Global Village Construction Set

Open Source Ecology is “a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters building the Global Village Construction Set.  The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different industrial machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.

Those 50 machines range from tractors to bread ovens to circuit board makers and founder Marcin Jakubowski and volunteers from all over the world have prototyped eight (as of November 2011) so far.

I love this idea.  Check out Jakubowski describing the concept in this brief TED talk:

As Jakubowski says, “We’re focusing on hardware because it is hardware that can change people’s lives in such tangible and material ways.”  Not just for developing countries, but developed ones too—farmers, small business owners, etc.  ”Our goal is a repository of published designs so clear and so complete that a single DVD is effectively a civilization starter kit.”

For those of you who got excited about the page full of logos for other open-source hardware initiatives like I did, here they are with links—enjoy!

RepRap
Arduino
MAKE:
Lasersaur
MakerBot
TechShop
Willow Garage
DIY Drones
SparkFun 

Embrace Infant Warmer

Happy Mother’s Day from BoP Designer!  Today’s the perfect time for a post about a design innovation I’ve been researching just recently: the Embrace Infant Warmer.

Embrace is a low-cost alternative to expensive incubators for babies born prematurely or otherwise unable to maintain their own body temperature.  According to Embrace’s website:

20,000,000 low-birth-weight and premature babies are born each year. 450 of them die each hour. This occurs primarily in developing countries, often in areas that don’t have access to innovations in modern medicine. One of the biggest problems these babies face is hypothermia: they are not able to regulate their own body temperature, and therefore cannot stay warm. In fact, room temperature for these small infants feels freezing cold. 4 million babies die within their first month of life. Those that do survive often develop life-long health problems such as early onset of diabetes, heart disease, and low IQ.

Their solution “looks like a miniature sleeping bag that incorporates a phase change material, which stays at a constant temperature for up to 6 hours. This low-cost solution maintains premature and low birth weight babies’ body temperature to help them survive and thrive.”

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Project Sammaan Launches: Better Sanitation in Indian Slums

Project Samman is...

Quicksand Design and partners have begun work on Project Sammaan, redesigning public sanitation facilities in urban slums in India.  The new work began earlier this year, following their heavy design research phase in 2010–2011, funded by the Gates Foundation and nicknamed “The Potty Project” (previously covered on BoP Designer).  Partners include the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) and the city governments of two large cities in India, with continued support from the Gates Foundation.

The objective of this project is to rethink the current models of sanitation facilities and design a new programmatic infrastructure and physical structure that instills a sense of dignity while addressing issues affecting sanitation practices in India.

We feel that sharing our successes, and hurdles, is vital to the project to open channels of dialogue and instill a sense of collaboration in such a critical field.

Quicksand has launched a blog and twitter account (@ProjectSammaan) specific to the project, chronicling the progress and thoughts behind it along the way.  It looks like it’ll be a great resource and insightful window into the process that will be entertaining and informative to designers, design-thinkers and sanitation proponents alike.  Your ongoing input is invited.  Visit the Project Sammaan blog >>

In addition, Quicksand and partners have launched an “Open Innovation Challenge” to the public in three categories:

  • Architectural Design (of the facilities)
  • Hand-Washing Design (of the ideal soap-dispensing system)
  • Waste Management Design (within the facility)

See full details here, where you can download briefs to each of the three challenges.

(all images from Project Sammaan)

Design for Development and the Base of the Pyramid

The following was originally written for the Designmatters blog, a program at Art Center College of Design teaching and enabling students to take on more meaningful challenges and design for social impact.  I graduated from Art Center in 2005 and Designmatters was just before my time, but I’ve been happy to watch it succeed and grow—schools need more programs like these to help young designers (and others) understand their influence and potential beyond traditional and commercial-only applications.

Dave Foster (Advertising ’05) is a social innovation designer, focused on creating solutions for social and environmental benefit based on deep understanding of issues and communities involved. His expertise is in social enterprise, sustainability and, increasingly, development and appropriate technologies. He is the founder and editor of BoP Designer, a website and blog dedicated to “solutions and social innovations at the ‘base of the pyramid’”. His personal portfolio can be found at davefoster.info. Dave currently lives in Dubai, UAE.

BoP Designer - Home page screenshot - March 2012Last year I launched a website and blog called BoP Designer, dedicated to “solutions and social innovations at the ‘base of the pyramid.’” The base of the pyramid, or “BoP,” is a term referring to the billions of people in the world living on less than a few dollars per day. Economist C.K. Prahalad used the term in his book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, discussing the benefits of treating this massive population as a huge, untapped market of customers instead of as charity cases. For BoP Designer, I refer to the BoP as the people in developing, low-income and underserved communities around the world where basic needs are high but often unmet and resources are low.  Challenges include poverty, food, water, shelter, sanitation, safety, health, education and livelihoods. My goal is for BoP Designer to be a collection of resources, stories, knowledge and links about the field in the hopes of helping, empowering and inspiring designers and others to use design practices create solutions to their own challenges.

