Open Source Ecology: Towards 50 GVCS Tools by 2013

Here’s an update on the Global Village construction Set posted on Marcin’s blog:


This year, especially after my TED talk on the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS), we have been expanding rapidly. At this exciting juncture in the evolution of the OSE experiment, I would like to take time to regroup and reorganize. I would like to explain where we are and where we are going for the next 18 months – until year-end 2012. As OSE founder, I have both the privilege and duty to communicate these goals with clarity.

What is OSE and the GVCS?

In practical terms, OSE is a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters building the GVCS. What is the GVCS? It is a set of 50 industrial machines that it takes to build a small-scale civilization with modern comforts. The OSE project is currently engaged in the focused effort to design, prototype, and test these 50 machines to attain product release for all of these machines – with 3 prototypes per machine – by year-end 2012.

Let me repeat. OSE is currently focused on deploying the 50 GVCS tools, as defined on our main website, by year-end 2012. The GVCS 50 is a big, hairy, and audacious goal. With proper strategy and alignment, the GVCS is quite doable on the 2013 time scale. This is because we are not inventing anything new – just innovating – by repackaging powerful and proven industry standards of performance into their open source, low-cost, no frills, yet high-performance counterparts – and publishing all the results.

Is the GVCS 50 the optimal choice of technologies required for creating an advanced civilization? While we have studied this question intensely, we don’t know the answer until we build and test the set – both the individual machines and how they synergize towards an integrated infrastructure. Instead of speculating which machines are the optimal choice, we are building them proactively, on our specified timeline. Until the tools are put together into a working whole on a small, manageable scale – we simply don’t know how they will work out. Nobody has done this experiment yet. Our goal is to obtain data points on the performance, robustness, feasibility, and sufficiency of the GVCS – towards creating a more-or-less complete economy for an advanced civilization. The goal is simple: to reinvent the community-based solution of re-localized economies as a route to generating true wealth and autonomy for communities.

Our solution is a community-based solution – meaning that we are designing these tools as an integrated tool-set on the scale of a community. By community, we mean a prototypical village on the scale of Dunbar’s number (around 200 people). We theorize that a community of this size can produce all of its technology from local resources (trade is ok, but it is poor design to rely on trade for essential resources such as food and energy). Because the technology set is recursive in its nature – ie, the set contains machines that can make more complex machines – there is no a-priori limit on the technological complexity that can be achieved in such a system. Our goal is to explore the careful balance between technological complexity and quality of life. Our goal is to optimize quality of life such that material constraints simply cease to be the driving force in human relations. To put it another way – we are interested in creating the infrastructure for lifestyles where people actually have time for what is most important to them – as a foundation for evolving to freedom.

Factor e Farm

Factor e Farm is where almost all of the existing prototypes have been built. It is also an experimental facility that not only builds and tests each machine – but also – tests how the machines come together to build a real infrastructure for a community. We design, CAD, fabricate, dogfood, and test the economic feasibility of the machines – both for on-site use and for ergonomics of production. We are using the machines out of necessity – these are not playthings for remote clients – but tools we depend on for our own survival. This brings a measure of insight and accountability for the true service of our machines. In the mainstream world, typically – the designer is not the engineer – the engineer is not the builder – and the builder is not the user. We are closing this accountability loop, by integrating all these functions in our development process. I should emphasize that this imposes the constraints of accountability, interoperability and local adaptation to each machine. At the same time, we are creating a common kernel of equipment, which can be replicated, modified, and optimized for different conditions.

Factor e Farm in Production from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

Factor e Farm (FeF) is the Global Headquarters of the Open Source Ecology project. The core development effort – prototyping, strategy, rollout – is happening here, with assistance from contributors world-wide. If you are interested in joining the project at a deep level, consider coming for an immersion experience at Factor e Farm as your first step. To this end, we have Dedicated Project Visits as the deepest way for someone to get involved in the project, directly and on the ground. Very quickly, download the status, goals, strategies, and constraints of the project, and you will be plugged in to our network. If you would like to support the effort substantially, but without giving up your firstborn, then you should subscribe to the True Fans, and help Nikolay develop the True Fans recruitment platform if you are a User Interface Design expert.

Plan for 2011

This year – we are focusing on demonstrating the effectiveness of our equipment in construction and agriculture duties. For construction, we will be using the open source tractor, CEB press, sawmill, and other supporting tools such as soil pulverizer, cement mixer, auger, backhoe, trencher, hay baler, hay rake, hay cutter, and others. We will demonstrate infrastructure building and housing construction – including double CEB walls filled with strawbales for super-insulation.

To accomplish the above, we currently have 5 people on site, of which 2 are dedicated project visitors. 2 more people, including a surveyor and professional fabricator – arriving within a week. Our progress relies on the quality of our team, both on-site and off-site. There are some things that lend themselves to remote collaboration. We’re building our remote CAD, prototyping, video editing, anddocumentation capacities as we speak. On the other hand, there are things that show a low level of success from remote collaborators. For example, out of the hundred or so design/prototyping offers from remote contributors, only a few have yielded any meaningful results – something like maybe 3-5%. The key to increasing the success rate is finding volunteers with direct stakeholdership in using the GVCS. For Factor e Farm people – there is no question on stakeholdership – we want to use the tools to provide clean food and energy, to produce lifetime-design equipment, to build housing, and to reinvent the economy in general.

The success of this project relies on building the team at Factor e Farm as a local implementation – fueled by global input. FeF is not only the developer, but the test case for the feasibility of the civilization-creation experiment. By year-end, we would like to build our permanent on-site team to 6-8 pioneers – the nucleus necessary to produce the developments that are necessary to make our larger growth happen. In particular – by growth we mean the 200 person community – the social experiment based on the GVCS and planned for building between 2012-2014.

The immediate core development team should include: project manager, construction manager, fabrication manager, farmer, documentor, Designer/CAD/CAM expert, power electronics expert, site manager/cook, and documentor. You can see more about these roles on our wiki. Currently, we have a project manager/fabricator available (Marcin), a documentor/fabricator (Thad), a CAD leader/remote team organizer (Chris), and 2 Dedicated Documentation Project Visitors (Ryan and William).

The basic strategy for the immediate division of labor is:

  1. Project manager – to provide GVCS development leadership
  2. Construction manager – to build comfortable, on-site housing for our development team – and to develop methodology for rapid, on-demand housing construction – for the purposes of scaling operations
  3. Fabrication manager – finish the existing and continue new production runs, produce further construction equipment necessary for infrastructure buildout. We are planning on prototyping the sawmill, cement mixer, auger, trencher, and backhoe in the 2011 season.
  4. Farmer – produces the food for the community as the main step towards health; does earthworking in preparation for the next growing season; builds fertility via bale mulching and mob grazing techniques; produces lumber; produces square straw bales with haying equipment (already secured) for superinsulation.
  5. Machine Design/CAD/CAM – generates any design, CAD, and CAM files to support immediate machine/equipment development needs
  6. Power Engineering expert – this includes both power electronics and electrical motors/generators. Just like we have created the modular mechanical infrastructure – the power engineering enables the Universal Power Supply. This is the machine infrastructure for power generation, induction furnace, chargers, electrical generators, welders, inverters, plasma cutters, laser cutters, and any devices that are based on electrical power.
  7. Site manager/cook – maintains infrastructures and feeds the team

To move the prototyping work forward, this is the job of 1, 3, 5, and 6 above. The built environmetn/food/fuel/ and entureergy infrastructures are provided by 2, 4, and 7.

For one, I need to free my time from fabrication and construction duties to focus on higher-level project and strategic development tasks. Basically, we are at the point where we have resource offers coming to us – but not a team to handle them. I should be focusing on building that team. To free up my time, the most important need is to recruit a fabrication manager and construction manager. Contact me if you can help.

Project Scaling: Preparation for 2012

The goal of the team/infrastructure building of 2011 is to gain a solid foundation for scaling Factor e Farm operations as an open source product development center/experimental post-scarcity community. Our first attempt at the truly scalable open source economic development method will begin in 2012.

Think of it this way: if we have a construction manager on site, we could build simple housing, on demand, on a 2 week time scale – using our equipment. If we have a full-time farmer, we can feed our people with clean food. The site manager/cook feeds and fuels the operation. The design/fab team cranks out prototypes as soon as they are designed. With a fabrication manager, we can test the economic feasibility of our products, and earn to bootstrap further development. The world showers us with further gifts to turn this concept to reality.

It starts with a solid team of iconoclastic pioneers. I should emphasize that all of us at Factor e Farm are full-time volunteers. We feel that this is the only way to attract people who are truly committed to the depth of our mission – as opposed to those who are getting paid to do the work. This is an effective filter. Personally, I am amazed and grateful to see the synergy of a dedicated group putting in endless hours of sweat late in the night to create this reality. People and resources seem to enter exactly when we need them – or when we are ready for them. We are fully committed, have no outside jobs, and rely solely on crowd funding, resource development, production earnings, and our own resources.

Plan for 2012

Starting January, 2012 – my goal is to transition to full-time project management – assuming that our development and infrastructure team is in place. I see this rolling out as 2-3 full-time, volunteer project managers at FeF. For this to succeed, we need to develop a large pool of qualified, subject matter experts so we can have options to choose from.

