Open Source Ecology

What if we took all that civilization has learned today and apply it to an experiment for making a better world? This is an brief overview of Open Source Ecology, the best sustainable project I’ve seen so far.

Note: Most of the text in the this blog post is taken from the Open Source Ecology Wiki, blog and their Proposal 2012. It is really well described there, so no interpretations were needed by myself and I have just copied it. If I had to quote it almost everything would have to be in quotations and it would disturb reading, so I have left out the quotations and personal thoughts will be explicitly written as such.

Update: This article was written in January 2011. For up-to-date information, please check the official Crash Course. You can also check Marcin’s TED Talk.

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

What is Open Source Ecology?

Open Source Ecology is a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters that for the last four years has been creating the Global Village Construction Set – an open source, low-cost, high performance technological platform that allows for the easy, DIY (Do It Yourself) fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a sustainable civilization with modern comforts.

Taken literally, open source means that the goods and knowledge for reproducing the complete product (the “source”) is freely accessible (open), and ecology is the study of living interactions between organisms and their natural environment. As humans we can connect to nature directly and by using technology. Our ability to transform natural resources – by means of appropriate, open source, high-performance technology – connects us to nature in that it connects us to the resources that sustain us and make us prosper.

Open Source Ecology’s goal and current engagement is creating tools to build replicable, open source, modern off-grid resilient communities using open source permaculture and technology to work together for providing basic needs and self replicating the entire operation at the cost of scrap metal. We seek societal transformation through interconnected self-sufficient villages and homes. This is a stepping stone to transcending survival and evolving to freedom.

We are developing and testing the set of tools required to build such a village – the Global Village Construction Set. Land stewardship and local production via open source design and digital fabrication – founded on open sharing of information – are the key features of this adventure. Right livelihood and resolution of pressing world issues is the intended byproduct.

Further, we hope to build the infrastructure to allow people to share the information needed to redesign, repair and re-imagine this set, to develop networks for sharing skills and raw materials, and to help each other perfect our vision of self-sufficient living.

We hope that having survival needs taken care of outside of the current order will give people the freedom to become deeper, more thoughtful, more creative human beings. By giving people a means to live a modern life that is closely connected to the land that sustains them, we hope to allow them to become careful stewards. This way of life may change the game for human survival on this planet.

The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS)

The GVCS is an open source construction set for creating civilization with modern day comforts. The GVCS includes machines, equipment, tools, components, and other infrastructures for creating a complete economy: food, fuel, energy, building materials, transportation, materials, and fabrication. Since most of the GVCS is a machine of some kind, we generally refer to the GVCS as a set of machines, even though the GVCS includes items such as Bakery, Dairy, and Agricultural Nursery.

The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS)

The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS)

The GVCS aims to simplify, modularize, and make transparent the critical technologies used by humans. The scope of this is to make technology user-friendly to the extent that all of our technology base functions like a life-size Lego set that people can use, play with, adapt, and maintain. Thus, the central question of this work is the development of an unprecedented user-friendly interface to common technologies, which to date have been operated and maintained by specialized ‘wrench-turners’ or technicians. The goal is to reskill people towards self-sufficiency, without giving up the advantages of the division of labor and the trappings of modern civilization (ex, internet and airplanes).

The GVCS consists of 50 components. The GVCS components function as modules that can be used together in various combinations – such that a minimal number of tools can provide the largest possible array of functions. The distinguishing feature of the GVCS is precisely that the various components are interoperable, so that new functions can be created by putting several pieces together. All together, the entire GVCS produces a complete economy that allows a community to gain control over its own destiny.

Key Features of the GVCS?

