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Protei Seminar at CUHK, Computer Science & Engineering

Protei Seminar at CUHK, July 7 2014, Computer Science & Engineering

The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of Computer Science and Engineering

Autonomous Shape-Shifting Sailing Robot,  Controls and Communications in a Modular Robot

Mr. Cesar HARADA
Former MIT project leader,
CEO Protei & Scoutbots,
Master Royal College of Arts London UK

  • Date : July 7, 2014 (Monday)
  • Time : 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Venue : Room 121, 1/F, Ho Sin-hang Engineering Building, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, N.T. MTR University Exit A

Total 50 seats. 30 seats for CUHK researchers, 20 for visitors. Please confirm you are coming on Facebook event.

Imagine a wind-powered sailboat that is shaped like a train. Each single wagon has it’s own Android device, control of shape and sail angle, it’s own power supply and dedicated sensors. The machine can work as one large machine (train) or as a fleet of independent agents disseminated in the ocean (swarm) to carry data collection or ocean clean up equipment. It would perform missions such as oil spill detection, radioactivity sensing, plastic pollution mapping, coral reef imaging, fish counting and other experiments. What on board app and server side software would need to be developed? How would we generate maps and make decisions based on these different streams of data? How can we make the system resilient while solving complex computational problems in a distributed, unstable and hostile environment?

Cesar Harada (30) is a French-Japanese environmentalist, inventor and entrepreneur based in Hong Kong. CEO of Protei INC (USA) and Scoutbots (HK) Cesar has dedicated his life to explore and protect the ocean with open technologies. Protei is a shape-shifting sailing robot, a wind-powered maritime drone that is remotely controlled or automated that will collect ocean data or transport clean-up equipment. Cesar is a Former MIT project leader, TED Senior Fellow, GOOD 100, IBM Figure of Progress, Unreasonable at Sea Fellow, Shuttleworth Foundation and Ocean Exchange grantee. Cesar won the Ars Electronica Golden Nica [NEXT IDEA] with his Master graduation project from the Royal College of Arts, London. Cesar has been teaching Masters in Design and Environment at Goldsmiths University in London, Versailles architecture School in France and lectured around the world. Cesar believes that nature, human and technology can coexist in harmony.

Enquiries: Miss Evelyn Lee at tel. 3943 8444
For more information, please refer to  &

Slides : / pdf 2mb

Developing a Plastic Sensor for the ocean

I feel so happy to happy to work with a group of the Hong Kong Harbour School kids to develop an optical plastic sensor for the ocean on Instructables!

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 20.40.48

You can download the current pdf here (4mb) :

Where is all the plastic in the ocean?

About 10 days ago, we went out with a little group of students and we intentionally spilled 138 gr of plastic samples in a small lake in Hong Kong to test our optical plastic particle sensor. After a few seconds we had to stop the test because our experiment became the feast of many fishes and turtles. It was terrifying to see how quickly plastic debris spread, how voraciously animals came to eat it and how difficult it was to clean it up. It took 10 of us, 4 boats and 40 minutes to clean 138 gr of plastic debris with no waves, no current and very moderate wind. Imagine tons of plastic debris in the open sea and all the animals there…

Today  I have been under an avalanche of questions about plastic pollution in the ocean. It seems hard to trust a reliable source of information or maybe it is the science that is moving very fast. People ask me maybe because I have sailed across the gyre myself, collected plastic samples in Hawaii, and nowadays working on an optical plastic sensor with a team of young students in Hong Kong when I am not developing a fleet of sailing robots that I hope one day will be out there measuring plastic and other pollutions like radioactivity, acidification, oil spills, overfishing and other urgent ocean issues. But to be honest I have much more questions than I have answers – at this stage we all do. I am writing to compile some informations I came across recently, trying to make sense and propose some ideas.


When we found out

“Every year we produce about 300 million tons of plastic, a portion of which enters and accumulates in the oceans. [...] In 2012 alone, 288 million tons of plastic were produced (PlasticsEurope 2013), which is approximately the same weight of the entire human biomass (Walpole et al., 2012). [...] The discovery of fragmented plastic during plankton tows of the Sargasso Sea in 1971 led to one of the earliest studies of plastic in the marine environment. Using a 333 micron surface net trawl, Carpenter and Smith collected small fragments of plastics in 1971, resulting in estimates of the presence of plastic particulates at an average of 3,500 pieces and 290 g/km2 in the western Sargasso Sea (Carpenter and Smith, 1972). Shortly after, Colton et al., (1974) surveyed the coastal waters from New England to the Bahamas and confirmed distribution of plastic all along the North Atlantic. These studies have been recently updated in two comprehensive studies of the North Atlantic gyre (K. L. Law et al., 2010; Moret- Ferguson et al., 2010). Indeed, plastic is found in most marine and terrestrial habitats, including bays, estuaries, coral reefs, lakes and the open oceans. (Rochman et al., 2014, Wright et al., 2013). The ingestion rate of plastic particles by mesopelagic fish species in this area is estimated between 12,000 and 24,000 ton/year (Davison and Asch, 2011).
“How the oceans can clean themselves, A feasibility Study” Ocean Cleanup Array, June 2014.


