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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?


Cesar HARADA at TEDxTallinn Estonia

My slides are here

The prototype that I presented to demo was tested (for the first time) the next morning in the parking lot in front of the hotel :

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 :)

Association pour le Progrés du Management APM Marseille, France

A few days ago, I was lucky to be invited to speak in front of about 3000 leaders at the bi-annual APM gathering in Marseille on the topic “Renaissance & Entrepreneurship, New Ways». The organization was seamless, the stage and screens gigantic, the audience smart and enthusiastic. I loved it. I was there as a young tech / green entrepreneur using innovative methods to reach an international audience. I was honored to share the stage with amazing intellectuals such as Jacques Attali, Serge Soudoplatoff, Pierre-Marie Lledo, Axel Kahn, Florence Servan-Schreiber, Cynthia_Fleury, Jean-Francois Noubel and more.
My 3 key themes were :

  1. Innovation, the shape shifting hull and modular sailing drone
  2. Open Hardware for the Environment, inviting company leaders to change how they approach intellectual property
  3. Global collaboration, to solve world pressing problems

I presented more than 200 slides with many videos and several people asked me to post my presentations : they are below. You can flick through the slides and simply click the links on connected articles / sources / videos.

Pleinière (12 minutes, ˜3000 people)

#1 Entreprendre pour l’environnement (45 minutes, ˜90 people)

#2 Crowd Sourcing (45 minutes, ˜90 people)

#3 Open hardware pour l’Environnement (45 minutes, ˜90 people)

#4 Océans espace d’Opportunités (45 minutes, ˜90 people)

I really enjoyed sharing my experience during this event, the many smart & difficult questions, the great conversations. I want to send a special thanks to Marc Tirel (for introduction), Fleurke Combier (from APM), Marion Chapsal (coach Yves Rajaud and all the workshop animators – you have been amazing. Also great thanks to my agent who has organized all the logistics of the event, the magic Lavin Agency.

It was my first time in Marseille, I loved the classic small yachts in the Vieux Port.
work in Marseille old port.

Even If I must admit, I did not take much time out of my hotel room :)
work in Marseille old port.

I will come again. The adventure continues!

Internship with Protei : deadline extended October 7th

Product Development Internship. Design and Engineer Ocean Robots / 產品研發實習生:海洋機器人設計及製造  >> Download PDF

Web Community Development Internship. Development of a collaboration platform for ocean roboticists  / 網絡社區拓展實習生:建立一個海洋機器人的協作平台.   >> Download PDF

Social Entrepreneurship Internship. Ocean robots, marketing and strategy / 社會企業發展實習生:市場營銷策略 >> Download PDF

Protei is recruiting 3 interns to explore and save the oceans

Protei, the Open Hardware, shape-shifting sailing robot,  is about to come out to the world.
We are looking to grow our team to take part into this great adventure.
We are looking for 3 smart, hard working good people  for

If you know people in Hong Kong, or people passionate about the oceans, robotics, Open Technologies for the Environment, please share – Thanks!



2013 Lamma Island Oil Spill needs more Research & Cleaning

On July 14th, my girlfriend and were hiking on Lamma Island (Hong Kong) for her birthday. I was told there had been a small oil spill recently, but I did not expect to see it when we arrived in Tung O Wan, Shek Pai Wan (22.196649, 114.139827).

“June 21, a 10m x 15m slick was reported in waters off Tung O Wan, and a 100m x 15m slick was seen on Tung O Wan beach. The department cleaned small oil patches off Tung O Wan on June 22 and 23, and will send samples of the oil to the Government Laboratory for analysis.”

We made this video with our mobile phone that day, thanks to Nadege Nguyen.

Dissection of a crab

Crab Lungs affected by Oil Spill

Panorama & Photos

Lamma Oil Spill 2013, Panorama, Shek Pai Wan 2013 07 14

Oil Spill at Shek Pai Wan, Lamma Island
That’s how we saw the beach on the July 14th 2013. All the black slug you see on the rocks is oil.

I guess that’s the oil as it was reaching shore a fews days after June 21st 2013 (Aerial photography).

That was before the oil spill. It would be good to get back to this state.

Proposal for further Research & Cleaning

Shek Pai wan site needs more research and more cleaning.

  1. Biological analysis. Sampling crabs, fishes, turtles, shells and study their respiratory, digestive, endocrine and reproductive systems. 
  2. Aerial Photography & Mapping with visible and infrared spectrum.
  3. Underwater photography and mapping with visible and infrared spectrum
  4. Water sample Spectrography to detect traces of oil  (and perhaps other chemicals) in water

All research would be done using Open Source technology and the findings published as we go.

I am looking for Hong Kong residents to collaborate, please get in touch :

First day in Hong Kong

I arrived yesterday in Hong Kong. I have been thinking about this day for some time, to “make it in China”. It is good for the company. It’s going to be good for me. My very first moments with the bus driver wanting to charge me twice, and the taxi driver not speaking any english refusing to pick me regardless of my heavy luggage were difficult. But since,  everything feels more than right.