The key features of the GVCS are described in Proposal 2012:

  • Open Source – we freely publish our 3d designs, schematics, instructional videos, budgets, and product manuals on our open source wiki, and we harness open collaboration with technical contributors.
  • Low-Cost – The cost of making or buying our machines is on average, 8x cheaper than buying from an Industrial Manufacturer, including labor costs of $15/hour for a GVCS fabricator.
  • Modular – Motors, parts, assemblies, and power units can interchange, where units can grouped together to diversify the functionality that is achievable from a small set of units.
  • User-Serviceable – Design-for-disassembly allows the user to take apart, maintain, and fix tools readily without the need to rely on expensive repairmen.
  • DIY – The user gains control of designing, producing, and modifying the GVCS tool set.
  • Closed Loop Manufacturing – Metal is an essential component of advanced civilization, and our platform allows for recycling metal into virgin feedstock for producing further GVCS technologies – thereby allowing for cradle-to-cradle manufacturing cycles
  • High Performance – Performance standards must match or exceed those of industrial counterparts for the GVCS to be viable.
  • Flexible Fabrication – It has been demonstrated that the flexible use of generalized machinery in appropriate-scale production is a viable alternative to centralized production.
  • Distributive Economics – We encourage the replication of enterprises that derive from the GVCS platform as a route to truly free enterprise – along the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy.
  • Industrial Efficiency – In order to provide a viable choice for a resilient lifestyle, the GVCS platform matches or exceeds productivity standards of industrial counterparts.

Other features from the OSE Specifications:

  • Economic Feasibility and Replicability
  • Systems Design – considering the whole human and natural ecosystem, and the relationships involved, not just an isolated part of that system.
  • Lifetime, Modular, Scalable Design for Disassembly
    • Lifetime Design – the value of a product does not depreciate over time
    • Modular Design – different modules to be used and interchanged
    • Design-for-Disassembly (DfD) – allows easily replacement of modules
    • Design-for-Scalability (DfS) – allows sclaling a product up and down, e.g. by the addition of an additional module.
  • Open Business Model – opening of all the standard details found in a Business Plan, plus the actual technical details that go into that plan, such as designs and CAD, fabrication procedures, BOM and sourcing information, economic analysis, ergonomic analysis, and so forth.

Scope of GVCS

Mechanical Infrastructure: Life-Size, Lego-Like Construction Set for Agricultural and Utility Equipment. The agricultural, construction, and utility equipment infrastructure relies on a generalized Lego-like construction set for a larger number of mechanical devices – in which modularity is emphasized. The mechanical infrastructure is based on a chassis (tractor, microtractor, car, bulldozer) with modular add-ons. Implements, motors, and power units can interchange, thereby maximizing the range of uses that can be composed from a small set of components. For example, the power unit can be interchanged readily between the tractor, bulldozer, or car. As another example, the wheel motors can be disconnected readily from the tractor, and used in other applications, such as machining equipment or augers.

Agriculture: The food infrastructure for a resilient community (Open Source Agroecology) aims to demonstrate a best-practice system for feeding 100-200 people with a core team of 4 agricultural generalists, or Open Source Agroecologists. The difference between our work and other work on food systems is that we are interested in an explicit goal of : (1), a full-diet, local, year-round food system; (2) economic feasibility for feeding 100-200 people with the stewardship of 4 people by using high, appropriate technology equipment; (3) distributive economic nature of the venture – in that enterprise documentation and replication assistance for the enterprise is available.

Energy Infrastructure: includes Fuel, Motive Power, and Electricity. The energy infrastructure consists of solar energy capture either by the Solar Turbine or by plants. The Solar Turbine uses solar heat directly when the sun is shining, or stored as plants trap solar energy via photosynthesis, where the energy is harvested in the form of plant biomass. Steam Engine Construction Set, Electric Motors/Generators, Inverters & Grid Intertie, Batteries are included and more information can be found in the Energy Category of the wiki.

Housing Infrastructure: includes CEB Press, Sawmill, Cement mixer, Modular Housing Units, Living Machines and others.

Transportation: includes a Tilting Microcar powered by a lightweight version of the Power Cube.

Power Electronics – not documented yet.

FabricationRepLab up to Hot Metal Processing. RepLab will be an open source, replicable lab where you can make almost anything. The tools included in RepLab are documented here. More topics about Fabrication are available in the Digital Fabrication category.

