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Open Source Ecology

Posted by kevinwolz on November 8, 2011

Open Source Ecology (OSE) visionary and founder Marcin Jakubowski can articulate the basic idea much better than I can, so please take a few minutes to watch his extraordinary TED Talk. I guarantee that it will leave you speechless.

Open Source Ecology is a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters that for the last two years has been creating the Global Village Construction Set, an open source, low-cost, high performance technological platform that allows for the easy, DIY fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a sustainable civilization with modern comforts. The GVCS lowers the barriers to entry into farmingbuilding, and manufacturing and can be seen as a life-size lego-like set of modular tools that can create entire economies, whether in rural Missouri, where the project was founded, in urban redevelopment, or in the developing world.”

-Open Source Ecology About Page

After drooling over the many videos that OSE has posted online and scouring every corner of their website, I decided that I had to get down to Missouri and check out what they were doing in person. Now, thanks to the far-reaching vision, encouragement,  and financial support of the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry), a group that I was highly active with during my first two years at U of I, that dream has finally become a reality. This past weekend, a group of seven other students and I carpooled out to Middle-of-Nowhere, Missouri to get the OSE experience first-hand. This group of students consisted of some of the most passionate and innovative students I know. The best part? Not a single one of us had the same major! Our backgrounds spanned the breadth of science and engineering:

  • Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Theoretical and Applied Mechanics
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Integrative Biology
  • Crop Sciences
  • Physics

This group could do anything it put its mind to! I think that the intellectual diversity attracted to this trip speaks for the far-reaching impact that OSE can produce.

Despite it’s TED-level fame, the OSE experience did not start out in a fancy room with slide shows and planning strategies. Instead, we got dirty. Within 15 minutes of being at the Factor E Farm, I:

  • expanded my network to include a TED Fellow
  • received a hands-on tutorial of how to structurally and practically design a support column
  • helped develop a plan to maximize construction efficiency
  • interacted with some of the most amazing machinery I’ve ever seen in my life
  • was covered in mud
Talk about an adrenaline rush. This is such a great example of how much more beneficial real-world, hands-on experiences are to learning than any problem set or lecture could ever be! And that was just the first 15 minutes! I definitely plan on keeping in touch with OSE in the future…can’t wait to see what kind of collaborations we can create. I want to build something!
Since this is such a “visual” topic, I will leave it to the videos to explain more about what we did and saw. Thanks to Ben Nelson for the fabulous video below that he put together in record time!
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