Using open source to build sustainable communities

Film to put Open Source Ecology in the spotlight

A forthcoming documentary from Filament Features will feature the work of the Open Source Ecology project, which aims to produce a set of open source tools capable of building environmentally sustainable communities.

The Open Source Ecology project was started in 2003 by Polish-born Marcin Jakubowski, following his completion of a PhD in fusion energy at the University of Wisconsin. In a 2011 TED Talk, Jakubowski explained that after he finished his PhD, "I discovered I was useless".

"I had no practical skills... So I started a farm in Missouri and learned about the economics of farming.

"I bought a tractor then it broke. I paid to get it repaired, then it broke again. And pretty soon I was broke too. I realised that the truly appropriate low cost tools that I needed to start a sustainable farm and settlement just didn't exist yet.

"I needed tools that were robust, modular highly efficient and optimised, low cost, made from local and recycled materials that would last a life time. Not designed for obsolescence. I found that I would have to build them myself so I did just that."

The Open Source Ecology project is a product of Jakubowski's initial failure as a farmer. It aims to design a 'Global Village Construction Set' (GVCS): a set of 50 modular, easy-to-replicate tools that can be used to construct sustainable communities.

"Wherever material scarcity exists in the world, we see impoverished, isolated beings powerless to take care of themselves and live the healthy, productive lives they desire," states the project's first annual report, issued earlier this month.

"Open Source Ecology (OSE) is building a solution where information flows freely and openly, so that everyone has access to information on how to process raw materials into the life-stuff of modern civilization. We believe that everyone should have access to material security, efficient production, and autonomy."

The Spark | A Groundbreaking Documentary [Official Trailer] from The Spark Doc on Vimeo.

The GVCS is divided into four areas: transportation, agriculture, energy, manufacturing and housing. As of 2012, the Open Source Ecology project had prototyped a tractor, a compressed earth brick press, a dimensional saw mill, a modular hydraulic power unit, a cold saw, an ironworker, a trencher and a backhoe.

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The designs offer considerable savings over commercial equivalents; for example the tractor has an estimated cost of US$6000 for materials, compared to a John Deere 4320 Compact Utility Tractor, which the project prices at $29,700.

The modular designs mean that systems such as the hydraulic power unit (or "power cube") can be used to power different machines, and all the designs are designed to be relatively easy to construct.

The designs for the components of the GVCS are freely redistributable under an open source licence.

The forthcoming documentary is titled The Spark and features the Open Source Ecology's Factor E Farm, where the GVCS is being developed and tested. In addition to the work at the Factor E Farm and other locations in the US, GVCS machines have been built in four other countries. The project aims to complete the set of 50 GVCS tools by the end of 2015.

The new film is directed by Ian Midgley and produced by Christina Heller, Siku Thompson and Derin J. Turner. This month the American Documentary Film Fund awarded the team a grant to aid the film's production.

The Spark is due out this year. Alongside the Open Source Ecology project, the documentary features Our School Blair Grocery, a project founded by Nat Turner who helped turn an abandoned supermarket in a disadvantaged New Orleans neighbourhood into a community youth education centre after Hurricane Katrina.

More information can be found at

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia and Computerworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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