Fundamentally speaking one of the most essential components of any industrial ecosystem is the machine tool a device which is used to “fabricate metal components of machines“. Consequently the absence of a machining capacity precludes the ability of an entity (regional,national and or continent-wide) to industrialize.The question then becomes how do we effectively seed and propagate the skill of machining cheaply and pervasively? How do we Bootstrap the Industrial Age? The open source MultiMachine presents us with what could turn out to be one of the more attractive options. Wikipedia describes it as an:

…all-purpose open source machine tool that can be built inexpensively by a semi-skilled mechanic with common hand tools, from discarded car and truck parts, using only commonly available hand tools and no electricity. Its size can range from being small enough to fit in a closet to one a hundred times that size. The MultiMachine can accurately perform all the functions of an entire machine shop by itself.

Lets think about this for a minute “an all purpose machine tool that…can accurately perform all the functions of an entire machine shop” built from discarded parts by semi-skilled mechanics (replace with,jua kali workers,suame magazine fabbers etc.) What may be missing? A power source of sorts with the necessary torque and availability even in the most rural of areas.Perhaps coupling it with a system like the multifunctional platform would solve that problem.

Can we now make the assumption that all the necessary pieces are available, albeit with the expected and necessary geographic/environmental adaption needed for individual installations? Admittedly it does seem somewhat more feasible, the task at hand is too envision methods of making such systems available to those in-need fabricators.Those who may argue against the bottom-up rudimentary approach should consider this.Contrary to the perceived wisdom a considerable number of machine parts are still made in small engineering workshops, where they ultimately provide the input for larger better known industrial behemoths even in uber-industrialized Japan. Maker Faire Africa with its commitment to embedding metal hacking far and wide will do its very best place to support this approach and others like it and have fun while doing so…

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A Better World By Design is a conference that will be held at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design November 7-9. It looks very relevant to the Maker Faire Africa ethos, where we’ll be looking for design solutions for everyday needs where the bottom up meets the top down. A great line-up of speakers includes Iqbal Quadir of MIT’s Legatum Center and Grameen Phone, Niti Bhan of Emerging Futures Lab, and Maker Faire Africa and Ushahidi’s own Erik Hersman among many other. Here’s from the BWBD site:

Design is a powerful tool. It makes technology accessible to the masses. It sets apart innovative companies from also-rans. It is the single leading force in the modern creative economy. But a growing number of designers, engineers, and economists are suddenly realizing design’s massive potential to make the world a better place.

Of the 6.7 billion people on planet earth, half live on less than $2 a day. One third lacks access to basic sanitation. This is a problem of massive proportions. But most shocking is the realization that the design solution is simpler and cheaper than any product designed for the developed world.

At the same time, we notice with increasing alarm the rapidity of environmental degradation. Climate change, deforestation, and pollution challenge designers to consider sustainability at the core of their practice. When approached with careful consideration, ecological design has generated some of the most elegant works of our time.

What are designers doing to address these critical issues facing today’s world? How are engineers developing new technologies to improve life on earth? Where are entrepreneurs finding surprising opportunities in this mess? A Better World by Design will attempt to address these questions by demonstrating what professionals and academics are doing to promote sustainable development and change the world for the better.

Over three days, you will hear from dozens of industry leaders about novel approaches and solutions to extreme poverty, access to basic resources, and environmental degradation. Workshops will put theory to practice in the spirit of engineering. And at night, get ready to let loose at our mixer and gala!

Design for a better world is often user-centered, affordable, and simple. As E.F. Schumacher famously put it, “small is beautiful.” The urgency of today’s global crises is making this approach to appropriate technology more relevant than ever.

More at A Better World By Design.

Ay Smith, Founder of D-Lab and the International Development Design Summit at MIT

Ay Smith, Founder of D-Lab and the International Development Design Summit at MIT

As part of its annual roster of Breakthrough Awards for “life-changing innovations,” Popular Mechanics magazine has awarded its top honors to MIT Senior Lecturer Amy B. Smith, creator of the D-Lab classes that foster clever low-tech solutions to pressing problems in developing nations.

Calling Smith “a visionary,” the magazine gave her its Breakthrough Leadership award, the top honor out of the 20 awards in its annual list. The magazine cited her as “an inspiration to students and volunteers who dedicate their time to improve the standard of living in Haiti, Ghana, India and other countries. She is leading a movement to tackle complex problems with simple technology.”

In addition to D-Lab, Smith runs the International Development Design Summit each summer, which brings dozens of people from around the world together for four weeks for intensive brainstorming and prototyping of solutions to local problems from different regions of the developing world. After being held at MIT for the last two years, next summer the summit will take place in Ghana, giving the participants more direct contact with the kinds of communities their inventions are intended to serve.

“It will be interactive in a way we haven’t been able to do” at MIT, says Smith, whose work is still sustained in part by a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” she received four years ago. For participants who come from industrialized countries, she said, the summit in Ghana will enable “people who haven’t had a chance to experience life in the developing world” to be immersed in that environment firsthand.

Even for those from other developing nations, she said, it’s a chance “for people from Tibet to see what life is like in Ghana,” for example. “People tend to lump the developing world together,” she said, but the problems and potential vary widely from one country to another.

Meanwhile, D-Lab itself continues to grow, having doubled in size over the last year, she says. And it has helped to inspire a variety of other classes and projects that embody Smith’s approach of addressing the basic, local needs of people around the world through small-scale engineering with simple tools and readily available materials.

“MIT students are incredibly lucky now,” she says. “If they wanted to be involved in this kind of development work every single semester they’re here, they could do that now. That didn’t used to be the case.”

The Popular Mechanics awards were presented at a banquet in New York on Oct. 15, with Smith as the keynote speaker.

[Props Amy! Snipped from MIT News]

Photo by Popular Mechanics

Photo by Popular Mechanics

Congratulations to IDDS coordinator, MIT senior lecturer and MFA collaborator Amy Smith on her recent profile in Popular Mechanic’s “Top 10 Innovations of the Year.Check out the video, where you can hear the passion she shares a s real leader in low-cost, practical solutions that can be locally made.

D-Lab occupies a former shipping area in a basement beneath MIT’s famous Infinite Corridor, which connects many of the university’s buildings. Scattered about the room, beneath a jumble of pipes and ductwork, is a curious collection that includes corn shellers, grain mills, solar panels, piles of red-speckled corncobs, sooty charcoal briquettes and one large plastic container labeled “Holly’s Bovine Faecal Matter—Do Not Remove Please.”

The visionary who presides over this idiosyncratic work space is senior lecturer Amy B. Smith, a leader in the appropriate technology movement, which helps people in developing countries through the creation of simple, low-cost technology. Smith’s own designs—for no-electricity medical lab equipment, better grain mills and more—have won awards and improved lives. But she is also a pied piper for appropriate tech nology—and the engineers she inspires may constitute her greatest achievement.

“More and more students around the world want to make a difference, as well as making a living,” says Paul Polak, a leader in the field and the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. “Amy’s giving them that opportunity.” Smith and her students tackle problems in countries as far-flung as Haiti, Ghana and India. Her growing cadre of followers and former students praise her offbeat humor and ability to focus, even when bouncing on Third World buses after sleeping on cold, manure-stained concrete. After joining Smith and other students in Peru last January, Mary Hong, now a 19-year-old MIT junior, switched her major from aerospace to mechanical engineering. (See “Fixing the World on $2 a Day,” Aug. ’08.) “Amy is genuinely passionate about her work,” Hong says. “She has ideas, and she goes out and does something about them.”