Archives for category: atoms

The Y-Table is built for mobile collaboration. The three long slabs connect in the middle, providing maximum workspace and a collapsible structure. Note the blackboard slot for easy signage and doodling.

The table was designed by The Anxious Prop for the MakerLab in Milan.

P1070271 / Mendel Heit /

#cmiycTXLvia Peter:

Chatting with Michelle and Igor, we figured that there must me a way to make staying at airports less boring, potentially even more fun.

Initially we wanted to go for a scavenger hunt of sorts, where players would hide stuff or leave stickers. We dismissed both – hiding stuff at airports might get airport security staff involved in unpleasant ways, and stickers might just be removed to quickly. After all, we all travel a fair bit, but not every day.

So here’s a first draft for a simple, open, collaborative game to play with friends who spend to much time at airports: Catch Me If You Can, or #cmiyc.

The rules are simple.

If you want to start a game, take a picture at an airport – any airport – and upload it to Flickr, tagging it (or at least naming it) with #cmiyc followed by the airport code: For Berlin Tegel, the tag would be #cmiycTXL, for New York JFK it would be #cmiycJFK, for Los Angeles it’d be #cmiycLAX etc. If possible, also check into the airport on Foursquare, because geo location never hurts.

If you want to join an existing game, just go to Flickr and search for the CMIYC tag of the airport you’re at, find the scene shown in the most recent photo, and take the photo exactly to the left of this last photo. (This way, the way Flickr sorts the pictures chronologically, it’ll look a bit more like one big panorama photo.)

Currently, as far as I can tell, there are two ongoing games that we just started. One is in Berlin Tegel (#cmiycTXL on Flickr), the other in Frankfurt Airport (#cmiycFRA on Flickr).

Obviously, in the best case there’s only one ongoing game per airport, and some stuff will not work. But it sounds like this might add some fun element of discovery to our travels. Feel free to join!

Photo: #cmiycTXL / the waving cat / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you’re in Milan for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile or Public Design Festival this week, be sure to swing by the Maker Lab Milan. Public hacking will commence!

TEDxKreuzbeg by Igor Schwarzmann / CC BY-SA

Last night I had the honor of speaking at TEDxKreuzberg, which was a lot fun and the perfect opportunity to polish up some ideas and practice pontificating in front of a crowd. My talk was about Designing for Collaborative Consumption, and it was inspiring to hear such positive feedback to the design challenges and concepts in general. You can find the text of my talk below.

Thanks so much to the organizers Peter, Christoph, and Hans, and to the host, betahaus, for such a lovely evening!

Designing for Collaborative Consumption.

Firstly, I’m a remix kid. I come from the generation of sampling. So the talk you’re going to hear is a remix of arguments made by lots of great and interesting people, notably Aristotle, the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom, Lawrence Lessig, Sean Bonner, Fight Club, Bruce Sterling, and the authors of a book that helped bring these ideas together, Collaborative Consumption.

I hope to remix these thinkers to provide some context and examples and then push the concepts further by offering some design challenges.


The 20th century was the era of hyper-consumerism. I won’t be the first nor last person to say we’re still in deep in extreme consumption and overproduction. You know the stats: basically, the world is ending, and we, the insatiable consumers of the world, are at fault.

We want things, we buy things, we throw away things. And what’s worse, this endless cycle pitched at “good for the economy.” It’s our duty to BUY BUY BUY.

If you have to buy things all the time, then there are traditionally two types of solutions for what to do with all the junk you collect. You either dispose of it – by selling or throwing it away – or you store it.

Designing for the Dump:

The first solution, disposal, is very attractive to business folks. It’s a very lucrative. It means that you will buy an inferior product one day, turn around to throw it away the next, and then buy a new thing, preferably the upgrade from the same company. (cough, Apple!)

The name for this unsustainable design principle is planned obsolescence. Objects designed for a limited lifetime. And unfortunately, it’s the most predominate business strategy of our time.

We can see the remains of this throw-away culture in the paper coffee cups we drink from every day, to the shitty IKEA furniture that falls apart one year later, to the smartphones we replace faster than we can remember their names.

