Tuesday, March 30, 2010

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 61: Pioneering vehicle technology initiatives for a new Caribbean technological (and economic) order

Last time, we highlighted the potential of our region's Disaster/ Emergency Management Offices to lead the way in the sustainable renewal of our region's technology base.

As a part of that, we suggested that we should look at the resilient Community ideas of Marcin Jakubowski et al, and in particular the Life Trac Skid-loader- cum- Agricultural Tractor:

The Life Trac (cf Make Magazine article here) demonstrates (at initial prototype level currently) an alternative architecture for vehicles, that is potentially transformative:
1 --> The power system is based on first generating a transmissible, controllable power source, hydraulic power. (The engine drives a hydraulic fluid power system.)

2 --> Power is then conveyed through the flowing fluid to application points on a frame: wheels, attachment arms, power takeoff.

3 --> Such power flow is partly operator controlled, partly microprocessor controlled.

4 --> All this is built on a basic, welded rigid framework [4" square steel tubing]; designed to be articulating as well.

5 --> This modular framework allows for simplification of components, and for use of standard parts, thus for inherently low maintenance costs.
In addition, the Life Trac or the like would help rebalance the industrial base of the world, where as Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley classically complained in the 1970's, it took an obscene number of tons of agricultural production -- sugar, coffee, bananas -- to pay for the tractors that were needed for mechanisation to gain efficient cost scales for Caribbean agricultural production.

Such tractors and skid loaders are obviously highly useful machines, including for emergency offices, but other vehicles are also useful/needed. For instance, consider the Kubelwagen -- "bucket" -- military/utility car built around the original design of the VW "bug."

Such a basic design could be re-engineered around a similar controlled power takeoff and independently powered wheels, perhaps using electric drive for the wheels instead of hydraulic power. In addition, such an approach could facilitate the use of portal gear axles that offset the axle upwards, gaining ground clearance. With a standard frame base, various coach bodies could be built, probably with a bias towards fibreglass bodies. Thus, too, we see a lifespan car: once built it can be maintained at reasonable cost across a lifespan; sharply reducing demand on scare, energy intensive metals to purchase car after car. And since the architecture uses standard components and modular assembly, an economically efficient scale of operation will clearly be much, much lower than the typical 250,000 cars per year point that the mass production, assembly line automotive industry traditionally targets.

Similarly, a heavier duty version of the design could use some of the ideas of the Unimog utility truck system, for pickups and trucks generally. Minibuses would be a logical extension of this.

Thus, through collaboration between Disaster Management Offices and Engineering Schools, we have a plausible strategy to create a more modular vehicle industry in our region, first for disaster managmeent fleets, then more generally.

Such collaboration can be extended to the creation of robotic vehicles, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- useful for surveillance of disaster sites, for search and rescue and for security in general.

Beyond the creation of vehicles lies a shift to more sustainable fuels as well: biofuels, hydrogen and the like.

Of course, such vehicles will not be as "sexy" as the current mass produced and custom vehicles. But, they would be first steps towards a more sustainable technical base for vehicles for the job world, on the farm, in industry and in commerce. And as the unsustainability of current patterns becomes ever more evident, more and more private individuals and families will want to make the shift to more sustainable vehicles.

So, again, the bottomline question is whether our Disaster Management Offices are willing to pioneer such a development. END

Thursday, March 11, 2010

1 Chron 12:32 report, 60: Towards Industrial Civilisation 2.0 -- the post scarcity, open source, sustainable, resilient village

In recent weeks I have been keeping an eye on the initiatives of Polish Physicist Marcin Jakubowski, of the Open Source Ecology initiative Factor e Farm outside Kansas City. (Blog.)

For, his Global, resilient Community/Village ideas have much to teach us about moving beyond the age of scarcity and mass production to a new, more resilient, light eco-footprint era.

For instance, we may ponder this vimeo video from OSE:

How to Build a Post-Scarcity Village from Marcin Jakubowski on Vimeo.

You will see Jakubowski starts with the Life Trac, which has become somewhat of a symbol of what he is doing.

Namely, pioneering a new industrial era in which open source industrial technologies form a base for small communities to build localised villages that can sustain themselves in the main through internal or easily accessible resources. And, because the core technologies are open source, once a cluster that is self-replicating -- including computerised modular, flexible fabrication machines [cf. here and here] -- is developed, this becomes an alternative to the current dependence on massive manufacturing centres and debt-riddled purchases of high maintenance cost major equipment.

The Life Trac machine you see cost US$ 4,000 to build, largely from junkyard parts and standard metal tubing etc. So far, its annual maintenance cost is US$ 100; and because it is highly modular, using a power plant, hydraulic power and a simple sturdy frame, it can be built in a local community. (They have developed a mini version, are working on a version 2 prototype of the full-sized tractor/ backhoe/ loader/ bulldozer/ earth tiller. They are also developing a similar open source utility vehicle -- UniMOS, modelled on Mercedes Benz's famous UniMOG -- and are looking at the open source car movement.)