I define “design” in general as creative problem solving, thanks largely to Roland Young at Art Center, and I’ve spent most of my career since graduation dedicated to creating social and environmental impact, using my skills as a designer to bring more to the table than just communications, but to get my hands on creating and improving products, services, systems and organizations as a whole. I’ve found a lot of opportunity to do that especially with smaller, dynamic, entrepreneurial-type ventures that require everyone to do much more than their job descriptions ask of them to make an idea a success. I’ve been a designer and an implementer, a project manager, a researcher and a facilitator, and I think the more one knows about all the steps of the process from idea to adoption, especially first hand, the more complete and valuable a designer can be.

UnBox Fellows on bicycles in Auroville, India - Jan 2012Last August, I came to the end of a contract doing some CSR consulting and faced another the opportunity to either try to drum up more business doing more of the same, or follow a different direction. I’d had a strong urge to learn more about and dive deeper into the world of development and I was specifically curious about where “design” fits in the whole landscape. Having built and managed websites over the last few years, including managing the AshokaTECH blog, a website seemed like a natural vehicle to organize what I knew and what I didn’t and start contacting people to learn more. I also wanted to make it public in case this information could be helpful to others. Through BoP Designer, I’ve been learning about the current landscape of designers for social impact in general and especially for development, moving heavily into “appropriate technologies”, product development and engineering, but continuing to include all forms of solutions, whether they’re objects, services or systems.  Solutions take all forms and part of the challenge lies in finding the most appropriate one.  Or, more frequently, the best combination of many.

I love what I’m doing, constantly learning and sharing, meeting amazing and brilliant people in so many different contexts and cultures. I’ve been taking advantage of my location in Dubai, where I moved last year, traveling to Nepal and India so far, visiting designers and development organizations and learning about their work. And I’ve been talking with as many others as I can all around the world by Skype and email.

Swing, stove and solar panels at Sadhana Forest, Auroville, IndiaI have a lot of stories, too many to share here, but I’ll start with one and I’d be happy to talk more with anyone who’d like to contact me.

This past January I visited India for the second time in a few months, this time on a short fellowship organized by Quicksand Design (who I highly recommend checking out). I met six other people from various backgrounds in Auroville, a utopian community in southern India near Pondicherry, where we discussed “sustainability” in general in a very natural setting full of research and development of sustainable technologies and practices. Auroville was founded in 1968 on a spiritual foundation, but not a religious one, seeking to create a society in harmony with itself, with nature, and with the community around it. It is a magnet for sustainability experts and practitioners of all kinds, many of whom we were lucky to meet.

UnBox Fellows with Dr. Lucas Dengel - Auroville, IndiaOne was Dr. Lucas Dengel, a medical-doctor-turned-organic-farmer and expert proponent of ecological sanitation who taught us about an organic solution called EM-1, which sounds practically magical in its uses and effects. “EM” stands for “effective microorganisms” and EM-1 is a combination of three of them in a solution that keeps them in a healthy ratio. It was developed by a Japanese agricultural scientist who suffered from the effects of chemical pesticides as a child and developed EM-1 as an organic fertilizer and natural pesticide. In addition to those benefits, Dr. Dengel taught us about others that he had experimented with first hand, including its application in waste management and sanitation, breaking down organic waste in landfills, compost and septic tanks. EM-1, when fed to dairy cows in Auroville and used to wash them and their facilities, cured hoof rot, radically reduced the smell and number of flies around them, improved their milk production and reduced the amount of times the vet had to visit from once or twice a month to once or twice a year. EM-1 can even be used to clean your kitchen, bathrooms and everywhere, breaking down accumulated dirt and sanitizing surfaces. Testing on human beings has been limited, but many around the world are playing with the possibilities. The potential for this stuff is amazing, and we learned a good lesson on the importance of microorganisms to a healthy ecosystem.

Dr. Mouhsine Serrar introduces UnBox Fellows to Prakti's stovesAnother was Dr. Mouhsine Serrar, an engineer and the founder of Prakti Designs. Dr. Serrar develops high-efficiency cook stoves that require less fuel and reduce the amount of smoke released, helping to address issues of health, deforestation and income, saving people time collecting cooking fuel, money needed to buy it and health risks due to smoke inhalation, which primarily affects women. Prakti models can burn wood, charcoal or briquettes made from compressed paper and agricultural waste, and they operate so far in India, Nepal and Haiti. There are a lot of cookstoves being developed around the world but Prakti continues to test at or near the top. The field of efficient cookstoves is complex, juggling a mix of technological, human, cultural and economic factors. It’s developing rapidly with increasing interest and I’m really curious to see how it all continues to unfold.

Jorge Ayarza demonstrates MinVayu wind turbine to UnBox FellowsA third person we had the opportunity to meet is Jorge Ayarza who founded MinVayu, developing small-scale wind turbines from accessible materials to poor and rural communities. The turbines use carved wooden blades and a tail on a frame that’s relatively easy to weld. It uses a modified car wheel at the center and a series of magnets and coiled wire cast in resin to create a charge at it rotates. When we met Jorge, he was training a couple of Nepalese men on how to build them so they could take the knowledge back with them to apply in Nepal.