Designing for the dump means an overflow of junk in our homes, on the streets and landfills the world over.

Rise of the Self-Storage Industry:

So, maybe you’re a little more sensitive about throwing away good stuff the day after you unwrapped it. You want to keep it for a rainy day, or for the memories, or in the hopes that one day you’ll repair it and you’ll be so grateful you have it.

Enter the self-storage industry. It’s booming profits off the charts. Not only in the hyperconsumption nation of the US, but also in a country I always thought was more thrifty and consumption-conscious: Germany.

If self-storage is any measurement of junk we own and don’t need, then what does it mean that within 10 years, Germany went from having 0 self storage facilities to 70? In Europe, it went from a handful in the UK to well over 1500 across the continent.

We’re buying more stuff. So much so, we can’t even manage to keep it all in our homes, and have to pay a premium rent to store it elsewhere.

No matter where our stuff is, we still have to exert a lot of energy and euros to just maintain our collection of must-haves objects. As Bruce Sterling says, every moment devoted to stumbling over and tending to your piled debris are precious hours in our mortal lives, and time not spent with family, friends, your society, yourself.

Fight Club: The things you own end up owning you.

With so much effort invested in junk, you have to ask yourself: who is being owned by whom?

So, with all this doom and gloom, is there any reasonable way to take action? And even if a few dedicated, environmentally-aware kids take a stab at changing this horrible scene, can we even make a difference?

There is one clear advantage we have, in our generation: the power of the network.

We can be leverage our networks. Unlike any generation that came before, we can better provide and share infrastructure thanks to network technology. We can buy, build, and collaborate locally and efficiently. We can shop smarter, share better, and use our networks, both online and off, to reduce waste, improve the economy and environment, spare our bank accounts, and even have a good time and make new friends doing it.

That’s collaborative consumption, and I want to talk about its wonderful opportunities.

So, I’ve said a lot of scary and depressing stuff. But there is good news. Values are shifting.

Think about this co-working space, betahaus. You can rent a desk and share office infrastructure together with fellow digital nomads. No one, besides the people who actually the run the space, have to own any of the equipment, and even they can lease or rent it from other companies.

Let’s take an example of an office printer for a betahaus resident. Maybe once in a great while you actually need to print something. Do you really want to own a dedicated device for printing stuff? I mean, you have to refill it, repair it, and lug it around whenever you move, and one day, dispose of it.

A huge advantage with a place like betahaus is that they make it easy and attractive to share these resources, and by doing so, they make it more efficient (and let’s be honest, more fun and social) for all of the people working here.

Let’s think for a second about other types of resources. Who needs to own a moving van? Not many folks. That’s why services like Robben & Wientjes, the moving truck rental company in Berlin, are successful. The same holds true for platforms like the US-based Zipcar, a car sharing service. Or airbnb and Couchsurfing. Or even the Bahn bikes, Mitfahrgelegenheit, and stuff-sharing sites like NeighborGoods.

All of the many, many sites out there now make it easy to offer, find, and share goods and services: flexibly, agilely, and socially.

Here’s another example: the common household drill. How many of you own a drill? Can you even remember the last time you used it? Did you know that on average, a household drill is used a total of 5-10min its entire lifetime? That gives you what, like 20 holes max? Is that really an efficient object to purchase, maintain, and care for?

What if instead of all that time it spent idling on the shelf, it could be generating value, either by renting it out for cash or just helping out a neighbor?

Products like household drills, or moving vans, or a bike in a city you’re visiting aren’t necessarily desirable to own. Instead, isn’t it just better to accessing them? Aren’t the rights to use and access something more important than owning it?

I think this is a mantra for our times:
On the whole, you find wealth much more in use than in ownership.

You know who said that? Aristotle. A Greek philosophy who wrote that more than 2000 years ago.

Actually, the stuff I’ve been saying about sharing drills and expensive machinery and even lodging won’t have sounded foreign or even futuristic for many of the generations that came before us.

Practices like barn raising or the rise of cooperative individualism from the Great Depression are just a few examples.