While we are able to gain lots from volunteers, there are some services that nobody will offer for free – unless we master theproject breakdown method suggested here. In any case, we will need to cover about $5k materials per prototype, or about $750k just to roll out the prototypes as soon as we design them. There are some low-cost mechanical devices like the universal auger ($500 in materials), but there are also very expensive ones, such as $50k+/prototype for the aluminum extraction from clay. The budget may be as high as $4M when everything else is considered.

Global Development Effort

With this said, what is the role of the greater global community? First, let it be said that all of our information comes from off-site – so that our effort is in essence global – but the implementation is local.

We are seeing many people across the globe interested in starting OSE branches to replicate the GVCS. This remains a perplexing question to me, because we do not yet have the GVCS. The more relevant question is to fund, build, prototype, and test the 50 GVCS tools by year-end 2012. This is a fine point, but I see tons of fuzzy logic and misdirected offers of help, which are strategically unsound because they miss the distinction – that our problem statement is development, not replication. I think this comes from the fact that the OSE/GVCS concept is obvious and much needed – therefore people assume that because it’s already been articulated, it’s as good as done. While we are experiencing exponential growth, the GVCS is far from complete. Therefore, if you take any initiative, the highest priority is prototype development – so we’ll be most willing to pursue the discussion when it is directly related to producing and evaluating further prototypes.

So I say it again: we are funding, building, prototyping, and testing a set of 50 industrial machines that it takes to build a small-scale civilization with modern comforts. If you’d like to help OSE, please help by direct assistance in funding, building, prototyping, and testing our set of 50 industrial machines that it takes to build a small-scale civilization with modern comforts.


Status and Development Needs

We have 1 full product release at present, 8 prototypes, and 3 product releases are expected this year. That is what we are doing. This is indeed a big, hairy, and audacious goal, which will push the limits of our resources and creativity. If you would like to help, here are the action points in terms of their highest impact:

  1. Join us at Factor e Farm as a Dedicated Project Visitor (design, fabrication, construction, agriculture, others)
  2. Work with our resource development team leader, Viveik Saigal, on generating support
  3. If you are a User Interface Designer, help with Nikolay’s True Fans development proposal.
  4. Subscribe as a True Fan (we currently have 380 True Fanships)
  5. Submit proposals for Dedicated Remote Collaboration if you have a strategy that you’d like to pursue in collaboration with us to design/prototype the 50 GVCS tools
  6. Find subject matter experts who can bid/design/protope the 50 GVCS tools or their components; email these to me until we create a database on the wiki, or use the OSE Development Crowdmap
  7. Contribute design and documentation for the 50 GVCS tools on the wiki so we can finish them by year-end 2012. The wiki is a large sandbox which generates meaningful information over time – please think about this point and tap it to its potential.
  8. Spread the word. Pass on our brochure and TED Talk.

We like it when people volunteer their time and resources. We do not like speculative, high-risk offers – we need high success rates. Spending core energy on publicity and outreach is not our priority – we are getting plenty of it – and the chance for success is higher when people approach us. From what I’ve seen, it is more worth it for me to reach out with specific requests to specific contributors – rather than to reach out to a braod audience.

If you are interested in incorporating an OSE branch, we would like you to submit a charter that includes a strategic plan/business plan that sets clear goals for building, prototyping, and testing of the 50 GVCS tools. For quality control, the charter’s deliverables should be evaluated on a yearly basis. We suggest that you come to Factor e Farm as the first step to such an effort – for an immersion into all that you need to know about the present state of the project. We suggest that you are explicit about prototyping/funding particular machines.

A Working Example

For the OSE concept to succeed, we need a single working example. This is because the most powerful implementation of the OSE concept is on the scale of a community. I suggest that the world focuses on putting resources to Factor e Farm as the venue of choice, since we are taking the leadership in development. Other efforts can help, but if someone is serious about startup, we suggest to work with us. In all cases, before starting on your own, we suggest that you come for an immersion visit to Factor e Farm before you begin, so you can learn from our 4+ years of dedicated effort on this front.

The point is – one succcessful example of a post-scarcity economy can and will change the world. This is not an easy task – so concentrating the efforts for the first community is the most important – simply because the task is hairy enough. I say that with deep conviction – because when I first formulated the concepts a few years ago, I thought that we’d be flooded with interest and qualified people, and we’d be done years ago. I found that there were many snags on the way – like having debt, not having the skills or tools, misalignment of interests, scarcity mindset, shortages of resources and funding, land tenure, personal issues, peer pressure, programming, and the lack of supporting infrastructures for such an effort.