Materials: Aluminum Extraction from Clay.

How are the products developed?

Following the OSE Specifications, a global community of developers helps to produce designs, plans, and prototypes, until high-quality products, with improved performance compared to their industrial counterparts – are created at a fraction of the cost. Every product goes through 3 prototypes to the Full Product Release. You can read the 28 Development steps under Development Status in the Proposal 2012 (or read the Development Strategy) through which a product may undergo, which include peer review, prototype testing, fabrication video instructions, fabrication optimization, open enterprise model and user network development.

Current Status – January 2011

The following prototypes and products (CEB Press) are developed until now:

Power Cube (Prototype II)

Power Cube II

Power Cube II

The Power Cube is an universal, self-contained power unit that consists of an engine coupled to a hydraulic pump for providing power to different devices in the form of hydraulic fluid at high pressure. The Power Cube is a module that can be attached to the LifeTrac, Microtrac, Bulldozer, and Open Source Car (OSCar) platforms. It connects to other devices via quick couplers and quick-connect hydraulic hoses.

Links: short and long (50min) video.

Drill Press (Prototype I)

Drill Press

Drill Press

The Drill Press is for drilling 1? and larger holes directly in metal without pre-drilling. It contains a hydraulic motor for the drilling and a hydraulic cylinder for the down pressure – so this is a literal press, and it is not short on torque or power as the motor can sustain up to 20 hp. We are using our Universal Rotor for the motor.

Links: documentation, video.

Ironworker Machine

Hole Puncher

150 Ton Hole Puncher I

An Ironworker Machine is a device that can cut and punch holes in structural steel on the order of 1” in thickness. An Ironworker Machine is the central workhorse of any custom fabrication shop, as it allows metal cutting and punching on the time scale of a second, as opposed to drilling or torching, which requires a time scale on the order of a minute. The 150 Ton Hole Puncher is designed for punching 1.5? holes in 1? thick steel. Future work involves adding a metal shear blade – a big scissor for trimming slabs of 1? steel up to 12? wide.

Links: Open Source Metal Hole Puncher (Prototype I).

Compressed Earth Brick (CEB) Press , The Liberator (Full Product Release)

Compressed Earth Brick (CEB) Press

Compressed Earth Brick (CEB) Press

The Compressed Earth Brick (CEB) Press allows for rapid (16 brick per minute), low-cost, high-quality construction from on-site earth. The CEB Press is used to compress clayey soil (20-30% clay by volume) from local or on-site soils into structural masonry (700-1000 PSI) building blocks. Stabilization with cement may be used for additional weather resistance. CEB also lends itself to the construction of floors, paved areas, retaining walls, storage structures, or any other structures where a uniform, structural building block is desired.

Links: The Liberator, The CEB Story, initial field testing, pressing bricks, disassembly, crating (packaging), machine overview, the frame, the controller. Documentation: Introduction, Build Instructions, CAD Files

LifeTrac (Prototype II)

LifeTrac II

LifeTrac II

LifeTrac is a versatile, 4-wheel drive, full-sized, hydraulically-driven, skid-steering tractor of 18-200 hp with optional steel tracks. LifeTrac is intended to be a minimalist but high-performance, lifetime design, design-for-disassembly workhorse and power unit of any land stewardship operation. It features easy serviceability by the user. Its modular nature allows for quick attachment of implements; interchangeability/stackability of multiple power units (Power Cubes) for adapting power level to the task at hand; quick attachment of all hydraulic components via quick-coupling hoses; including quick interchangeability of hydraulic motors for use in other applications.

Links: Build (wiki with videos), Stage I of Development, Prototype II Completed, moving.

MicroTrac (Prototype I)

MicroTrac I

MicroTrac I

MicroTrac is a scaled-down, a walk-behind version of the the full-sized LifeTrac to address the need for a microtractor. We are using most of the same components as LifeTrac, except we are shrinking the structural members – to retain part interchangeability between MicroTrac and LifeTrac.