Getting closer to Shenzhen. Hong kong

Cycling around Hong Kong New Territories, north east area.

The buildings seem to emerge, growing from the lush vegetation. The temperature is very high and humid.  It’s been raining a lot.

Cycling around Hong Kong New Territories, north east area.

The place where I am staying is a large truck repair yard owned by the father of my friend. My family in Japan are metallic structure builders, the same smell, I feel at home here. We eat all the meals together, with the grand-mother, the parents, the children, the grand children. I really love that 4 generations are living under the same roof peacefully.

View 20130610 Hong Kong in a larger map

For my first day, I was supposed to go to town and find out about the basics : food, transport, communication, but… I got distracted :) The incredibly kind landlord, the father of my friend allowed me to borrow this mountain bike… and as I was going to get office supply, I got carried away and started a 30 miles journey, some of wich was on broken roads in the mountains.
Cycling around Hong Kong New Territories, north east area.

On the way I found possibly great spots to test Protei.
Cycling around Hong Kong New Territories, north east area.

The Bay between Shenzhen and Hong Kong is filled with long and narrow vessels.

Cycling around Hong Kong New Territories, north east area.

 At some point, what was a road just became a dry waterfall. An accidental canyon.

Cycling around Hong Kong New Territories, north east area.

Overall I am so happy to be here. This is where we must be now. On the edge.

20130510 Amazing day at the New Lab, Brooklyn Navy Yard

Brooklyn Navy Yard
I wasn’t too sure what I was getting into when I approached this building.
Well it is called the “Brooklyn Navy Yard“, by the water, just opposite of Manhattan. My friend Architect Mitchell Joachim told me there would be a ton of good people there…

View Larger Map

Brooklyn Navy Yard
Many important people were there! Here’s the menu – I arrived late and missed most of them. Super New York VIP I guarantee.

They were discussing how this was like that :

That today it is like that :

And that in about 2 years it should be like that :

Wow !

120227 Mind Map for website

They want to turn this abandoned shipyard into a nexus of design, manufacturing, education, community, freelance economy – coworking space, incubator etc… WOWOWOWOW! The people in charge of this transformation are Macro-Sea, check them out. I invite you read the New York Times article if you want to know more about the politics of it.

And the people already installed in the place make an impressive group :

Yeah, I know, we are moving to Hong Kong, but I am super excited knowing that a home for Protei might be under construction in New York ;) Gabriella is from here and we dream of being allowed using a table there for now :)

Brooklyn Navy Yard
The New Lab has this huge terrace…

Brooklyn Navy Yard Drydock
And just by the future building there is this large dry dock.

Hunter Daniel and Protei-003 "Ocean Blimp"
I cannot help but dreaming how we could build very large “Ocean Zeppelin” in there ! Above Protei_003 I built in New Orleans in 2010, model is Hunter Daniels.

NewLab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
This is a view of the future NewLab from the current NewLab. Manhattan is just there.

Brooklyn Navy Yard
How about launching new ship businesses?

20130425 The Unreasonable Journey of an Entrepreneur Sailing Around the World


After 4 months at sea. We finally landed. After travelling in 14 countries, together. After sharing a small cabin with no windows and a tiny bathroom. It is all behind us now. As everyone was saying good bye,  I had to tell my Unreasonable Fellows “You are not going back home, the ocean is your home”, they are always welcome.

Last Unreasonable at Sea Night on board of the MV Explorer. So magical, did it really happen?

You can imagine it was not easy saying good bye. A new family was formed, now scattered as a global network. Each going back to their countries.

Hard to believe that we were the lucky 10 companies chosen out of about 1000… it is now history. Allow me to list theses 10 companies:

  1. Agua: Providing clean water to 300,000 people w/out chemicals or energy (just plants).
  2. Damascus Fortune: Nanotechnology that transforms carbon emissions into material for spaceships.
  3. Innoz: Most used mobile-app in India. Designed to leapfrog internet. +120,000,000 users.
  4. GuruG: Educates and empowers teachers through a “gamified” platform.
  5. Solar Ear: World’s 1st digitally programmable and rechargeable hearing aids.
  6. Protei: Wind powered, shape shifting, open source sailing drones that explore and clean oceans.
  7. Evolving Technologies: Radically affordable medical devices for maternal care in emerging markets.
  8. One Earth Design: Harnesses the sun for cooking & energy. Ranked best solar cooker on earth.
  9. Prakti: Feeding 250,000 people daily with ultra-affordable and fuel efficient stoves.
  10. Artificial Vision for the Blind : Artificial intelligence leveraged as a non-invasive cure for blindness.

Keep an eye on these guys. What will happen to them in the next months and years? Will they realise the idea that “entrepreneurship can change the world”? Will they become icons of social entrepreneurship? Or will theses companies fall apart? Time will tell.

Testing Protei 10.5

Protei 10.5 Testing in Parque del Ciutadella, Barcelona, Spain. Thanks to the Prieto’s (Muriel, Jesus, Rosa), Bianca Cheng Costanzo & Nils Mattisson.

