Saturday, January 15, 2011

Erector Sets for All!

Global Village Construction Set can make 50 different machines.
The Global Village Construction Set can be used to make 50 different machines. DIY. Open Source.
Image source.

My sister (hi, Anna!) sent me a link to Open Source Ecology. As it is described on their Wiki, OSE is "a movement dedicated to the collaborative development of tools for replicable, open source, modern off-grid resilient communities."

Yeah, I didn't really know what that meant, either. But it looked interesting, so I dug further. Basically what these enterprising folks are doing is creating a set of basic machine parts, such as wheels, hinges, hoses, motors, and so on from which you could build the 40 most essential tools - including an endloader, a tiller, and a brick maker - that are needed to construct and run an entire village. Even a tractor. Or a single, walk-behind tractor for small plots of land or uneven terrain.

For anyone who has ever played with an erector set or Legos (not the kits! just a box of different pieces),  you can envision the possibilities that can be made from interchangeable parts.

OSE is  group of designers, farmers, engineers, and construction people. Their information, drawings, and videos are open sourced and available on the Internet to anyone. Yay!

This project speaks to me because one of my degrees, design science, focused on just this type of engineering - creating, on a tight budget, something that fills a specific need. I love seeing how people are putting their basic engineering and construction skills to work to create a benefit that many can enjoy. This project brings to mind the wonderful Design for the Other 90% and the Rural Studio project at Auburn University, other examples where individuals have put their collective brainpower and skills to use in creating useful dwellings and machines inexpensively for the common good.

What does this have to do with health? Plenty! Sometimes the limitations to health are mechanical. After all, digging wells, making bricks for homes or latrines, and tilling ground for a garden are quite labor intensive without machines. If a community could invest in and share one tool kit, there could be lots of projects that would benefit many. From OSE
"...most of the technologies needed for a sustainable and pleasant standard of living could be reduced to the cost of scrap metal + labor."
Scrap metal plus labor? Sounds like a good deal. It also sounds like something larger funders could get behind. There is a way for small donors (read: you and me) to support this interesting work on the website, but it would be great to see a McArthur Prize or a sizeable grant push this work further.

Here's a video from OSE's site:

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

After reading a bit more about this group, I realize I'm somewhat late to the party. The founder has been a TED speaker and they've been widely written about. Let's hope an infusion of new interest will accelerate their already admirable progress.


Correction: 16 January 2001: I was contacted by OSE and learned, among other things, that one of the founders, Marcin Jakubowski, will be speaking in late February at the TED conference.


  1. Thanks so much for this post! From all of us at OSE!

  2. The number one killer in the United States and elsewhere is the 'job' - ie, work-related stress.

    We are addressing this at a fundamental level if our tools help communities create viable, productive enterprises.

    Also, you're not too late to the show. Right now we are in a major transition phase from proof-of-concept to building the organizational infrastructure that will make the project successful - all the 50 technologies complete in 2 years, with a $2.4M budget.

    Can you help? We're looking for strategic and organizational assistance.

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  4. This is what our farm needs! Your blog is just great. Thanks for writing about this.