The second major machine -- the Liberator compressed, stabilised earth block press -- is an update on the CINVA RAM type compressed earth brick machine. (I think we in the Caribbean should look at marrying that with the Auroville Earth Institute of India’s Auram, which makes a wide variety of bricks, blocks and tiles, including an interlocking range.)

In short, we are seeing the early phases of a potential industrial transformation. And while we may not want to buy into the full-bore Homebrew Industrial Revolution ideology -- I do confess to some heartfelt sympathies! -- we of the Caribbean should certainly look very carefully at clusters of technologies that would transform our region from being primarily consumers of technology to producers. (And of course, on the open source software model, e.g. Linux and Open Office, commercial enterprises would be refocussed on creating real value-added to the generic products coming from open source fabs. No gewgaws and gimcracks, thank you, just honest value added. [BTW, Open office is now my primary office productivity software. I am using the Go OO fork of version 3.2 of Open office.org , and highly recommend it.)

Then there is the potential of bamboo, especially the Guadua “vegetable steel” genus [angustifolia the starring member: up to 100 ft tall, 10 inches across at base, 5 - 7 years to grow, thorns to discourage praedial larceny; I believe 20 x the productivity of a similar acreage of pine forest . . . and the timber is harder than oak when properly processed], to transform the region's timber and construction industries. (Bamboo bahareque and related construction technologies seem to be highly promising. I have also not forgotten Moladi's rapid build foamed, reinforced concrete system and the Hebel type autoclaved aerated concrete modular "tilt-up" building construction system.)

And if you hear an echo of the Celtic Monasteries of the era just past the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, yes, it is there: we have in this historic movement a proven survivable institution that became a cluster of resilient centres for preserving civilisation and upliftment of the local community, which we can then adapt to modern circumstances.

Now, think about integrating this with the work of our region's universities and Disaster/ Emergency Management Offices. The latter need reliable, capable machines, and the former need seed-plots to do pioneering research.

While I am at it, let me plug the astonishing grid beam modular furniture and mechanical prototyping system based on square section wood or metal members with a grid of drilled holes on a pitch equal to the side of the square:, e.g. 1 and a 1/2 inch square timber [officially 2 x 2] will use a 1 1/2 inch spaced hole system.

The latter also need to have off-grid energy systems, rapid build housing solutions, easily packed modular furniture, remotely piloted or semi- autonomous reconnaissance machines. [Think here robotic aircraft -- some of which (as the recent Montserrat Craig Cabey disappearance at sea on a jet ski case reminds me . . . ) need to have long range maritime search capacity; and snaking and/or crawling robots that can go into the sort of pancake collapsed environment we saw on our TVs since January, as well.]

Then we need C21 Schooners capable of both motor and wind driven travel across our region at reasonable cost, for robust regional trade. Nor have I forgotten the need for sealift and airlift that can move containerised modular equipment and people rapidly across our region and for linking regional hub ports to the wider world.

Moreover, we all need good solid ICTs and access to life-long high quality education that can exploit Internet technology and existing infrastructure to build the capacity we will need. Thus, there is an opportunity for a network of schools of hope that use Internet technologies and create lifelong learning opportunities though not only initial primary and secondary offerings, but lifelong learning through a vibrant community college movement.

In short, the recent Haiti Schools of Hope proposal is a step towards a much wider opportunity.

How does this all fit into the Biblical worldview and its central gospel message?

1 –> Ac 17 teaches us that nationhood is the creation of God, who desires per Gal 3:14 to bless us in Christ with the same promise given to Abraham.

2 –> This fits in with the biblical plot line: Creation, fall, restoration: redemption, conversion and transformation through the gospel, blessing, consummation and eternal felicity.

3 –> In this context, God comes to nations in times of kairos — hinges on which the course of history pivots — with his spokesmen [and women!] who bring the counsels of eternal wisdom that we must choose to listen to or reject.

4 –> Here is the wise counsel of king Jehoshaphat on this, as he spoke with 20-20 prophetic vision:

2 Chron 20:20“Listen to me, you people of Judah and residents of Jerusalem! Trust in the Lord your God and you will be safe! Trust in the message of his prophets and you will win.”

5 –> Those nations and generations that instead reject the wise and loving counsel of God walk in a path of self-chosen self-destruction, as Eph 4 cautions:

Eph 4:17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 4:18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 4:19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

5 --> By utter contrast, those who have come to know God in the face of Christ are called to live sensibly, in ways that will bring the blessing of God into their lives and communities:

Eph 4:20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 4:21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 4:22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 4:23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 4:24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.

In short, a call to godly, wise sustainable nationhood and community life under God in the face of an era of environmental and economic challenges is a part of the overall mandate of the church to disciple, nurture and prophetically counsel the nations to seek God-blessed reformation through the Word of God.

Why not now, why not here, why not us? END