Protei 10.5 Testing in Parque del Ciutadella, Barcelona, Spain

Photos by Improbables productions, Fanny Pernoud & Olivier Bonnet.

What we learnt

The world is a big place, but I want to keep my summary as short and synthetic as possible.

A journey of learning

  1. 20130109 SAN DIEGO, CA, UNITED STATES. Departure
  2. 20130110 ENSENADA, MEXICO. Red tides affect the region. Delicious food, good people
  3. 20130115 HILO, HAWAII, UNITED STATES. Meeting with Henk Carson, Marcus Eriksen & Anna Cummins, Spectacular plastic pollution, Kamilo Beach. Unreasonable short about Protei and plastic
  4. 20130127 YOKOHAMA, JAPAN. Presentation at Tokyo University. Midori, Japanese translator. FuRo Robotics Laboratory. Unreasonable documents Protei visit at FuRo. Akihabara “Electric Town”, Flying Tokyo presentation. Protei and Safecast in Fuksuhima measuring radioactivity. Japan, 2 years after. Kyoto University, departure.   
  5. 20130208 HONG KONG, CHINA. Make it in China! Deciding to set up our headquarters in Hong Kong / Shenzhen.  
  6. 20130218 HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM. Vietnam : “Croire our douter”, believe or doubt
  7. 20130221 SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE. Singapore, Startup Country.
  8. 20130301 RANGOON, BURMA. Myanmar.
  9. 20130311 COCHIN, INDIA. Kochi. 
  10. 20130318 PORT LOUIS, MAURITIUS. Maurice. 
  11. 20130330 CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA.  Cape Town, Koeberg, South Africa. The Gangster incubator, great sailors. 
  12. 20130407 TAKORADI, GHANA. Oil + Fish Industry = complicated
  13. 20130421 CASABLANCA, MOROCCO. HACKATHON !!! Redefining success. 
  14. 20130425 BARCELONA, SPAIN. This very post. 


During the voyage we built 3 Protei prototypes that we transported and tested in a variety of waters. Although not having access to our working space, tools and materials often felt limiting, we learnt how to do more with less, simplifying how we prototype Protei.
In a nutshell Protei needs to be:

  • More rugged, to take around.
  • Smaller needs to fit in a standard suitcase and be easy to strap to a backpack. Lighter in particular would allow the use of rechargeable D cells as ballast.
  • Simpler to set, wire at the beginning and while the machine is already in operations with spring loaded clamps at the end of wires.
  • Transparent is convenient for maintenance and acknowledging if there is a water leak inside the dry case.
  • Equiped with a modular removable dry case inside the hull for the electronics makes maintenance much easier.
  • The ease to recycle the hull is critical to most people since they do not want to see Protei polluting the oceans.
  • The mast length should not exceed the total length of the boat, for safer packing and transportation.
  • Sensors: travelling to all these places, talking to local scientists we learnt a lot about the sensors they would want to transport within Protei.
  • Cost: we have a much better idea of who can buy Protei, for what and at what price.
  • Managing Performance expectations: We now know what people want this technology to do. We must make clear that we are delivering a beta product at this point.


Protei Ethical values

  • Define our identity and culture as a corporation. Some have described Protei Inc. as a technology coompany, other as social entrepreneurs, some as a clean-tech startup. Being surrounded by other companies helped us understand how similar and different we are. This may sound obvious for those who know us but this is our corporate culture:
    • Ethical order of priorities: 1. Environment, 2. Social, 3. Technology, 4. Profit.
    • Open: The problems we are trying to address are huge, as huge as the ocean, there is enough work for everybody. Let’s work together.
    • Hands-on: think and develop by prototyping, by testing the field, in the hands of our user. “Fast, cheap and out of control“.
    • Community-driven development, Product and timing to release open source documentation: To make sure we cover our overhead and stay open, we release the documentation when we ship the product, not before. Internally, we work on extremely fast prototyping cycles.
    • Fast paced. Being an Open Hardware business means that we invite others to copy and improve on what we do. In other words, we are constantly trying to put ourselve out of business, helping as much as we can competition. We have to innovate constantly in order to stay ahead of the game.
    • Radical innovation on 3 main topics (for now): 1. Technology (Shape Shifting Sailing Robot), 2. Open Hardware, 3. Global innovation community (Social R&D).
    • Collaborative, competitive: Collaboration and competition can be one same playful activity as long as it is fair and harmless. Again, the ocean is big enough for all of us, let’s address its issues together.
    • Measured risk: like any corporation, we need to survive to thrive and contribute to our maximum capacity to the world.
    • Organic growth: Protei brings about a new technology, but it is really a new industry potentially. We want to grow with our community.
    • Ambitious but not speculative: too many engineering firms or labs guarantee their technology would scale before testing. Let’s not do that. Because this is a new industry, we do not want to have opportunistic investment speculating and deviating us from our core value.
    • This is about learning: Developing Open Hardware Shape-Shifting Sailing Robots is not that common and there will be bumps on the road. Let’s learn about them.
    • Non-military applications: we will not provide technical support for life threatening applications.