The values of sharing resources goes back a long way.

What I’m talking about isn’t new, but I’ll argue that nowadays, thanks to networks, we can do it even better. And there are business strategies and creative opportunities to be had in modern collaborative consumption in addition to sharing economy.

Characteristics of Shared Objects:

So, can we distill any important characteristics of Collaborative Consumption? What are the rules of the game? Here’s a start.

Critical Mass
Firstly, you need enough goods or services on offer to make the platform attractive enough for users. Supply draws more demand. Couchsurfing isn’t going to work with two couches on offer.

Idling Capacity
This is about spare cycles. All the unused, material surplus that bolsters collaborative consumption. And it not just about products that sit unused on storage shelves, but also untapped skills, times, spaces. These resources have to be available, like in the drill example, and sharable.

Commons Governance
For these platforms to work, you need appropriate mechanisms for collaboration within legal, social and technical frameworks. There are great tools for this, and definitely the potential to develop more. Conflict resolution has to be cheap and easy, and resource providers need ways to participate in the decision-making process.

This is one of the most important pillars of collaborative consumption. Without trust, you don’t have continued and meaningful participation and growth. Trust has to be cultivated and facilitated. It’s not just available instantly, but grows organically through the service and positive experiences. Clearly defined boundaries of who’s participating and a way to key at bay trolls, spammers, and frauds, and other elements that harm the community. This requires effective monitoring and reputation management, plus graduated sanctions for people who violate community rules.

Design Challenges:

Building upon these principles and characteristics, I want to offer you a few design challenges.

Create open layers
Think about interoperability across key components. How can you use open standards to enable remix, modification, and improvements across products? How can open layers be applied to motors, power cords, outlets, connectors, joints, nibs for maximal customization and range of use?

Build modularity
Relatedly, shared objects should be easy to repair and amend. You shouldn’t have to throw away your entire phone because it’s scratched. Building modularity means fostering generativity.

Value added through usage
I think this is one of the most powerful design challenges. Think about an object that doesn’t depreciate with use, but is instead improved by it. One example is a baseball mitt. When you first buy it, it’s very stiff and hard to catch a ball with. Over time, with use, it becomes more flexible and a better product.

That’s just on the physical layer. What about value added on a data layer? Think about how objects can learn from behaviors the more they’re used. Like by collecting more data points. Or where the user contributes metadata, like marginalia, reviews, and fact checking for books.

Personalize shared objects
Are you familiar with these phones that hold multiple SIM cards? Those are really common in places like Africa where one device is used by multiple people. But each person inserts their own SIM card and all their address books and personal settings are ready for them. The personalization follows the user, not the device. Can we apply this to other devices and services? Cars, printers, refrigerator, coffee machines, or even drills?

Diversify Libraries
Libraries are not just for books. Think about other ways to pool resources, be it for commercial or community aims. You could have tool libraries, or ones for electronics, cooking appliances, moving boxes/materials, jewelry and accessories, holiday decorations, toys, you name it.

There is lots of potential. There are many business opportunities, as well as many challenges for creative and adventuresome people.

Let’s break the mold.

Don’t design for the dump. Don’t design for 20th century hyperconsumption. Design for things to last, to be shared, and to be part of the future, a future of collaborative consumption.

MakerLegoBot: a 3D printer made of LEGO that prints LEGO. Enough meta to make your geek mind spin! / via brainpicker

What Masdar really represents, in fact, is the crystallization of another global phenomenon: the growing division of the world into refined, high-end enclaves and vast formless ghettos where issues like sustainability have little immediate relevance.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, New York Times

Image: Masdar_City by Foster + Partners / Non-free promotional image / via Wikimedia Commons

While I don’t consider myself to be some sort of ascetic or societal recluse, I’ve found that more stuff equates to more stress. Each thing I own came with a small expectation of responsibility. I look into my closet and feel guilt. I glance into my desk drawers and see my neglect. When was the last time I wore this? Have I ever even used that?

