are a level up from the base manufacturing infrastructure that GVCS aspire to, their plans already being open source, and them being but future children of the GVCS rapid reproduction tools.
Although resource acquisition (steel etc) and tool reliance (laptop etc) can be taken as opportunities to highlight holes in GVCS’s autonomous label, this first experiment is only a step towards complete independence from the commercial global industry monster (this has been considered and documented in their methodology). OSE seem to have total transparency in their actions, and although carrying strong ideals they have humble posture and are comfortable and versed in debating their theories. The air of revolution and economic liberation may have attracted some resistant commentary to the GVCS, threatening to overshadow its experimental value, but it has also attracted a global following of input and support, catching the attention of TED, BFI, and many other big guns in the game. Good work I say, but dive in and check it out for yourself at opensourceecology.org & openfarmtech.org.