We learnt about what kind of people we want to be, who we want to work with:

  • About the people:
    • Integrity, loyalty: we can all agree that we we are all different, and we need to be able to trust each other.
    • Creativity & Persistance: doing whatever it takes to make it work, even it is not in the job description. Be resourceful, own it.
    • Humour: being capable of laughing especially in the difficult or painful situation. That tells
    • Curious & Fearless: In a given experience, the expected outcomes may be A, B or C. Choose D. Ask the hard and the painful dumb questions over again.

We decided to move to Hong Kong !

  • Decided to move the manufacturing to Hong Kong. We could not have make that strategic decision without this trip.

We had amazing mentors from whom we learnt so much :

    • Tom Chi: about rapid prototyping, ways of thinking, metaphysics…
    • George Kembel: Empathy, Design Thinking
    • Daniel Epstein: Story telling
    • Ken Banks: Being lean, scaling up and making choices…
    • Kamran Elahian: about being kind, the dimension of future progress…
    • Jeff Hoffman: defining your target customer, team building, leadership and employee qualities, pricing…
    • Megan Both: about being business minded, strategy…
    • Megan Smith: the emergence and access to information…
    • Pascal Finette: about pitching and cultivating the spirit of innovation in your company…
    • Chris Shipley: launching a product…
    • Matt Mullenweg: about leadership and control of Open Source project…
    • Coleman Chamberlain: building a company vision and identity…
    • Caroline Whaley: about team building….
    • Prince Fahad al Saud: imagination and the self…
    • Jane Finette: About community building…
    • Hunter Lovins: Green economy…
    • Carly Cooper: about design thinking and running a startup within a large corporation…
    • Scot Frank & Catlin Powers: performance and humanitarian business structure…
    • Amruth: Determinism
    • Rehan Hassan: Start-up legal issues 101…
    • Safecast, Joe Morros: Radioactivity and activism in Japan
    • Truc-anh: about poetry, rage and beauty…
    • Archibishop Desmond Tutu: about god, love and justice…
    • El Alaoui: doing with what you have…

And the list goes on and on…


In every single port we stopped we met people that could benefit from Protei. From the mexican scientists in Mexico studying red tides, to those in Hawaii combatting plastic pollution, the Japanese network of radioactivity sensing activists around Fukushima, to the chinese, vietnamese and indian residents, environmental activists and scientists, South African sailors and roboticists, the Ghanian fishermen suffering oil pollution, the fast growing maker movement and engineers in Morocco. We have learnt so much about our community on this journey as much on the technical, financial, psychological and personal level.


I also learnt a lot on a personal level. Many of which are hard to explain with words.

  • Gabriella Levine: getting to know my business partner. Yes, she’s absolutely awesome across the board. Exceptional, I’m the luckiest man in the world to work with Gabriella. For me developing good people is the condition to developing good technologies.
  • defining my personal identity as global citizen. I have been traveling so much these last years… The ocean is my home. Forever.
  • Achieve a dream, Sailing around the world: since I am a child I have been dreaming of sailing around the world. Check. Next time I want to do it wind powered though!
  • Develop strategies of “How to use capitalism for the Environment”, “Open Hardware for the Environment”. I feel I made a lot of progress thanks to all the discussions we had on board and on land.
  • Built a new family: and that’s not a detail. A trusted network, that’s priceless. 

Learning to “dream with my eyes open”

I think these 2 images below sum up what has changed for me.
Retrospectively I feel I was almost almost gambling, about the different options. I feel I know more what I am doing now.

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

A lot of what seemed mystery is really common sense. It all makes sense.

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

Many of my intuitions have been verified. This mask has the third eye. I’m not trying to evoke anything esoteric here, I am only suggesting that a lot of what I felt instinctively about the business was made tangible. I feel more confident now. Also impatient to get on the “battlefield” after so much preparation.

What’s next

  • logistics of moving
  • visas
  • set up a company in HK in order to manufacture
  • find an office, a workshop and a place to love
  • anticipate transportation, food, insurances
  • Find a sponsor / partner / client to contribute towards our manufacturing cost and be at the forefront of sailing technology and re-inventing ocean big data capture and clean up

1 ship. 100 days at sea. 14 countries. 10 companies. 2o mentors. 600 students. A life changing experience.

Unreasonably yours.

20130421 Morocco

Protei Hackathon!

make code sail share

From right to left  “Make, Code, Sail, Share” in arabic.

The video: | The custom wesbsite : [archive]

I love the comment of the Unreasonable at Sea Media team explaining what a “Hack-a-Thon” is :

While in Morocco, Gabriella Levine and Cesar Harada of Protei took advantage of the engineer community in Casablanca to host what they called a “hack-a-thon”. While most people think of “hacking” as “the process of gaining unauthorised access to computer systems for the purpose of tampering and / or stealing personal and financial information,” the intentions for the event was far from malicious or illegal. The attendees of the event were presented the challenge of designing and testing a boat in 12 hours using scraps and raw materials not typically used for constructing any type of aquatic vehicle. The accelerated learning and prototyping that came out of the event defines a new type of “hacker” as one “who combines excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration in performed activities.”