Instead of trying to distribute my time too thin among all of my possessions, I will simply get rid of most of them. I will eliminate a large part of stress in my life and I will truly cherish the few things that I own. — Kelly Sutton on the Cult of Less

The numinous Cult of Less as well as enlightening scripture like Bruce Sterling’s Virdian Green piece have converted me. I’m all fired up and ready for the purge. Yesterday I packed up four boxes of clutter and useless junk. I’m freeing up space and time. And now I’m investing in the items that matter.

Last week I forked over 100EURO for a pair of shoes, but I wear them every damn day and have replaced three half-broken, crippling pairs in their stead. Old papers have been my bane as well, but thanks to access to a scanner, I’m saving the most valuable ones and tossing the rest. My closet is on a constant swap cycle: I offload a bag or so every few weeks and take in 2-3 well made items to replace them.

What is “sustainability?” Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.

In earlier, less technically advanced eras, this approach would have been far-fetched. Material goods were inherently difficult to produce, find, and ship. They were rare and precious. They were closely associated with social prestige. Without important material signifiers such as wedding china, family silver, portraits, a coach-house, a trousseau and so forth, you were advertising your lack of substance to your neighbors. If you failed to surround yourself with a thick material barrier, you were inviting social abuse and possible police suspicion. So it made pragmatic sense to cling to heirlooms, renew all major purchases promptly, and visibly keep up with the Joneses.

That era is dying. It’s not only dying, but the assumptions behind that form of material culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer protect you from want, from humiliation – in fact they are causes of humiliation, as anyone with a McMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods and an unsellable SUV has now learned at great cost.

Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.

Sell – even give away– anything you never use. Fancy ball gowns, tuxedos, beautiful shoes wrapped in bubblepak that you never wear, useless Christmas gifts from well-meaning relatives, junk that you inherited. Sell that stuff. Take the money, get a real bed. Get radically improved everyday things. — Sterling

What about you? Up for drinking the Kool-Aid and joining the Cult of Less?

Update: Browsing around after writing this, I stumbled across Sean Bonner’s neat technomads blog. There’s also some fiery comments on BoingBoing. Most of them applauded the Cult of Less but a number of folks complained that “it’s nothing new” (whatever, neither are many great philosophies — that doesn’t make them less relevant) or that it’s impossible to completing fulfill the pledge of owning nothing (I often hear that sort of challenge when I tell people I’m vegetarian). It’s like if you’re going to take a stance for an improved lifestyle, people are ready to poke a hole in it and claim your commitment dead because you ate a gummy bear. It’s the spirit and effort to hold yourself to an ideal that matters. Of course there are compromises, but it’s that negotiation between idealism and pragmatism that is compelling. Strive to land on the positive side, although it may not work out every time.

Friends from the Dutch FabLab network are in this 14min. documentary about fabbing and making by Elmine Wijnia.

A Shift: a documentary on FabLab in The Netherlands on Vimeo.

From betahaus

It might have been around for a couple of weeks already: We are about to add a new ingredient to the betahaus DNA this april. Together with palomar5, lasernlasern, bausteln and Mechatronik Werkstatt Berlin we will set up Berlin’s first fablab in the back of betahaus and it’ll go by the name of Open Design City and it will be delivered in beta. yay!

Thanks to the fellows above we already have got: a) a CNC router, b) a lasercutter, c) a makerbot, d) tools, some materials, workbenches, awesome space, good coffee.

Now we are looking for makers, baustlers, designers, DIY people, architects, disciples of arduino, open design or Gyro Gearloos or Doctor Snuggles that want to take the journey with us to berlins first fablab and beyond.

Our initial offer is a 200,- €/month membership that includes the use of the betahaus office space as well as the use of the fablab and it’s machines. We will figure out the rest, once you are there.

If you want to be part of it, please contact very quickly. We do have very limited space and time to set this all up and once the workspace ist sold out, it will take a while until we will be able to provide more space. Also if you think you have got a valuable machine to contribute to the fablab, get in contact with us. We will make a special offer for those that bring stuff.

