“We’ve been here since August 15, it won’t be easy going back to normal life.” A few hours before the closing of POC21—innovation camp midway between castle life and improvised camping near Paris—we went to see the eco-hackers’ solutions for the green transition.
“In five weeks, we made as much progress as we could have done in five years!” exclaimed Jason Selvarajan of Finland, who hadn’t slept in four days in order to meet the deadline for his prototype of Showerloop, a shower that filters and immediately reuses the water.
Twelve projects were selected for POC21, a climate-oriented ecology camp that mobilized around a hundred people for five weeks at Millemont Castle near Paris. The international teams were supported by the expertise of mentors, specialists in design, engineering and developing economic models to bring these open source projects to life. The projects will also be publicly exhibited on September 19 and 20.
Next to Jason, Mauricio Cordova developed Fair Cap, a $1 cap that can be plugged into water bottles in order to purify non-potable water. He could barely contain his enthusiasm: “For five weeks, we built everything, from the showers to the toilets to the kitchen. You can’t imagine what it’s like to wash dishes with hyper talented engineers, to solve toilet evacuation problems with people who are specialized in the collaborative economy, to peel potatoes at the same table as digital fabrication experts… POC21 was also all that!”
“Before, we weren’t really into open source”
The SunZilla project, developed by five German engineers, is a system of small, modular and foldable solar panels powerful enough to replace the noisy, polluting and costly electric generators that are often used in festivals.
“We first heard about POC21 in Berlin in December,” says Joscha Winzer, with his yellow raincoat and blond hair. “That’s when we imagined the first version of SunZilla.” But their rather technical project wasn’t user-friendly enough. “Here, we got help from certain designers from the other teams to improve the whole.” About 20 experts lent a helping hand to the teams, on technical points, design, or even regarding an open source business model. On this point, the SunZilla team apparently had everything to learn. “As young engineers, we don’t want to work for a big company. We knew we wanted to design modular, participative projects, but we didn’t know anything about open source. We simply didn’t want to patent it, so we were already doing open source without knowing it.”
After five weeks at Millemont Castle, they documented their project and precisely detailed the technical concepts of their installation. One of their goals was “to make people realize how much energy they’re consuming, compared with how much they can produce with solar panels like these.” The team developed a mobile application to make the energy flows easier to see. “The future of this project is in the hands of those who will use it,” says Joscha.
30€ windmill: “I couldn’t care less about Creative Commons”
Daniel Connell hails from New Zealand, although he spends his time in either Germany or Scotland. The windmill that he made can produce 1kW of energy when exposed to winds of 60km/h. He has been working on this project for almost 10 years. “First I imagined a solar tracker, then a windmill, asking myself how to make this kind of system using as much recycled parts and as simply as possible. I had no idea what I was getting into. I worked anywhere, in any way, alone, without financing, because I didn’t want to burden myself with that.”
Daniel worked with just a drill, a cutter and a riveter: “Honestly, I never thought that digital machines could interest me. When I saw at POC21 that it was possible to cut aluminum panels in less than 20 minutes with a CNC, whereas it takes me three hours by hand, I immediately understood the change it implied for the project.”
His windmill was almost functional when he arrived at POC21. Daniel was not much interested in help from the specialists, as for him it’s enough to share the plans and fabrication notes on the Web. “I don’t even know what Creative Commons are, and I couldn’t care less. I just want people to be able to easily make windmills. The idea is also to make them for others, to give workshops and to invent new ways of making money. This is what I’m already doing. If others do as I do, they could quit their shitty jobs while they’re at it.”
Testing open source design
At POC 21, some projects attempt to resemble real products and could be tempted to move to the more lucrative territories of the conventional market… Such is the case for Kitchen B or Biceps Cultivatus. Initiated by four freshly graduated designers, it combines four functions in order to be entirely self-powered : bioponics, preserving fruits and vegetables without consuming energy, composting and a mechanical robot.
The result takes the form of cabinets and systems designed in beautiful wood, impeccably installed in the demonstration tent. “It had to be reproducible by people who don’t necessarily have our skills and who will need to find stuff to reconstruct it with in a hardware store,” Audrey Bigot explains. “The cost for the three modules could be as much as 1000€, but it’s an estimate.”
During POC21, the group let the project evolve, choosing bioponics over aquaponics, exploring the potential of vermicomposting, etc. But they also encountered a more fundamental question: “As designers, our profession consists of making objects. If these objects are open source, how do we pay ourselves?” Through talks and organized debates over the five weeks of POC21, Audrey seems to have found the beginning of an answer. “We want to do the research, make everything open source, with notes on every technical system, especially on how to preserve the food. But if one day this project needs to be adapted to other uses or other contexts, we will be there to offer our expertise.”
The group also considers consulting on the kitchen of the future, and inventing similar projects that could be industrially produced. “We know very well that the average Joe will never reproduce our project. But if it’s sold as a kit at Ikea or Castorama, this just might be possible. So we’ll have to make compromises.”
No doubt the debates on the future of these objects and systems perfected during POC21 made for long days and nights at the castle. Even if the projects presented are functional and well documented, open source is perhaps not so easily accessible. More adaptations or compromises will be necessary before they enter the daily lives of the average Joes who populate our planet. Now all that’s left is to test these functional POCs in real life.