For all we learned about sustainable technologies, Auroville is a grand experiment in society, sustainability and human nature itself, facing lots of obstacles and challenges. The discussions we had with the people we met and among the seven of us were deep and engaging and we had a lot of fun. After Auroville, we traveled north to Delhi for the UnBox Festival for three days of presentations, performances and events revolving around design and creativity in all contexts, also organized by Quicksand Design. It was a very cool, high-quality event that gave us the opportunity to mingle with lots of other designers and experts in so many fields. After the festival I stayed a few extra days to get to know the Quicksand team a little better. They’re becoming a go-to agency for social innovation design in India, with projects funded by the Gates Foundation among others, and are expanding their social impact practice.

Dave Foster with Kiran Neupane of CHOICE International in NepalAs I look ahead, I’m pursuing two directions: One, looking for my next job or project in this field of design and development, helping to create solutions to issues in the communities themselves. I’d specifically like to gain more experience in design research, which I’m increasingly more convinced is an invaluable tool and key to any idea’s chances for success. And I’d love to get more hands-on with fabrication processes. The other is continuing to grow BoP Designer to its larger potential, adding team members and more contributors, increasing its content and thinking about how it could add maximum value to the conversation and to the spread of this kind knowledge. If anyone has any leads, opportunities or contributions in either direction, please feel free to contact me. And if I can be of help or if you’d just like to chat more about this subject, I’m always happy to meet new people and like minds. Thanks, and keep up the good work, whatever you’re working on.

Nubian Vault Building Technique – Association la Voûte Nubienne (AVN)

I was recently contacted by Antoine Horellou and made aware of Association la Voûte Nubienne (AVN). The following is an introduction to the technique and the organization based on information provided on AVN’s website (which is also available in French). Thanks, Antoine, for letting us know.

Nubian vault technique - Association la Voute Nubienne

The Nubian Vault is “an affordable, sustainable, African building technique.” It uses mud bricks and earth mortar, assembling them into arched, vaulted ceilings without the need for timber. Water- and weatherproofing is incorporated into design with plastic sheeting and an additional layer of enriched mud mortar covering the roof and optional additional concrete, lime or tar finishes, depending on need based on local conditions.

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Prakti High Efficiency Stoves

I’ve just recently returned from a trip to India as part of an UnBox Fellowship exploring sustainability in Auroville, near Pondicherry on the southeast coast.  Auroville is a sort of experimental utopian community founded in 1968, in an attempt to create a society without nationality, belonging to and driven by humanity as a whole.  Its priorities are on a mix of spirituality, sustainability and the ability to work as a harmonious society, open to anyone from around the world who will participate and contribute to the community.  It was a pleasure to visit and a rewarding experience and I plan to write about in more detail in another post.

Auroville is full of remarkable people researching and developing various technologies and practices for sustainability and development, and one of the people we had the pleasure to meet was Mouhsine Serrar, the founder and CEO of the Prakti Design Lab.  Prakti designs, manufactures and sells a range of high-efficiency, low-smoke stoves that address environmental, economic and health issues for its customers.

Mohsine Serrar welcomes us to the office

Founder and CEO Mouhsine Serrar introduces Prakti stoves to the UnBox fellows

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Quicksand – The Potty Project

Understanding user experience of sanitation for the urban poor

The following is paraphrased from The Potty Project’s brief, April 1 2011, available for download (PDF, 1.1 MB).

The Potty Project is a design research initiative by Quicksand Design Studio, a design and innovation firm based in Delhi, India.  Commissioned by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “the Potty Project’s central aim is to create relevant information on sanitation and hygiene to enable appropriate innovations for design, development and delivery of sanitation infrastructure and services targeted at urban slums.”

The main purpose of the research was to study the behaviors of residents of urban slums in order to design better sanitation facilities.  Issues examined include:

  • daily sanitation routines
  • preferences for defecation in the open
    vs. inside a toilet facility
  • gender & age behaviors and
    special considerations
  • privacy
  • location
  • care-taking of toilet infrastructure
  • social and cultural taboos
  • shared ownership vs. private sanitation
  • community cohesion
  • transience
  • social benefits

The Potty Project was conducted over ten months – between May 2010 and March 2011 – in five cities to illustrate the diverse sanitation experiences in India. Those cities are Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune and Mumbai.  “Taking account of factors such as regional cultural differences, varied population demographics, diverse local community dynamics, and different types of sanitation facilities, the study investigates how a large number of variables influence user experiences of sanitation.”

Design and development efforts need to focus on toilet features that improve the user’s experience throughout the journey through the space, while recognizing that users may include women, children and the aged. Architects must also keep in mind a user’s perception of barriers of use of a toilet.

Quicksand has been commissioned for a follow-up by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to put these findings into practice, designing better sanitation solutions for urban slums in India.  Can’t wait to see what they start rolling out.

More information:

>>  Browse The Potty Project’s website for detailed findings – www.pottyproject.in
>>  Download the Project Brief here (PDF, 1.1 MB)
>>  Browse @thepottyproject’s twitter activity during its research period

Thanks to Babitha George of Quicksand for discussing the project and sharing the project brief.