What we thought we knew

AVANI-trawl, photo marcus Eriksen

I trust Algalita Foundation and 5 gyres for that I was lucky to meet them in person and they had been to several gyres many times as an independent non-profit organisation. Below are some journeys they have done with a manta trawler as you see a picture of above. They explain their method very well and in simple words here.
In 2008, we had a horrifying map but we felt somehow confident about the data.

Plastic ocean Ma

In 2010, Dohan and Maximienko  (Illustration above, 2010. Oceanography 23, 94–103.), based on the trawler data by Algalita and other organisations produced this famous simulation of where we should expect plastic to be. Don’t be fooled by some pictures you probably saw of the “plastic continent”, such thing does not exist in the middle of the ocean.

Yet, the Algalita announced that “Estimates of plastic in the world’s oceans exceed 100 million tons. Though 20% comes from ocean sources like derelict fishing gear, 80% comes from land, from our watersheds.”

So at this stage, we thought, we would find tens of millions of tons of plastic debris in the gyres. Well…


What we think we know now

Thanks to Dr Blurton of the Hong Kong Harbour School who sent me the pdf, I was quite shocked with this new publication “Plastic debris in the open ocean” by Andrés Cózara, Fidel Echevarríaa, J. Ignacio González-Gordilloa, Xabier Irigoienb, Bárbara Úbedaa, Santiago Hernández-Leónd, Álvaro T. Palmae, Sandra Navarrof, Juan García-de-Lomasa, Andrea Ruizg, María L. Fernández-de-Puellesh, and Carlos M. Duartei. Good job ladies and gentlemen. The pdf is here :
I am selecting only some essential information but I recommend you to read the paper, it’s short, only 5 pages + references.

"Concentrations of plastic debris in surface waters of the global ocean" Plastic debris in the open ocean
In 2010 (yes, 4 years ago – but the paper has been published June 6th 2014), the team embarked on a sailing journey around the world as the “Malaspina science expedition” , doing  3,070 ocean samples with a manta trawler. The grey areas is where prior research ( explained above) suggest they would find plastic accumulation, and that was verified as you see with the yellow, orange and red dots. But…

“Those little pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, can last hundreds of years and were detected in 88 percent of the ocean surface sampled during the Malaspina Expedition 2010,” lead researcher and the author of the study Andres Cozar from the University of Cadiz, told AFP. The total amount of plastic in the open-ocean surface is estimated at between 7,000 and 35,000 tons, according to the report. This amount, though big, is lower than the scientists expected.”

"Range of the global load of plastic debris in surface waters of the open ocean" Plastic debris in the open ocean

  • Before this paper, much of the attention was focused toward the North Pacific Garbage Patch => turns out all the other oceans are in bad shape too.
  • Before this paper, we knew plastic was present in all oceans but the general consensus was that it was accumulating in the center of the gyres mostly => Now we have measured plastic to be present on 88% of the world ocean surface. Pretty much everywhere.
  • Before this paper, the estimates were ranging from tens of millions of tons to hundred of millions of tons => Now maximum 35’000 tons. [silence] 35’000 tons? That’s it!!!??? Is that amazing good news, or is that bad news!?


What we (think we) really know now

Out of the estimated millions of tons of plastic debris we emit, we can now only find at most 35’000 tons spread over 88% of the oceans. S0 we know now where is less than 1% of the plastic we anticipated finding. Where is the 99%+ of the rest of the plastic? This is really embarrassing.


The media is going crazy about it

The articles about this are popping out from all part, I wont try to keep track of all the links, because they are pretty much all based on the same paper I mentioned above. Many are spreading panic, instead of awareness unfortunately.


What will the Ocean CleanUp  Array collect?

Back in October 2012 “according to Boyan Slat’s calculations, a gyre could realistically be cleaned up in five years’ time, collecting at least 7.25 million tons of plastic combining all gyres. He however does note that an ocean-based cleanup is only half the story, and will therefore have to be paired with ‘radical plastic pollution prevention methods in order to succeed.” (Wikipedia, retrieved July 2nd, 2014). 

In June 2014, in the feasibility study : “The Ocean Cleanup Array is estimated to be 33 times cheaper than conventional cleanup proposals per extracted mass of plastics. In order to extract 70 million kg (or 42 percent) of garbage from the North Pacific Gyre over 10 years, we calculated a total cost of 317 million euro.”

Multilevel Trawl

Sure, the “multi-level trawler” (p102 0f the Feasibility Study)  used by the Ocean Cleanup team is radically different from the “regular manta trawler” everybody else uses. But the difference of plastic quantity is not found here either. There are so many variables to making a correct plastic measurement, the speed of the boat, the size of the mesh, the position of the trawler in the regards to the wake of the boat, the wind and the waves …

So, how can the Ocean Cleanup collect 70’000 tons from the North Pacific Gyre alone if the most recent estimate of ALL the plastic in ALL ocean surface combined is only of 35’000 tons? And how can this information even be trusted when ” Last year, an estimated 150,000 tons of marine plastic debris ended up on the shores of Japan and 300 tons a day on India’s coasts ( retrieved July 3rd 2014)”.  If this recent study  from the Malaspina expedition confirms true, would the collection of plastic debris with the Ocean Cleanup array be less meaningful? And less profitable if at all? But wait, that is not the question. Of course we need to stop emitting plastic in the ocean – that’s not a new idea and that is self-evident. And of course we must collect the plastic that is already out there and will continue to accumulate in the ocean – even if it is expensive instead of profitable. I personally support Boyan Slat and his team. No matter how many people say “this is impossible” someone has got to try. Even if it is to fail, we must try and try again, again we succeed. This technology, or another technology.

But the real question remains : where is the plastic? How can we have plastic measurements dropping so dramatically?


How can we find out what is really going on?

Such a large amount of plastic has not disappeared over night, between 2008 (Algalita estimate) and 2010 (Malaspina measurements).

Scientists argue that :

  • some plastic breaks down so small, it goes through the fine plankton net they use. Plastic still floats but we can’t be measured unless we use an extra finer mesh that is probably more fragile, forcing the ship to move the trawler even slower (it was already recommended to sail at 2 Nautical Knots, well up to 8 knots for the fast Erikson trawler).
  • the plastic chemical composition changes causing it to distribute in the water column or sink at the bottom of the ocean
  • the plastic is being ingested by animals and is being pooped, dropping to the bottom of the ocean, or it moves into the food web with all it’s toxics and until it eventually reached our plates

But we don’t know yet in which proportions each of these phenomenon happen at all yet.


Some ideas

Optical sensing

If the plastic is so small that it go through the mesh, maybe it is not a mesh we should be using to measure plastic. What about optics?
For a long time Laser Optical Plankton Counters (LOPC) have been in use to measure plankton. We don’t collect physical sample, we collect data, the machine can keep running without interruption, the data is more granular and instantly processed.

Laser-Optical Plankton Counter (LOPC)  Laser-Optical Plankton Counter (LOPC)

In the LOPC, water carrying plankton is  flowing. The plankton is being “flashed” by a laser and it is from the outline it that is then counted automatically.

Laser-Optical Plankton Counter (LOPC)

Mobile sensing platform

Haching a video water channel at the Hong Kong aharbour School

With a motivated group of young students, we hacked a low cost water video channel.

Testing the Ocean Plastic optical sensor, Hong Kong Harbour School

We attached our optical sensor to a small Remote Controlled (RC) power boat. As we sailed, some water that contains plastic debris was video recorded and the plastics bits were also captured in the pink net at the back of the video channel. The point of the pink net is too measure the plastic physically collected that has travelled through the video channel, and compare it with the estimate that we can make from the video alone. We have not done that experiment comparison yet, but it would give us an idea of how reliable our video estimate is in comparison to the real measured weight of plastic collected.

We managed to capture video of plastic particles moving through the video channel. This still very rough.


Motion tracking of plastic parts

We have been very lucky to get some help from Edward Fung who started to tinker with the video on OpenCV.


Isolation and quantification of plastic

Now, it would be great if we could find out what is plastic and what is not. One of the greatest difficulty being that plastic debris becomes a habitat or a transport for a lot of marine life. How can an untrained software (as opposed to a machine learning based software) distinguish plastic from something else? Typically a plastic fragment would be wrapped into a “bubble” of organic matter, making it more difficult to isolate from an optical perspective. Thankfully, one student in our team, Brandon Wong found out this research :

“We succeeded in developing technology that is capable of sensing plastics using an InGaAsP (Indium Gallium Arsenide Phosphide) semiconductor laser diode (LD)

It was discovered that upon measuring light absorption spectra in plastics, in the wavelength range of 300 to 3000 nm, the peak values were always observed at or near 1700 nm, regardless of plastic types. This discovery opened the possibility for simple optical sensing of plastics with the use of a LD in this wavelength range. Observation of unique light absorption characteristics within the near infra-red spectrum of each different plastic type has led us to develop the world’s first technology capable of detecting different types of plastics with the use of a LD (with three different wavelengths).”

So this is really exciting if we could use the right “lighting” and camera to optically detect such great variety of plastic. There are several inspiring DIY spectrometer projects out there to get inspired from. Check also the Riffle with Optical data logger capacity.


Size adjustment

If we manage to get that optical detection running, the last but not least challenge may be to scale  from a regular webcam to a microscope-scaled system.


"Size distribution of floating plastic debris collected during the Malaspina circumnavigation at calm conditions." Plastic debris in the open ocean

According to the research done during the Malaspina Ocean Expedition the plastic particles we are trying to measure are very very small… Could we be heading in the direction of microfluidic systems?

If the plastic debris we are trying to test are incredibly small, could we control the flow in a very precise yet robust way to perform spectral and / or chemical analysis? Many questions to explore…

So with such a system, could we answer the 2 first questions? :

  • sensing plastic that is extremely small
  • sensing plastic that is small and broken and sunk at the bottom of the ocean – that would imply that this machine can be taken thousands of meter deep : super high-pressure resistant

I day dream that a fleet of autonomous sailing robots doing the remote sensing work. In fact the Ocean Cleanup feasibility study mentions the relevance of deploying such sensor network system in it’s recommandation pages :

P439_Ocean cleanup array_TOC_Feasibility_study_lowres

Is that a fleet of Protei right there :) !?

And now the third question ? What part do animals have in the “plastic disappearing” plot? We wont be able to see that in an optical system unless we’re dealing with tiny transparent animals.


Animal testing

I feel terrible for even thinking about this but that is just an idea at this stage. What I am about to propose might be totally unethical, I don’t know. Marine biology and toxicology are not my areas at all. Forgive my ignorance and please correct anything wrong that I may propose, please comment to help.

As I used as this post introduction, our experience with dispersing 138gr of plastic had become a spill in a few seconds on which turtles and fishes came to feast. We had to interrupt the experiment and it took 10 of us during 40 minutes to collect 138gr of plastic debris with 4 boats on a lake that had no current, no waves and very moderate wind. What we learnt is that turtles and fishes love to eat plastic. In fact many studies about suffering, dead animal dissection and observation of carcasses indicate that birds, and marine animals feed abundantly on plastic. But how do you measure how much plastic an animal is willing to eat when given the choice?

In a controlled environment – say a box – we place an aquatic animal. We feed this animal a mix of plastic and “real” food in equal quantities with an excess of overall quantity.

  • Will the animal eat more food or plastic (behaviour)? Will that behaviour change over time? Does the animal develop a preference for certain plastic? By the taste? Smell? Texture? Colour? Motion?
  • How much plastic would still remain untouched in the environment?
  • How much plastic will travel through the digestive system?
  • How much plastic would remain within the digestive system? And if so, how much would the plastic be digested if at all?
  • What are the short term symptoms of plastic poisoning (mechanical) ?
  • What are the long term symptom of plastic poisoning (chemical)?
  • What is the lethal dose for type A / B / C / D / Plastic?
  • What is the most lethal shape or size of plastic fragment?
  • Is an animal dead by plastic attractive as a food form for another carcasses-eating animals?
  • When an animal dies and decompose, how much of the overall plastic of the experiment remains?

many more questions could be asked and variables included such as the size of the box, the season, the age of the animal, the sex, social learning doing the experiment with multiple animals simultaneously.


Who is active in Hong Kong?

There are several groups in Hong Kong interested in the topic of plastic pollution


My non-conclusion

What we thought we know about plastic pollution has just been challenged in a very big way. And I believe this will happen again soon as we investigate.
The plastic pollution is present at a whole different scale, both small for the particle size and huge by it’s distribution over pretty much the entire ocean surface (88%) and abyssal depths.
The effects of plastic pollution at theses scales are still very unknown. As we keep developing new concepts for ocean cleaning we are still lacking understanding of where is the plastic, how is it transformed while travelling great distances? How does it impact marine life? How does plastic and it’s chemical compounds travel through the food chain to our plates? What are the consequences on human health? What can we do about it?

The more we learn about plastic in the ocean and the more we understand how harmful of a substance it is. And as André Cózar concludes in this important paper.