I found that the main missing link for our own effort was still qualified people. This is because, in all honesty, everybody has a choice to take the red pill. However, there are too few nonconformists alive today – people pissed off enough and capable enough to rise above the global race to the bottom – to create fundamentally better solutions. I was disappointed to find this out. However, that didn’t lower my hopes – it only fueled them – because I know that people will take a better option if they are presented with one. This is because it is not too difficult to do better than the inefficiencies of a megalith system that is cracking at the seams.


Here is the strategy in a nutshell: Full product release of tractor, power unit, and soil pulverizer – to add to the CEB press – by year-end 2011. Build the living and working infrastructure by year-end 2011 – showcasing and shaking down our machines. Produce professional quality documentation for these four machines by the same time. This in itself is a huge goal – paving our way for rapid parallel development starting January 1, 2012 – as we will have built up our infrastructure and team – and more importantly – track record of delivering solid and replicable results. With all the distractions coming at us, we commit to not getting waylaid from producing solid results.

It is one thing to build the prototypes – but a much more difficult task to shake down and document the prototypes to the level required for viral replicability. We want to sow the seeds of viral replicability by this year’s end – by brute force simplicity of design, clarity of instructionals, and robustness of the equipment. We have demonstrated the economic feasibility and performance of our machines. The next milestone is replicability.

Then, 2012 is rapid parallel development. If our 6 month plan is infrastructure building/4 product releases/documentation – how does work on the 2012 plan fit? The 6 month plan is the foundation for the parallel development of 2012. A solid core infrastructure for project management is the core of the next 6 months. This is our commitment with the resources that we currently have – and new resources can change this at any time.

The greater global effort beyond FeF could help tremendously by identifying a large team of qualified, remote developers. Success on the overall 50 machines requires that we recruit a team of bidders/designers/prototypers for each machine – as each machine goes through a multi-step development process from concept to field testing and iteration. This enables us to access large sources of funding. Without a deployment team, we cannot take in money. Thus, if we have a solid team of bidders/designers/prototypers – and their capacities are clear – then we are in a position to move rapidly.

In principle, it would be good to have 10 bids per project – or close to 500 bids. Recruiting this talent and bid proposals is a full time job for many people, so if you are eager to jump into the project remotely, this is the most valuable task that you could take on. With the team in place, resources can be tapped, and risk can be minimized if we have a number of bids to choose from. From my experience, the key is having options, so our chance of success on each project is maximized.

In the meantime, there is also a number of more-or-less active projects in the background: steam engine, solar concentrator, industrial robot, sawmill, car, CNC multimachine, laser cutter, torch table, ironworker machine, 3D scanner, CNC circuit mill, 3D printer, and universal power supply.

Strategically speaking, I think we can find all of the bids/designers/prototypers by leveraging global collaboration of the crowds. To act on the resulting information – I think the best strategy is 2-3 full-time project managers at FeF, working with me. Then I predict a fast-and-furious parallel technology rollout process that sets new standards for open source economic development. At the same time, if we have design sourced from remote developers, then our local FeF fabrication team can prototype these as soon as they are created. Prototyping can be rapid when the designs are available – so a team of 2-3 experienced fabricators could do this on-demand. This reqiures our 3000 square foot workshop to be ready, and to be populated with about 3 times more fabrication equipment than we already have.

My next steps are getting the fabrication manager and construction manager onsite. If my time is freed up, I will proceed to defining a strategic roll-out sequence and budget. This can help us to align the overall effort to a more direct path. With additional resources, we will proceed beyond a machine design to the open-sourcing of the individual components – such as stepper motor fabrication and oxyhydrogen generator production for the CNC torch table – for reducing the cost of the different machines.

In our tactical approach, we still focus on volunteers. We think that the identification of bids/designers/fabricators can easily be sourced from the crowds. We are intending that the 2-3 on-site project managers are also volunteers – as that is the filter that pretty much guarantees that the motivation and intention of our team remains uncompromised. With our on-site fabrication team, we can build the prototypes at the cost of materials. We will pay for whatever design we cannot get for free. That is our current plan – and note that it can and does changes dramatically – but this is our present plan with existing resources.

As a final note – the above is the development plan. Developing the tools is not the same as using the tools. The developers are primarily multidisciplinary engineers, but the users can include everybody. We are creating a human interface to technology which allows the user to be in full control over the technology. We are just providing the tools at this stage – and we are not discussing the profound societal implications at this point. It is our hope that transcendence of material constraints (artificial scarcity and related ills) is just one of the positive effects, but the greater hope is nothing less than evolving to freedom as the human species.

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