We have to give great thanks to ESITH ENACTUS for being such great hosts and participants. The workshop was lead by :

  • Cesar HARADA (France-Japan): Inventor of the Protei Shape-shifting system, Ex MIT Project leader, TED Fellow.
  • Gabriella LEVINE (USA) : Hardware Designer & Hacker, Top women in Tech (Adafruit), Master from ITP Tisch New York
  • El Wali El ALAOUI (Marocco): Founder of SaharaLabs / Tarfaya Hackerspace, first hackerspace in Morocco.
  • Darren BENNETT (USA): Creative Director, Microsoft Studios, Member of the original Kinect group.

None of this would have been possible without MCISE (Moroccan Center for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship) The event was sponsored by Microsoft Studios, Xbox, filmed (above) by Unreasonable Media, and documented also by Improbable productions for Thalassa, Fanny Pernoud & Olivier Bonnet. We also want to thanks the TEDxCasablanca team for their hospitality.

Protei Hackathon Poster !

Half of the workshop was in french, some in english, and a little in Arabic. We broke into 4 teams of about 8 people each. This was the program of the day.

  • 10:00 – 11:00 : Introduction. Open Hardware movement. Protei. Workshop intro, Q&A. Break into groups. 
  • 11:00 – 12:30 : Rapid prototyping. 3 fast cycles of design rapid prototyping in small groups. 
  • 12:30 – 13:00 : Quick lunch. 
  • 13:00 – 14:45 : Build in small groups with instructors, quick review.
  • 14:45 – 15:00 : Quick public review of each unfinished prototypes. 
  • 15:00 – 16:30 : Final build of prototypes. 
  • 16:30 – 17:00 : Walk to lake with prototypes.
  • 17:00 – 18:00 : Test in the water. fim, photos, documentation.
  • 18:00 – 19:00 : Diner
  • 19:30 – 24:00 : Work at ESITH for those who want to continue, advanced hacking, improve prototype, documentation, share on social media.

Protei Hackathon, by Salaheddine El Hanafi

Our amazing organising team!!! 4 boats in the water! All winers!

Super Protei instagram

We gave a t-shirt and a hoodie to the winning team… A few hours later : this was on facebook!!! The pride of working together is mutual. Thanks to Roman Yablonski for the amazing Protei logo, people love  it! We must also tell for the story that our original intention was to hold the Protei Hackathon, at the first and only (to date) hackerspace in Morocco : SaharaLabs / Tarfaya Hackerspace in the middle of the desert by the sea, founded by the mesmerizing El Wali El ALAOUI. I designed this sticker in honor of our collaboration :

Protei + Sahara Labs

We keep precious memories from the hackathon. Next time, Protei hackathon in Tarfaya, Inchallah! 

Protei meets OCP

We have been lucky to meet the sustainability managers of the largest Moroccan company, the OCP.  “OCP is the world’s biggest exporter of phosphates and derivatives. The company is solely responsible for the production and sale of Moroccan phosphate resources, mined at the Khouribga, Ben Guerir, Youssoufia mines totaling 85 billion cubic meters of reserves in central Morocco, and Bou Craa about 1 billion cubic meter in Saguia el-Hamra region, in the Morocco-controlled part of Western Sahara. OCP is a state owned company created in 1920.” Source : Wikipedia. OCP has both an R&D and a sustainability department. OCP used to operate a large fleet of ships to export phosphate, but it is no longer the case, it is now the client that is responsible for procuring the materials. We had a good discussion about the environmental implications of the OCP and will keep contact with the group. Special thanks to Soraya Joundy for the intro.


Redefine Success, Young Chamber of Commerce Rabat

20130419 Success_story

What is success to you? For me it is to conciliate Humans with Nature and Technology. It comes from my belief that without the environment, there is no social structure, without social structure no technology, no technology no money. So the only business I want to be involved with, would have an order of priorities that is clearly 1. Environment, 2. Social, 3. Technology, 4. Profit, which is pretty much the contrary of business as usual. I personally think such conception of business is the best way to reverse our negative impact on the environment and gear out of the anthropocene. The Ocean is where all life comes from. The ocean is the future of our habitat, food, energy, transport, communication, security. More than protecting it, we must make sure it thrives with life.

Essentials Ocean

For those who are more math-minded :

Environmentally Successful Product

I tried to explain this so many times, and often got that blank expression in return. The normal curve that some environmentalists advocate doesn’t start to be good enough for the environment. It is not about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, we need to go much further than that if we want to revert our negative impact on the environment. The idea is very simple. What people call “green-tech”, “eco-friendly” or “clean-tech” suggests that it is good for the environment. Not neutral. But that can only be true over time. For example : a solar panel requires a lot of energy to be manufactured. You need to use a solar panel for a long time, maintain it and use it in an efficient context to offset the environmental cost of designing, developing, manufacturing, packing, shipping, selling it to a customer (first half of the red area on the graph) before you even start using a green product. I remember reading an average solar panel needs to be used ~10 years (other half of the red area) to offset it’s own environmental cost from fabrication to sale. It is only after 10 years of regular use that a solar panel goes below being neutral and starts becoming really having a positive environmental impact (green area on the graph) until it “dies”. Even that does not include the product “after life” when it is being recycled, hopefully “returned to nature” without damage or accumulation in a landfill.

