Question: Can you guess what these are?
Answer: they are the 50 industrial machines necessary to create a small civilization with all the comforts of modern life. They include a tractor, a cement mixer, a welding machine, a bakery oven and a heat exchanger. And you can build them all yourself.
Or at least, that’s the theory. These 50 machines are the Global Village Construction Set, a kind of real-life Lego set for building your own sustainable industrial society. Each machine has been designed to be modular, using recycled materials where possible. Eight of the 50 have been built so far, with the 3D designs published online so that anyone can build their own, and add their own improvements.
The project behind the set is Open Source Ecology, and it’s the brainchild of Marcin Jakubowski. He set up as a farmer in Missouri, and soon discovered that he was unable to maintain his tractor. Paying for it to be repaired was costing him a fortune, but there was nothing on the market that was built to last and designed to be maintained by the owner. So he built his own instead, at a fraction of the cost of a retail version.
With engineers and enthusiasts able to combine their expertise, the team has now moved from that tractor to a whole range of prototypes, with other machines in earlier stages of development. Some of them are easier than others – a brick press is a lot simpler than a 3D printer, but Open Source has a power all of its own. I’m writing this blog on the open source WordPress platform, in the open source Firefox browser, both of which are the leaders in their respective fields. If it works for software, why not hardware too?
It’s an exciting project. The Global Village Construction Set combines a number of great ideas into one: permaculture, cradle to cradle design, open source, natural building, crowd-funding and appropriate technology. It’s the kind of thing a Transition Town could adopt to support local small-scale farmers and manufacturers. Entrepreneurs in developing countries can download these designs and set up manufacturing businesses that would otherwise require vast amounts of capital.
It also meets an overlooked need in the sustainability movement: we tend to focus on agriculture and energy, but all our industrial processes need to be revolutionized. We can’t expect the corporations to do that work, because patents, closed systems and built-in obsolescence make more money – durable and easy to fix machines are not in their interest. If we want those, we’ll have to design them ourselves.
The GVCS is an idea with legs, and I’ll be keeping an eye on it. And good luck with that 3D printer.
Here a two-minute introductory video: