Open Source Ecology: Interview with Founder Marcin Jakubowski

Energy & Sustainability
Open Source Ecology: Interview with Founder Marcin Jakubowski

The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) won our Green Project Contest at the beginning of 2011, garnering the most votes of all the eco-friendly projects submitted. Marcin Jakubowski founded Open Source Ecology, a network of farmers, engineers, and supporter, whose main project is GVCS, “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.” GVCS is like a life-sized Lego set, and each of the machines uses interchangeable parts, motors, and power units. A few of their machines have been featured on the pages of MAKE. Jakubowski (pictured above at right alongside Lawrence Kincheloe and the open source plasma cutter) is immensely busy, to say the least, but he took the time to answer a few questions for us and give us further insight into OSE’s massive undertaking.

1. Tell us about Open Source Ecology. How was it started?
Open Source Ecology (OSE) was started to contribute to a global commons of open source information — with a particular focus on the tools of production. I started OSE in my last year of my PhD program, as a response informed by what I perceived to be a general societal lack of true collaboration and openness, which I saw even in academia. I noticed that even academia was turning into branches of proprietary corporate research and development, as opposed to the original mission of culturing open knowledge toward the benefit of everybody.

2. How do you find others to collaborate with? Can anyone get involved?
We publish video and other documentation on our blog. Anyone can get involved. We are currently reorganizing and putting up a new website. Our focus is to facilitate meaningful involvement from a large group of global collaborators — and we are reorganizing with this central mission in mind.

LifeTrac, one of the first tools created in the GVCS.

3. How did you conduct your research to pinpoint the industrial machines included in the GVCS?
We took each of the basic services required for a community infrastructure, and selected the best tool to meet that need. We evaluated these tools by the Product Selection Metric to quantify the importance of our selections.

4. What is your prototyping process? And what are the challenges of making machines that have interchangeable parts, motors, and power units?
The prototyping process follows all the steps from conceptual design to CAD to fabrication to testing, while considering all the desirable properties, known as OSE Specifications. For a more detailed description, you can see our 30-step development template.

The main challenge in this process is interface design. The challenge is how one interfaces, or fits together and connects the wide array of disparate modules and interchangeable parts. While mainstream industrial design focuses on dedicated functional parts, we need to design the additional element of interchangeability for interoperability. This is not a trivial issue, yet it is critical for designing a more human-friendly, lower cost, multifunctional technology set. In Lego blocks one simply snaps two blocks together to connect them. With real mechanical hardware, this is not as easy, as the heavy weight, different power levels, and different geometries need to be considered. We have demonstrated that interchangeability is indeed feasible with life-sized mechanical hardware.

Global Village Construction Set CEB Press
The GVCS Compressed Earth Brick Press.

5. How many machines in total do you hope to prototype? How many are already done?
We’ve identified 50 of the most important machines that allow modern life to exist –- the tools we use every day — everything from a tractor to a bread oven to a circuit maker. We have so far built 8 prototypes and we have one full product release; the Compressed Earth Brick press. Our goal is ambitious: to finish the 50 tools within 2 years and a $2M budget. We are currently reorganizing to meet this goal, and we are optimistic about the development. I have recently been selected as a TED Fellow, and we expect this to put us to the world stage. We got featured in Grist Magazine and Gizmodo recently, and our momentum and team is building.

If you are interested in joining the development team, we are looking for subject matter experts and organizational development assistance. Our greatest current challenge is not interest in the project, but absorbing new participants. We are working to address this issue. We are also developing our nonprofit funding component, where we think that a significant portion of funding for the rest of the Construction Set will come from foundations and individual donors. Contact us at if you can help.

6. Are the machines being currently used anywhere?
Our machines are being used and tested at Factor e Farm. You can see videos on our blog from last season, starting with this blog post and moving backwards. Moreover, we have sold 3 sets of the Tractor-Soil Pulverizer-Earth Brick Press package, which we will produce in our forthcoming production run in April. These will be our first examples of people using the equipment outside of Factor e Farm. These users’ applications include a startup CEB construction business and an organic farm.

7. Tell us about OSE Tour USA.
This is our lecture tour throughout the USA. I have been invited to a number of speaking opportunities to raise awareness and support for the project. If you are interested in hosting a lecture and if you can cover travel and an honorarium, then we are open to invitations.

Great work on an amazing mission, Marcin and the OSE crew! Once again, folks, if you want to get involved and help out, check out the wiki, the blog, this great little video of GVCS described in 2 minutes, and contact OSE at

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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