I’m seeing that this work takes a long time to develop, so it’s more like a two-decade project than the two-year project I initially imagined. So I’ve revised my timeline and am planning for the long haul. I’ve realized that to make the Global Village Construction Set tools feasible, we need to explore what’s known as extreme manufacturing, which means rapid parallel building of the technologies. That means we have to get full infrastructure for rapid development in place — rapid prototyping, collaborative design — and a massive parallel development effort.
The following questions asked to Marcin Jakubowski are from a Ted Fellow interview, conducted by Karen Eng:
* It’s been a couple of years since you gave your talk on the Global Village Construction set. It generated a lot of excitement and about $1 million in funding. How has the project developed since then?
“Machines that are ready for viral replication are the brick press, the hydraulic power unit and the soil pulverizer. The tractor needs some work. We’ve built a number of other prototypes — like the CNC torch table, a backhoe, an ironworker machine for cutting slabs of steel, a circuit mill and a trencher. We have an early prototype of a microcar and a 3D printer.
As we continue to prototype and develop more tools in the set, we are working to both develop a community and generate revenue, because our foundation funding has run out. To do this, we’ve experimented with a workshop model, where we teach interested people how to build the tools in a three-day immersion learning course. People paid a fee to take a weekend-long workshop, and we also sold the completed equipment. We’ve done a total of four microhouse workshops, one brick press workshop, one Power Cube workshop and one microcar workshop. Take the brick press, for example. It costs $5,000, we earned about $5,000 in tuition fees, and we sold the press for $10,000. It’s an education/production revenue model. The person who bought the brick press even came to the workshop and participated in the build. The general feedback was that people were really excited to build things that they didn’t think they could before the workshop.
* How has your perspective on this project changed since your talk?
I’m seeing that this work takes a long time to develop, so it’s more like a two-decade project than the two-year project I initially imagined. So I’ve revised my timeline and am planning for the long haul. I’ve realized that to make the Global Village Construction Set tools feasible, we need to explore what’s known as extreme manufacturing, which means rapid parallel building of the technologies. That means we have to get full infrastructure for rapid development in place — rapid prototyping, collaborative design — and a massive parallel development effort. The key to this is producing excellent, comprehensive, open documentation that anyone can access, and thus join the project rapidly. The workshop/funding model is a part of this plan.’
We have shown that we can build a brick press in a single day, for example. Now we’re focusing on building multiple machines and structures at the same time with different groups of people. Recently, we got that to the level of housing. We built a house in five days using compressed blocks from our Compressed Earth Block Press, plus standard modular construction techniques. Our next goal is to build a 3,000-square-foot electronics workshop in two days with 100 people.
In essence, what we’ll attempt is parallel group builds via workshops happening simultaneously. We are creating a process that’s social, educational and productive all at once. We just need to scale it and make it highly replicable. If we can hire people to teach, we could have a number of these revenue-generating workshops going on all at once. Meanwhile, I could carry on developing machines.
The missing link is people. That’s the perennial issue. We are in real need of diversely-skilled people who are both organizers and builders. However, we’ve had a couple of workshop attendees that later became workshop leaders. They had enough skill that they could actually pull it off.”
* In the big picture, where do you see this all headed?
To me, there is huge news in the extreme manufacturing aspect. We’re taking the build time of every single one of our machines down to a single day — including the house, which is pretty remarkable. A lot of people don’t pay attention to that, but it’s critical when you talk about the economic significance of open-source appropriate technology. I’ve looked at some of the numbers, and I believe our tractor is a factor of several more efficient and lower cost than the biggest tractor manufacturers. They can’t build a tractor in a day.
* But do you really believe open-source tractors could compete with the major manufacturers?
Absolutely. If you can deliver lower cost and equivalent performance — while addressing lifetime design — it’s absolutely going to do that. I think it’s a matter of time before modular design, which means the end of the throwaway society, has a significant presence across all sectors of production. This is starting to happen with modular phones such as Project Ara by Google. We’re doing this for heavy machinery.
I’m envisioning a new model of open-source, social production as the next industrial revolution. People are hungry for meaning and authenticity in today’s world. Part of such meaning comes only from seizing one’s raw productive power. Picture this: you go for a weekend workshop with your friends, and you build a thing — like a car — for yourself, because you’ve got the blueprints, advanced tools, and guidance.
Right now people might say, “I’m not going to build my own car! That’s insane!” But I think this is inevitable as tools of production are becoming more advanced and accessible. Manufacturing will be much more hands-on in the future. Small-scale distributed production — and efficient manufacturing at the quantity of one — are big news that most people don’t believe is possible. Social production also happens to address such fundamental issues as sweatshop labor and wealth inequality.”