The abundance of nano-scale plastic particles has still not been quantified in the ocean, and the measurements of microplastic in deep ocean are very scarce, although available observations point to a significant abundance of microplastic particles in deep sediments, which invokes a mechanism for the vertical transport of plastic particles, such as biofouling or ingestion. Because plastic inputs into the ocean will probably continue, and even increase, resolving the ultimate pathways and fate of these debris is a matter of urgency.

So many more questions now… But 2 ideas how to investigate. More ideas? Suggestions? Readings?


The Future of Maker Space a “Seeing Space” ?


What if we designed a new kind of “maker space” — a space that isn’t just for putting pieces together, but also for seeing and understanding a project’s behaviour in powerful ways?

- seeing inside
- seeing across time
- seeing across possibilities

“I think people need to work in a space that moves them away from the kinds of non-scientific thinking that you do when you can’t see what you’re doing — moves them away from blindly following recipes, from superstitions and rules of thumb — and moves them towards deeply understanding what they’re doing, inventing new things, discovering new things, contributing back to the global pool of human knowledge.”

Presented at the EG conference on May 2, 2014.
Art by David Hellman.

Bret Victor —

I really enjoyed watching this brilliant video by Bret Victor. Thanks Stewart McKenzie for sharing this on the Hong Kong HackJam group on facebook.  I have been thinking a lot about these “issues” because I build robots (and typically the workshop building and buy the tools too). For the moment, my robots are pretty dumb, but I imagine the day they “become smarter”  it will become increasingly difficult to understand them, especially if they operate far from sight, in the ocean. Hopefully the dashboard does not have to be a massive control room, but maybe just a few screen (a dashboard), or something more immersive that -hopefully- many people could afford - because we ought to make a fleet!

Recently I started teaching to young kids about robotics, hacking, environmental sensing. We started building a workbench, and just a few days ago  the sensor part of the robot. In our last class the students were divided in 2 teams, one is “electro-mechanics”, the other is “electronics and software”. I insisted we have a 3rd group that would be “environment and protocol” but no kid wanted to join. Because they perceived that the environment and protocol is not a “thing”. In fact the environment is the “thing” we work in. It determines, it is the conditions of all the experiments and cannot be overlooked.

I believe most of what is described in this video to exist in many places where people do “experimental physics“. I was very fortunate to be involved in such environment where we study things by “seeing” them. But I must stress that we SENSE more than we SEE. Seeing is merely just one of the way we document the experiments we conduct. In fact putting the emphasis and naming the whole system a “seeing space” is rather misleading I feel. I believe we have passed the “society of the spectacle”, and we are in the making of the “sensing” (with the internet of things), and perhaps one day “thinking” and “feeling” society. But that’s another debate.

The aesthetics of a sensing space

I was also lucky to be the assistant of Usman Haque and Adam Somlai Fisher years ago in the making of Reconfigurable house / Scattered house in London.

Contrary to what Bret Victor suggested, the reconfigurable house was aimed to be cheap. I really want to see a “Seeing space” made with low cost HD webcams, because hey, they do exist very much. The reconfigurable house was made with hundreds of extremely cheap sensors hacked out of toys. The overall aesthetics was perhaps a “vibrant and healthy mess” but I believe that the aesthetics of the space were inviting to make and experiment / sense.

I have seen several sterile lab spaces and unproductive messy hackerspaces but I claim these are nothing but caricatures. Some tidy labs and messy hackerspace do awesome work, the opposite also exist. I feel the video presents a space that is a little bit too tidy and expensive to be “truly” creative. If you have to be too careful when you make a move, it’s hard to “move fast and break things“. But maybe it was required to “sell” the project – or make newbies / investors feel more comfortable about the whole project – I would understand. It is hard to find that balance of tidiness and transient creative energy but I believe it is also our responsibility and discipline to share the aesthetics that most likely will help science emerge from tinkering. Thanks Bret Victor. I look forward to see your sensing space come to life :)


Tesla going Open Source

Thanks to my friend Clement Epie who sent me this link :

Elon Musk (Tesla electric cars, SpaceX) announced to go open source. That’s huge. Mr Musk, if you are reading this, you have now become my hero, officially.

I have been following Elon Musk for a couple of years now. Since the first time I saw him, he struck me as someone that is genuine. I was very touched when I saw him nearly crying when he was criticised by Neil Amstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and one of the men he most respects, in the video at the bottom of this post. I also felt his experience “Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death” echoed with my experience at the time.

I am reposting his post underneath because I agree with it all, it is concise yet contains all the right arguments for a big company to become open source.