Protei collecting ocean data will not offset it’s own environmental cost easily. What it does, it reduces the environmental cost dramatically in comparison to operating a large fossil fuel-powered oceanographic vessel for the same job. On the other hand, a large Protei unit that performs environmental clean up (plastic debris, oil spill) would offset it’s environmental cost very quickly by capturing trash /pollution / environmental “value” in the ocean that others have produced. I call that “absorbing other companies externalities“, some people use that to get evaluated on the carbon market. We want to partner with companies that have a lot of these externalities, probably through the channel of Corporate Social/Environmental Responsibility, some companies would speak about “Shared Values“.

Why do I mention that in my blog post about Morocco? 2 main reasons :

  • I encourage young engineers to think that it is not about minimising the negative environmental impact their technology has ; it is about having a positive impact on the environment. That may mean changing the agenda of the company. Can it be profitable? I think so in many cases. If not short term, that comes across to me as a generally good long-term strategy. What’s also true, is that destroying the base of everything else – the environment – will not permit any of the rest to happen. We need to make these choices.
  • In this post I mention OCP. OCP is apparently doing a great job mining phosphate in its own rights, but the fertiliser that gets exported, when used inappropriately by their clients can have heavy implications on the environment, especially the oceans with hypoxia, eutrophication and many other directly or indirectly fertiliser-induced effects on the ocean do occur. We would love to investigate on this topic and perhaps assist OCP improve the after-sale.


We enjoyed Morocco and we’re excited to come back. These days some of the people we talked to are discussing how they could open and manage a hackerspace in Casablanca :) … That’s exciting! Keep going ladies and gentlemen!

20130410 Ghana, lack of ocean data and oil spill preparedness

Fishing near Axim

We’ll start by the fun stuff with good Ghanian music :) We were very much interested about the life of the Ghanian fishermen, so we just drove there and met a community of them near Axim. After a few minutes of discussion we asked if we could join them for a fishing experience and they accepted to take us out on the water. At rising sun, we pushed the vessel in the water on big steel rolls and wood boards, passed the wave breaking point, sailed to the fishing spot, deployed our nets, sailed back to shore, pulled the nets for a long time. I was surprised that even for pulling the nets back on shore, no mechanics is being used, it is all raw human power. The men were incredibly strong and pretty much risking their lives without any safety. The reason why we came to visit the fishermen, is because we wanted to know if their had been affected by the recently introduced offshore oil industry nearby. Thanks to Samuel Ainoosoa Kwesie for introducing us to the captain.

Ghana Oil Industry

Ghana Petroleum (Thousand Barrels per Day)
Ghana Petroleum (Thousand Barrels per Day). Source:

I did my homework about Ghana: Large oil reserves have been discovered in 2007, in 2010 Ghana joined the league of oil-producers, in June 2011 Bloomberg reports that “Ghana’s GDP Growth Accelerates to 23% as Oil Production Starts”.

Ghana Carbon Dioxide Emissions (Million Metric Tons of CO₂)
Ghana Carbon Dioxide Emissions (Million Metric Tons of CO₂). Source:

According to the World Bank Ghana is a relatively healthy democratic developing country with a good multi-party political system, freedom of press, a good education infrastructure, with a growing industrial, illegal mining (Ghana is one the top producer of gold), oil and growing population. The CO2 emission is in steady increase – not that this would be an index of sustainable growth rather the contrary- but indicates the country is increasingly active on the industrial, transportation and construction fronts. So overall Ghana is doing “well”. Still we found several important issues:

  1. Rising cost of living
  2. Poverty (28.5% below poverty line in 2007 est., source)
  3. Mining pollution impacting water quality (heavy metals)
  4. Oil Industry impacting fishing industry
  5. Whales death 

These 3 last points in bold can partly be addressed with Protei.

Lack of Oil Spill Preparedness

Uploaded on 8 Jan 2012, source: Christiane Badgley,

I recommend watching 2 short movies of May 2011 about “Fish VS Oil” Part 1 (2’32) , Part 2 (3’36) communities or this longer and more detailled documentary (22 minutes, Dec 2012) . Several reports indicates that Ghana lack oil spill monitoring and cleaning capability: Bloomberg, Ghana News Agency, even if the EPA claims having a sufficient contingency plan. Either way Protei could really contribute to early oil spillage detection and clean up.

SINOPEC Chinese fortress

SINOPEC Chinese camp

At the top of the hill above the fishermen’s village, there is… a chinese castle! SINOPEC is installing a large pipeline along the coastline.
SINOPEC Chinese camp
Inside, a real garden of eden with multiple fountains. We were told that about 100 skilled chinese engineers and workers live here. Many Ghanians seem to be unhappy with the chinese presence and feel their natural ressources are being exploited by foreigners. As a half-asian person, I wonder why Ghanians do not build their own castles and garden of Eden… And why Ghanian authorities let chinese operate at a scale they do not feel comfortable with? Quickly after we got in, the SINOPEC security agents came, asked us to delete our photographs and leave.

