24 November 2013

Open Source: A Grand Experiment for a Grand Challenge

Seminar presentation video.
The AguaClara program has been open source from the very early days and that has opened doors and served us very well. The AguaClara  approach is to create a global solution that is sustainable, that can adapt to the local context, and to share the knowledge. Open source eliminates the transaction costs of sharing ideas and is a powerful way to promote idea sex. Although we have numerous inventions we chose to not patent them because patents are condoms for idea sex. Our ability to rapidly innovate and our proven ability to develop new technologies and deploy them is largely due to our free sharing of ideas. I presented my reflections on the municipal drinking water infrastructure challenge and the advantages of open source at a recent seminar.

An example of our innovation process is illustrated below. I learned about molding PVC while on assignment in the Salvadoran refugee camp at Colomoncagua, Honduras  in 1983. I observed Hondurans fixing a water transmission line by making an improvised pipe coupling out of a piece of pipe by heating the pipe over a fire of corn husks. We brought that idea to Cornell to create the diffuser pipes that are essential for the creation of a floc blanket in the AguaClara sedimentation tanks. Cornell students improved the technology and developed the idea of using hot vegetable oil to carefully heat the PVC to a temperature where it can be molded easily. Tim Brock and Paul Charles helped design and fabricate molds in the Civil and Environmental Engineering machine shop. We delivered those molds to Agua Para el Pueblo in Honduras. Below you can see an aluminum mold that is used to decrease the diameter of the end of pipe for insertion into the manifold. The worker in the center of the photo is using the wedge mold to create a rectangular slot.
Operator candidates form pipes heated with hot vegetable oil using aluminum molds. The pipes serve to direct the jets of water that enter the sedimentation tank in order to suspend sediment that creates a fluidized bed called a "floc blanket".

The operator candidates assemble
 the inlet manifolds for the sedimentation

The sharing of ideas between Honduras and the AguaClara Cornell labs provides a rich environment for innovation. And in this collaborative team environment it is never possible to assign an invention to a single person or even a single organization. Together we Research, Invent, Design, and Empower to make the world a better place.


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Rhen Nicey said...

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