Girl geek starring at wall of patents
Visitor Starring at the Wall of patents at Tesla motors that no longer is.

“June 12, 2014
All Our Patent Are Belong To You
By Elon Musk, CEO

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.

At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.

At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.

Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.”

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour”.

Scoutbots & Protei core values published!

originally posted on

It’s a big step I feel. I just published our company licenses, documentation, core values, order of priorities and our people’s page. It is a long overdue and these documents will change but we are really growing as a company and myself as a leader. I am grateful to our supporting partner SOW Asia incubating i2i program because they have greatly contributed to formalise these documents that will help us grow.

Below is a video of Tony Hsieh, Founder and President at Zappos, explaining how they came about and what their core values mean.

Our values are a mix of The Maker’s bill of Rights, Zappos core values, the seven virtues of the bushido  and the scout rules and methods – which make total sense to me :D When talking to potential investors / sponsors, we had sent them hints about our values but now it’s on our website, “it is official” :)

Our licenses has actually been decided long ago when we published our first big report back in 2011. At the time we had been very much influenced by Arduino intellectual property setup and business model. We have decided to upgrade for the CERN Open Hardware license for that it looks like it is the most “mature” Open Hardware license we can find out there and that it is actively being updated.

The documentation has been one of the main problem in defining the standard of the young Open Hardware movement (first Open Hardware Summit was in 2010 in Queens NY). There have been a lot of discussions, but there is no set standard yet, more a recommandation list. We follow that trend even though at some point we would want to define a minimum of set required documents to qualify as an Open Hardware project.

The adventure continues!

My yurt in the city

I have been asked many times how I built a yurt in central London that is adapted to the urban environment, british weather and local ressources at low cost. I am not going to make an instructables about it, but I have a selection of pictures that I hope will help you if you want to make your own. Do not forget to add many sandbags against the walls inside the structures to hold it from flying away with the wind. Also  have a fire extinguisher at all times nearby. All the photos underneath are by Photographer Moritz Steiger |

My yurt in the city

My yurt in the city

My yurt in the city

My yurt in the city

My yurt in the city


How I made it. Thanks to friends for help :

What is a windtrain?

Original post on Scoutbots here.

Maybe you have heard through social media that we have been working on a new type of terrestrial sailing machine we call “Windtrain” – we also have now the domain. Now you must be wondering “how is this going to help the oceans?” – and you are right to ask. Well, let me explain : a few weeks ago, we were testing Protei “Rationale” in Hong Kong and we left the workshop with a good wind forecast. By the time we arrived, there was no more wind. Bummer. It happened a few times and I started to feel frustrated. So I thought it might be a clever idea to build a sail testing platform on wheel that I could use on the parking lot next to our workshop. Windtrain was born! I also realised that many people have a hard time understanding how Protei – the shape shifting sailing robot – works, because it is in the water ; while a land-based equivalent would be understood by a greater number of people. Also many things that we would learn from Windtrain can be transposed to Protei.

windtrain first test

Let’s face it, Windtrain Zero was not spectacularly mobile :) It moved a little bit but… not something to be hugely proud of :)

Followed a sleepless night : Windtrain “Mister T” was born, for that it is based not on an “+ frame” but on a “T frame”. And it sailed beautifully on Kam Sheung Road MTR parking lot.

That was too exciting to stop there, so I kept going!
For the next version, I decided to bet everything : build a giant Windtrain, 6m, still controlled by the same tiny servomotor : will it work? We had no idea, so we called it “Heads or tails” :) Guillaume Dupont helped me test this one at the Hong Kong Science Park.

To me, what is really beautiful about the Windtrain is that the huge machine is still controlled by a tiny servomotor that uses about the same energy than an iphone ringing.

We only had 24 hours before I would fly to Estonia and demo this new concept when we realised that transporting the Windtrain “Heads or tails” that is 6m long + , would be a problem – oops. So, in a situation of total emergency, we had to develop, build and pack Windtrain “Baltic”, which is the one at the very top of this post. Windtrain was presented for the first time publicly at TEDxTallinn with this slideshow commenting about the history of transportation.

So what’s next? We’ll keep developing the Windtrain until we have a first stable version that is easy to manufacture and ship. So everyone can buy, improve and share :) In other words, you will soon see the Windtrain in our shop and you will be able to buy it online :) We cannot say exactly when or how much it is going to cost but stay tuned :) Exciting !!!

Life drawing / changing workshop

This is my slides for the GOOD100 + you workshop that took place in Hong Kong Paperclip with Rachel Chan, on the invitation of GOOD HK Chapter leader Maggie Lin.  Thanks to all for coming !