Tullow Oil


Tullow is the largest Oil Industry operating in Ghana on the main Oil Field called the Jubilee Oil Field. We visited their headquarters and attempted speaking to their environmental department without success. We are in email communication now. Below are the concessions of the Jubilee oil & gas field:

  1. Tullow Oil – 35.48%
  2. Kosmos Energy – 24.1% (Article about Kosmos investing 1B to develop Ghanian Oil Fields)
  3. Anadarko – 23.4%
  4. Ghana National Petroleum Corporation – 10%
  5. Sabre Oil & Gas – 4.05%

According to the locals we met, the annual turnover of several of these companies are many times the turnover of the whole country of Ghana.

Ministry of Energy

Thanks to Faustine Araba Boakye of the International Clean Cooking Association, we were able to meet Kofi Agyarko.

EPA Environmental Protection Agency

At the EPA we were able to speak to Ebenezer K Appah-Sampong, Director Planning, Programming, Monitoring & Education.

Ministry of Fisheries

At the Ministry of Fisheries, we spoke to:

  • Director: Samuel Quartey
  • Director of Marine Fisheries: Mathilda Quist
  • Marine Fisheries Research Division: Paul Bannerman
  • Field researchers: Joseph Seboah, Richster Nii Amarfio, Noble Wadzah, George Awudi 

On the wall of the Ministries of fisheries we could read some press cuts: the World Bank is running a program (among many in Ghana) worth US$ 53.80  million. It is labelled as “loan and credit“. Below is the program abstract:

The development objective of the First Phase of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program Project is to support the sustainable management of Ghana’s fish and aquatic resources by: (i) strengthening the country’s capacity to sustainably govern and manage the fisheries; (ii) reducing illegal fishing; (iii) increasing the value and profitability generated by the fish resources and the proportion of that value captured by the country; and (iv) developing aquaculture. There are five components to the project. The first component of the project is good governance and sustainable management of the fisheries. This component aims to build the capacity of the Government and stakeholders to develop and implement policies through a shared approach that would ensure that the fish resources are used in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, socially equitable and economically profitable. The second component of the project is reduction of illegal fishing. The component aims to reduce the illegal fishing activities threatening the sustainable management of the country’s fish resources. The third component of the project is increasing the contribution of the fish resources to the national economy. The component aims to identify and implement measures to increase the benefits to Ghana from the fish resources, by increasing the share of the value-added captured in the country. The fourth component of the project is aquaculture development. The component aims to set the framework for increased investment in inland aquaculture. The fifth component of the project is regional coordination, monitoring and evaluation and project management. The component aims to support project implementation and regional coordination with the project, ensuring that regular monitoring and evaluation is conducted, and the results are fed back into decision-making and project management. Administrated by Berengere P. C. Prince.

The program started in July 2011 and will end in December 2017. This is a very important information. There is capital to carry on all these tasks, clear objectives and deadlines.

University of Ghana, Professor Christopher Gordon

Professor Gordon is the most scientifically educated and creative person we met in the country.
Prof Gordon mentioned that Protei might be an interesting device to deploy in Lake Volta, but also the many lagoons to study oxygen levels, redox potential, sedimentation and other environmental parameters. Lagoons tend to accumulate land-borne pollution in particular heavy metals from mining. We are interested to build a pilot proposal with Prof Gordon and use University of Ghana as our base when we come to Ghana. A topic that we are also interested is the interaction between the oil and the fishing industry when it comes to environment.

Center for Environmental Impact Analysis, Samuel Obiri

With the sharp mind of Samuel Obiri, an independent researcher, we wrapped all the discussions we had with the different ministries and stakeholders. Mr Obiri explained us what is the relationship between the scientific and the legal as well as the business sides of the oil exploitation in Ghana. We discussed the level of oil spill preparedness and the expected involvement of fishermen in the event of an oil spill.
An important observation was that

  1. fishermen are currently the most at loss with the development of the oil industry and
  2. if an oil spill was to happen, they would be on the frontline to clean up and suffer the heaviest health, mental, environmental social and economic damages. 

This is also what I experienced when working on the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We then pondered:

  • What are the biggest risks?
  • Consequently, what are the most valuable data sets to be found?

Samuel Obiri has published the most comprehensive measurements of oil pollution in Ghana that I could find, compiled here in a pdf [6mb].

Networking at Hub Accra

It was great to have a sneak preview of the burgeoning startup culture in Ghana. We met a lot of cool people at the freshly built co-working space in Accra. Just to mention a few:


In a very short amount of time, we have been capable of meeting most of the key stakeholders of the oil and the fishing industry, from ministry representatives to local fishermen, from University researchers to independent environmental consulting agencies. The challenges that Ghana is facing in terms of environmental impact of the oil industry, the apparent lack of preparedness to oil spill, the lack of environmental data about water quality and fish stock suggests that Protei could really make a difference in Ghana. The low cost, open source, modular, transparent nature of Protei appealed to all the people we talked to. There is therefore a case for coming back to Ghana with Protei.
The main difficulty now is the definition of a strategy for raising funds to address these issues.
If we run a pilot, which stakeholders shall we involve?