Links: completed, zero turn, wiki documentation, Prototype II Wiki, Prototype II Challenge.

Soil Pulverizer (Prototype II)

Soil Pulverizer II

Soil Pulverizer II

The Soil Pulverizer is pulverizes the soil to a fine consistency which can be used in preparation for pressing Compressed Earth Bricks (CEBs).

Links: blog, construction and test (short video), test (video).

Modular CEB Construction

CEB Greenhouse

CEB Greenhouse

The Modular CEB Construction is an inexpensive, modular, and replicable living/work 16?x16? units. At the corner of every unit will be a 2?x2? column of CEBs, these will support the roof. The walls of the structure are flexible to our needs. The exciting feature of these work/living units is their modularity and the ease of replication. Using earth and wood (next year) from the farm, we can quickly build a structure for our needs. Our design easily accepts additions, allowing us to expand the size of our structure.

Links: Architecture Plans, CEB Construction Time, Final Construction 2010.

CNC Torch Table

CNC Torch Table

CNC Torch Table

CNC Torch Table is a cutting table. A computer can control the torch head making clean sharp cuts on XYZ axes. Prototype I has been built, but has not been operated successfully because the radiation emitted by the plasma cutter that was used with the table caused electronics failure. We will finish Prototype I by retrofitting it with open source stepper motor controllers.

Links: wiki, Build (wiki), Plasma cutter in action, Open Source Torch Table Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

Future Plans

Proposal 2012 contains all the updated information about the vision of the GVCS. The goal is to gather $2.4M of support to complete the GVCS in 2 years (the end of 2012).

GCVS components expected in 2011 (some if funded) are:

  • Power Cube III – 55 HP (Horse Power)
  • CNC Torch Table I
  • LifeTrac III
  • Soil Pulverizer III
  • Modern Steam Engine I – Our goal is on the order of $500 in materials cost for a 1 kW generator, with favorable cost scaling for higher power. Introduction and more videos are available here: 1 kW Steam Engine Electric Generator Prototype
  • Ironworker machine II
  • Aluminum extraction from clay

If funded other parallel developments are possible.

Distributed power generation is a clear goal – the next major field of endeavor for Factor e Farm, which would allow us to fuel our operation for free – from agriculture, off-grid fabrication workshop, to living and transportation.

After the GVCS completion the first OSE Community will be built and Education and Training in 2-year immersion program are planned.

TED Fellows has accepted Marcin Jakubowski, the founder of OSE! This year he will present a Fellow’s talk and this may give the opportunity for a real TED Talk!

Open Source Ecology won the MAKE Green Project Contest which will cover all expenses for their trip to the 2011 Maker Faire where LifeTrac will be shown.

OSE is participating in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2011, an annual international design Challenge awarding $100,000 to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.

Adam Shilling, a True Fan, is planning a multiplayer online game based on the GVCS as the inspiration for its connection to the real world. Adam is going to South America to meet real people – to assess the needs of real communities. The project will link gaming to the real world – where money exchanged ends up purchasing things like tractors or renewable energy equipment for villages in South America.

A Documentary Film about Factory E Farm may come in the future.


General Links: OSE Wiki, OSE Blog, OpenEcology (community of developers).

OSE Videos:, Vimeo, Presentation (at the Bay Area Community Exchange in San Francisco, 15. June 2010), Oekonux 4 Presentation (Part 1, Part 2), Oberlin Public Talk.

Books connected to the topic:


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Dayle Sheward
Hello, my name is Dayle. I am a designer of both print & web, as well as an advocate of positive social change. My goal for this blog "Nice deeds, by nice people" is to use the internet as a tool for good. My focus is on inspirational stories about individuals, groups and organizations that are making a difference in the world we live in. Please take part in the conversations, or submit ideas for stories. By reading, getting involved and spreading the word through social mediums, you can help bring attention to the issues that we all face today.
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