That’s a 20 minutes video that explains the process in more details :)

20140426 Ocean Plastic Debris Optical Sensor. Research Proposal for DIY low cost sensor

I am interested in developing a low cost, DIY plastic debris sensor that would be mounted on the bow of regular ships, boats … or an autonomous sailing robot :p
The project was suggested by both Doug Woodring of Ocean Recovery Alliance and Christine Greenberg of the Harbour School, Hong Kong. The concept was born during a conversation with Hank Carson (Hilo University of Hawaii), Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummings (5 Gyres) in January 2013 while sailing on the MV Explorer across the Pacific Ocean and after a visit of Kamilo Beach south of big Island.

In a nutshell and richly illustrated :
Plastic ocean map, macro, micro debris
The ocean have millions of tons of plastic, but it tend to be broken down so small, the naked eye cannot see it.

Current technology _ manta trawler
Currently we are using large extremely expensive research vessels to drag plankton manta trawlers and we count plastic bits manually under a microscope. It is slow, expensive and potentially dangerous.

our solution
I suggest we use a machine similar to an LOPC (Laser Optical Particle Counter) that marine biologist use to count plankton, but refit them to measure plastic. This machine could be installed at the bow of ship. A vertical stack of them would allow the continuous collection of plastic as well as plankton data, at different depth. I insist, we would not collect physical samples, only data. This system would provide near-real-time plankton / plastic qualification and quantification, much higher resolution, and all of that without human repetitive labour. I believe that such installation at the bow of a ship would be safer and attractive since the ship could sail much faster than with a trawler. The idea is to make the system lightweight and low cost so it could be mounted not only on research vessels, but on any type of vessel becoming a sort of Ship of Opportunity.

In the document I outline a roadmap to develop the sensor, from the lab, to the river, to the ocean. I am aware that few micro-plastic debris can be found in rivers, mostly large debris that end in the ocean where they are broken down with the action of UV, salt, the mechanical action of wave and animal bites.

Step 1 : recreate the elements of study and the conditions.
Plastic, algae, plastic + algea

Step 2 : create a “loop” where water flows carrying plastic debris as well as plankton and contaminated plastic debris.

Step 3 : Get out of the lab and test the counter in an open channel.

Step 4 : try out a stack of channels in the open sea.
our solution
Step 5 : map the data.
plastics map


This is a very exciting topic for me and I look forward to update you about our progress – that will be logged on

You can view and comment the original document (much longer) here :

Please let me know if  you are interested in helping on the project. We need expertise in :

  • optics
  • image processing (still and video)
  • electronics
  • fluid mechanics
  • GIS
  • marine biology
  • physical oceanography
  • underwater robotics
  • statistics

Thank you for reading.

How do you make money with Open Hardware?

Protei 011.1 test in Lamma Island Hong Kong
Photo by Meng Lau [] Cesar Harada, holding Protei 011.1 in Lamma Island, Hong Kong.

I should say as a preface is that I am far from being rich (in money) but I am rich in ideas about how one can make money from Open Hardware. Just a few minutes ago I sent this email to an academic friend of mine who is trying to convince his senior University staff how Open Hardware can be profitable. I am sharing this for myself as research note, but also because it might help other people doing Open Hardware work to explain what they do, and how they might sustain it. The technology I am commenting about is Protei, the Open Hardware, Shape-Shifting Sailing robot to explore and protect the ocean.

A/ how you make your profit based on open source hardware and software?

On top of my head writing in the MTR (Hong Kong train system) I can give you a few short term ways to profit from an open source technology.

Open Hardware does not mean free :

  1. We make and sell boats. Either on demand, small scale, middle or large scale manufacturing
  2. We can operate boats and replace multi-million operations
  3. We can sale software, on the boats and server side
  4. We sell services at sea (communication, sampling etc)
  5. We collect data that we can sell
  6. We can analyze data and sell that to policy makers or other labs
  7. We can do consulting work to improve other boats
  8. We keep inventing new things thanks to the community inspiration
  9. We get money from donations because people understand this is an amazing technology and what it does for the world
  10. We get funding from private sources, like sponsorship
  11. We get funding from the public state, because we do it for the general interest
  12. We get to teach about the new tech
  13. Oh! … And we can get paid to do the research :)

On the long term open source could mean that other people fork your technology – transforming your technology / product into a market.
Product -> Market. So suddenly you would benefit from people improving on your work, and you can improve of theirs.

I like to think about it this way :
You can become a leader by taking an unfair advantage and keeping it
You stay a leader by fairly inviting everyone to enjoy the advantage you found.