All of us were thinking, planning, talking, thinking again, planning again, talking again about all the “hows” and “whens” regarding the foundation of a fablab the we finally figured out, the best way would be to deliver in beta and walk on from there together. We all believe, that the time couldn’t be better to start making and are excited like hell where this all will lead to.

Looking Forward to your Feedback

Your Open Design City Team

P.S.:  This Saturday (April 10) we will have an ODC Kickstart Event. With the enabling hand of Jay Cousins and Palomar5 we will build the blueprint for the Open Design City already in Cardboard. Thanks to Modulor we will have enough cardboard in place. You only need to bring Cutters and Scissors. The session will be embedded in the betahaus birthdayparty activity including some molecular cooking, fashion fleamarket and and awesome party at night. Drop in around 5 pm and bring your scissors!!!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining Martin Bauer (lasern lasern) on a roadtrip to Bremen. Up at the crack of dawn, we were bound for Fabcamp Bremen, a barcamp for fablab founders and enthusiasts organized by Axel Grischow and Karsten Joost The 5am wake-up and three hour drive was well-worth it!

We arrived in the Kunsthalle Bremen to a bubbling room of 30+ people, convening from all parts of Germany and the Netherlands to discuss how to bring Fablabs online in their cities and how to connect the projects. The Netherlands is leading the Fablab scene in Europe, by many accounts, and with great people like Ton Zijlstra, Peter Troxler, and Bart Kempinga, they’re really building an amazing community. Ton shared his thoughts on the Dutch Fablab network and why it was successful — an important difference between their set-up and Germany’s is the ease of founding a non-profit and collecting government money. Still, much of their impact can be replicated in Germany, I think, and to some extent, it’s already beginning.

In that vein, we learned about the first Fablab in Germany, launched in Aachen and represented by René Bohne, also known by his cocktail box fame (great idea, by the way). At Fabcamp, makers from Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, and of course Berlin were present, discussing their local challenges and learning from others what it take to bring a local fablabs online (in short, some starting capital, a decent space, and a core team to run it).

Fortunately, there’s been headway on the Berlin front. Betahaus, together with the Berlin maker-machers like Jay, Martin, Phillip and others, have been conspiring how to find the right machines, pay the rent, and get folks excited about making in this great city. The brainstorming is in its early stages, but these are the perfect people for the job, and it would do wonders to have a physical clubhouse for all the open design and fabbing this city pumps out.

To that end, and somewhat relatedly, the tentatively named “Berlin Beta Collective”, of which I am a part, is organizing an Open Design hub at DMY, the renown Berlin design festival. More on that later!

Back in Bremen, we were awed by the demos and ideas the participants brought with them. In particular, I found the total 3D modeling & printing solution from A1 Technologies to be quite impressive. Their set-up, available for under $2,000 and for the most part open sourced, brings you a 3D scanner (David), a haptic touch 3D modeling program, and the RapMan 3D printer. With this kit, you can scan any number of objects, manipulate them in your graphics program, and print out a prototype in a matter of minutes. A1 explained that their solution is great for the developing world and doctors on a budget; with their gear, you can scan vertebrae, tweak the contours, and print out a working piece for your patient right in the office.

Other fun toys were the immensely complex, multicolored 3D prototypes from fabtory. Granted, the machines they were using cost upwards of half a mil, but the products offered an outstanding range of possibilities. In one piece, for example, you could have 7 or more different consistencies of the material, or a blend of colors, or a crazy Obama bust with a photo of Merkel printed inside of it. These are definitely industry solutions for the time being, but as tools like Makerbot and RepRap become more sophisticated, I won’t be surprised to see such models popping up for a fraction of the cost.

Beyond the tech show-and-tell, it was great to meet the Fablabbers and talk about where the “movement” was headed in Europe. Business plans abound, but in many places, it still remains a challenge for these work/play stations to finance themselves. I’m really looking forward to collaborating with the Dutch teams, who were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and very open to helping bring the German scene online. Fortunately, we’ll be seeing more of them, like the Waag team who will join us at the Open Design event at DMY and the others at the annual global Fablab meet-up this year in Amsterdam.

A truly exciting time for “the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things”!