I have been involved in Protei (look up “Oil Compass”) in my past and now I also am a “member” of the OCP (OCP – ocean collaboration platform) initiative for sensing, exploring and cleaning oceans. One of the focus of these initiatives is mostly (and quite rightly) a development of open source/hardware tools/devices for ocean’s sensing, data gathering or oceans’ life healing and sustainability with aims to empower and benefit local communities. Often the communities which would really take advantage of developments from this type of enterprises are small fishing villages in remote locations, not very well connected to the internet grid and with not much technological resources.
The big portion of these pretty cool ventures however are happening not in these remote locations, but in hip workshops spaces/hacklabs/studios in Europe or North America (obviously I do not want to generalise – not all of them!!!) and so they often are very much detached from the communities for which their ideas/products are intended to be.
While looking at oceans’ waves on the coast of Africa, which weren’t even big, just regular waves pushing and pulling masses of water, one must appreciate the force of that element. My father who was sailing more that 40 years used to say that the longer he had been on the sea, he feared it more and more…The power of it is unpredictable and vast. I myself remember very well storms on the Atlantic Ocean, which make a heavy vessel carring 40000 (!) tonnes of stuff, swinging from side to side just like a tiny walnut’s shell. Unbelievable and scary.
So I have tried to imagine a minute in comparison, few meters long, unmanned, shape-shifting drone struggling on that waves in attempt to conquer them to, for example, sense some data. The prototypes which I have seen so far were equipped with fragile electronics located somewhere inside them, without a proper industrial protection. I fear that those drones would be smashed into pieces by one of these regular waves very fast. No chance of survival. Perhaps the shell might survive. But all the electronic guts from the inside would be dispersed all over the place between equator and Gibraltar.
If those tools are constructed for people living on coasts, in such a way, so that they can make one by themselves, using materials available to them – there is no way such a device will keep afloat on the open sea. Perhaps in the pool. Or a very quiet peaceful lake, but not on the proper, vast ocean.
So I have two major issues here. If those tools indeed are for communities to empower themselves, perhaps the strategy of making them must be re-visited? I sadly cannot help to solve that problem as I am not a marine engineer. The only thing i can say, that for now – for the near future – these tools might need to be manned – and supervised – especially those made with local materials . Possibly attached to the fishermen boats?
And secondly – while we are sitting in our funky hacklabs/studios congratulating ourselves on the urge of saving the world and doing something towards it (erhmmm -I am guilty as charged), perhaps we shall ask ourselves, or actually ask those people for whom we are making that – whether they actually want it. And if yes – what would they like to have?