So it is not about developing a cool technology but also about building a vibrant community around the technology. In fact even if you started it, the community will overtake the technology and make it its own. That is particularly true about science and innovation. The more people would cite you, extend your work, improve it the more valuable you will be recognize as the source.
In the industrial context the more people copy, the more influence. The history of Arduino is a great example of that, now you can find hundreds of copycat, their brand is thriving more than ever. Your competition becomes essentially your best advertising. And they automatically become part of your community and you can learn from their improvement. It is not about control, it is about having access and making sense of the information. Building the intelligence nexus, is how you stay the leader in your area. We cannot control the boat makers, but we can become the resource where everyone goes to, and share their improvements and new ideas.

Two closing references

And, yeah, let’s explore and protect the oceans with Open Technologies!

20140422 Gamers controlling fleets of robots at sea? Protei at Polytechnic U. Hong Kong, Game Design Department

It’s a great pleasure for me to present Protei at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and brainstorm how Protei could be used by gamers.

  • Time : 19:00 – 20:00. Tuesday April 22nd, 2014
  • Location : V1124, School of Design, The Jockey Club Innovation Tower. Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

Below are my slides :


Thanks to Prof Gino Yu and Hanna Wirman for the invitation.

20140419 Lunchbox in space

Today, I was really enthralled to witness the launch of a lunchbox in (near) space by the  Hong Kong Space Group, going after the Global Space Balloon Challenge. The balloon started flight around 11:00 and descended at around 13:00. Here is a short video of the launch :
The official video is here :

launching a camera in near space
The team is

  • Andy Kong – Mission Control
  • Allen – Software Guru
  • James – Plane Designer
  • Henry – Plane Designer
  • Ricky – Balloon Specialist
  • Marcus – Test pilot
  • Marc – Classified
  • Sunny – Software

Many Dim Sum Lab members joined the launch. The lunchbox is currently drifting in the middle of the ocean, if you can collect you and return it to to Andy Kong, there is 500 HKD reward for it :) Current location is being updated on the group blog :
We all hope we can get the blue box back and enjoy the video it has taken, most likely looking like this one :

This is what the box looks like inside.
Dim Sum lab member about to launch a camera in space
The team had made very nice job sharing their research, about the weight calculation of the balloon, the camera control, they used the ardupilot (manual) and they even logged and published the data of their last crash. I would love to have the full parts list and diagrams perhaps. The video feed did not work today during the flight even though it worked before during tests.

I’m excited to meet great people with creative technology initiatives in Hong Kong and I hope great collaborations with Protei will happen in near future

Skype in the classroom : Develop Innovative Open Ocean Technology

Develop Innovative Open Ocean Technology - skype in the classroom

Next week I am going to be teaching a class on the theme of “Develop Innovative Open Ocean Technology” on skype, for free. You can attend, but please do let me know when you want it to happen here by voting your preferred time : The pool will be closed this friday nov 9th.

About this Skype lesson
In 2010, when the BP Oil Spill was pouring in the Gulf of Mexico, Cesar Harada left MIT and moved to the Gulf to develop an Open Source robot to clean up oil spill. From a friend’s garage he developed “Protei” the revolutionary shape-shifting sailing robot that would sail upwind pulling a long oil sorbent to clean up the oil slick. After a successful Kickstarter campaign the newly-assembled Protei team embarked on building Protei_006 in Rotterdam (NL), the largest shape shifting sailing robot to date. In 2013 CEO Harada and COO Gabriella Levine sailed around the world testing Protei technology and developing a business strategy for an innovation that has the potential to drastically lower the cost of surface exploration and cleaning the ocean with an open technology. Protei aims at manufacturing it’s first batch of commercial autonomous sailing robots by the end of 2013 from their newly built Hong Kong Headquarters with their manufacturing partner Seeedstudio in Shenzhen.

In this class, Harada would briefly explain Protei concept, history and future development and will invite you for questions. The themes that we would talk about are ocean robotics, open hardware for the environment, ethics of business for ocean healthy future.

The videos the participants should watch before the class are :
And imagine what a swarm of highly maneuverable robots could do for the oceans (as maneuverable as these flying quadrotors):

Participants should also read

The places are limited, so looking forward to see you there :)
For questions, you can join me here cesarminoruharada – knock knock : do not call during the class  :p

Creativity Lab CUHK

Today I was very happy to make a first meeting with the great people of Creativity Lab in CUHK.
The lab is not opened yet, so everything is still to be done ! How exciting! Thanks for your warm welcome!

CUHK Creativity Lab [ in progress ]

Original file with videos :