It’s been quite a ride over the last 4 years. We introduced the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) on the world stage at TED in 2011:
Critics of the open source economy point out that “Open source is a system of development that doesn’t have the requisite positive feedback loops needed to build a viable economic system.” (link) This is a belief held firmly in the economic mainstream – and is the reason why some open source projects turn proprietary once they develop working products – such as the recent case of Makerbot.
At the same time, we’ve been busy innovating open source revenue models that can be built upon efficient production, and showing that they are efficient because they are open source. Contributors continue to work in the OSE community to scratch an itch or for pay – to develop products that meet real needs.
Efficiency is key to making open source technology viable. In December 2012, we have shown for the first time that one of our heavy machines, the Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Press, can be built in a single day. We combined modular design, digital fabrication, and swarm build techniques – for a rapid, parallel, Extreme Build. One Day.
The promise of the distributed approach lies in enhancing access to raw productive power. We have learned that our blueprints are sufficient for someone to download and build machines on their own. In 2011, shortly after the TED Talk, the first ever independent replication occurred:
About a dozen other replications followed, and overall 104 GVCS machines were built between 2008 and end of 2014. Most were built at the OSE headquarters in Missouri. Most were heavy products like the brick press, tractors, and MicroHouses – and there were also a few small ones like the Micro Power Cube, CNC Circuit Mill, and 3D Printer.
Machines built until the end of 2012. All entries in this graph have links to the details – see original document to access links.
We were supported by the Shuttleworth Foundation in 2012 and 2013. We focused on test-driven prototypes in order to develop and test how the GVCS product ecologies fit together, but did not focus on a single completed product. We learned that the foundation support model is inherently non-scalable to world transformation. We believe that we can help scale the open hardware movement to the next trillion dollar economy by self-sustaining enterprise models, not by foundation funding.
In 2014, building upon our Extreme Manufacturing techniques, we developed a social production model that includes revenue from production (sale of a machine) and from skill-training workshop fees. When we produced the brick press last year, we netted $10k from a weekend workshop – and learned a lot while we were at it. This model relies on the premise that we know how to build machines in a single day – so that we can produce an immersive experience around a build. One Day.
The brick press is important because it can potentially be the start of a killer app. If we can produce high performance open source houses at a fraction of commercial costs using on-site material as our building block, then we have entered a $100B market in the USA alone.
We used our brick press to build out living and working infrastructure in 2012. In 2014, we built several modular houses from CEBs to show that CEB construction can be cost effective.
Our last build, Prototype 4, featured a design-build collaboration with about 50 people, where we finished an 800 square foot addition, with modular construction, CEB walls, in-ground hydronic heat for $15k. We built the shell and complete roof with insulation in the 5 days of the workshop. The interior finish looks like this now:
Techniques for building a house in 1 day exist, and that’s where we are taking our hybrid CEB build.
Our next step involves taking the CEB Press the last step: a Distributive Enterprise (DE) model. We will be publishing not only the machine designs that have been tested over the past year, but a model of production that allows anybody to build the machine (or have it built) anywhere in the world. This will be a test case for distributed open source manufacturing applied to heavy equipment. The main challenge will probably be adapting builds to local supply chains, which will require developing an open supply chain database. We will publish both the quick-build version that can be cut with CNC, and the older, manually-built version for builds where CNC cutting is not available. See CEB Press Genealogy for the machine versions.
OSE’s concept is to distribute production such that the demand can be met by a network of producers, as opposed to OSE trying to capture the entire market. This is part of OSE’s greater goal: creating an open source production ecosystem to regenerate the planet. For the brick press, OSE will test (dogfood) its own production model, while we encourage start-up of other entrepreneurs. OSE will be developing training and a quality control certification process. We propose that large production volumes can be met more efficiently via distributed production. This is important, for example, if an entire region needs to be rebuilt after a catastrophe, then the distributed effort can deliver, say, 1000 machines on a week’s time scale. This would be impossible for a single manufacturer. By developing the CEB distributive enterprise, we would like to test the practicality of the distributed model. We estimate that the existing market for hydraulic brick presses is about 1000 per year. We expect further market creation after full deployment of open source hybrid CEB construction techniques.
Because we think that a distributed production model can be applied to many consumer products and production machines – from cars to houses to organic food – and that for distributed production to work it has to be open source – we think that it’s simply inevitable that open source distributed production will permeate the global economy at some point. The missing link at present is access to open source product designs (many open designs are closed once they get good enough or choose a non-commercial license) and access to localized, open source production infrastructures/facilities. The distributed nature of solar energy as the fundamental fuel and feedstock of sustainable civilization works in the favor of a distributed economy.
Wait a minute, is the economy not rational because of some invisible hand behind the scenes, and our distributive enterprise goals are doomed to fail?
To develop the CEB Press disributive enterprise model, we will return to our Design Sprints to develop all the aspects of the DE from machine documentation to market research and everything in between. If effort allows, we will start addressing the hybrid CEB housing designs. Our release of the CEB documentation is intended for the end of April. We will test a new Design Sprint protocol, where participation is based on commitment to specific tasks of a carefully crafted collaboration architecture. Previously, we held the design sprints without knowing who will show up.
Design Sprint tasks include engineering, concept design, enterprise development, documentation, explainer videos, and many others intertwined into a meaningful whole. We welcome all self-starter super-cooperators to join. Our goal for this year is to host mega Design Sprints and Hackathons where a high level of coordination is achieved for a few hundred participants. If you’d like to participate on the Brick Press, please fill out the Tech Team Culturing Survey to receive the Design Sprint invitation.