  • Fishermen
  • Academia: University of Ghana, ASESHI, OUWA, AITI, foreign Universities
  • Politics: EPA, Ministries of Food & Agriculture & Technology, Fisheries 
  • Non-Profit: KITE, Local fishermen associations
  • Diplomacy (as we are a foreign company)
  • Military (permission and some deployment infrastructure)

And the criteria for us to determine the feasability of such pilot would be :

  • What: Relevancy and urgency of the topic
  • How: What Protei can do well and add significant value to
  • How much: What is affordable and profitable for all the stakeholders

We are now in the phase of “Pilot Proposal Development” and we are happy to involve anyone that feel they can contribute to the discussion.

Read more

20130330 Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is a spectacular city. The mountains that surround the city. The beauty of the ocean. The powerful winds. Captured above by our wonderful media team having lots of fun at work.

Before I die, I want to ..., Cape Town, South Africa
First thing we did in Cape Town was to go and meet with Gabriella’s friend who owns a fashion shop called Unknown Union in the hip area of the city. At the entrance of the shop, we were so surprised to find the installation of a my friend Candy ChangBefore I die, I want to …” !

Every time I come across Candy’s work, it reminds me of the good times I had when I was living in New Orleans a few years back, living in the same street as Candy in the Bywater. It reminds me of my dreams, it reminds me that everyone has amazing dreams, and we’re all in this world to make them all happen…

The SAP pitch event

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

cape town, south africa

The pitch event went very well, additionally to our “classic” pitch we added a soundtrack that was emotional and I think it really worked !I love the idea of making a music hall instead of a pitch event :) We won the SAP pitch event in Cape Town and the reward was …

A diner in a chic restaurant with all mentors and special guests

Protei wins SAP Pitch in Cape Town and diner with Unreasonable at Sea Mentors

From left to right, Kamran Elahian, Chris Shipley, Gabriella LevineRozan Ahmed, Daniel Epstein, Prince Fahad Al Saud, Cesar Harada, Matt Mullenweg, Mimi.

We were very fortunate to share the table with this group of exceptional people. Many of which were our influential mentors.

Koeberg, Africa only nuclear power plant

cape town, south africa

We spent about 2 days investigating about Koeberg, Africa one and only nuclear power plant. We rented a car, drove there twice.

Protei in Koeberg, South Africa

You may be positively surprised to hear that the levels of radioactivity that we measured around the nuclear power plant were acceptable. In fact we had higher levels in the center of Cape Town than close to the Koeberg plant. We measured levels on the beach, and in the water at about 1 meter underwater with the sensor we customised with Safecast for the Fukushima expedition. We were able to pay a little visit at the Koeberg Visitor Center and learn all about the plant and the technology they use. Many kids were also visiting. We were not allowed to approach the power plant closer than 2 kilometers. According to documentation in the plant, the cooling of the reactor causes the temperature of the sea to be significantly increased (up to 10ºC) outside the plant outake of water. It was surprising to see that the Nuclear power plant is installed in the middle of a natural reserve that is a highly secured perimeter. What it felt was that the natural reserve was more of an excuse to keep curious people and activist at a greater distance… I’m now curious about the radioactivity levels at Vaalputs in the Northern Cape where the used fuel is disposed.

The local makers

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

Thanks to our connexion Ralph Borland that we knew from the Science Gallery back in Dublin, we were able to have a really nice insight into the maker / designer culture of Cape Town.

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

We were introduced by Paul Mesarcik to the local designer / maker’s world.
Below Protei INC Art Collection very first acquisition !!! Who is the artist?

Protei in Cape Town, South Africa

The Cape Town University

OPENROV cape town, south africa

We were delighted to find a customised version of OpenROV at the University of Cape Town. Protei and OpenROV have shared a wonderful time at TechShop SF Summer 2012, it is super encouraging to see OpenROV in other countries, being modified and used.

Protei in South Africa

Thanks to Paul Mesarcik that studied electro-mechanics at Cape Town University, we were introduced to Dr Robyn Verrinder of the Research and Instrumentation, Departement of Electric Engineering of Cape Town University. We discussed with local researchers their their latest development in autonomous sailing robot. Above, a freshly build hull that is being compartmentalised and ballasted with fishing lead weights in the bulb. Quite a few researchers are now interested in developing autonomous sailing robots, this is the people we want to involve with Protei!

The Gangster Incubator

Protei in South Africa

We were lucky to meet Marlon Parker (Facebook) of Rlabs who introduced us to many inspiring young people in a not very inspiring neighbourhood. They explained us about their community, the hope they found, how the access to technology helped them feel empowered to look a their future, how it re-enchanted their lives.

We want to keep in touch with the RLabs.

Shuttleworth Foundation

We were lucky to meet with some people at the Shuttleworth foundation. Thumbs up for the Foundation!

Marine Transect, Moving Sushi

The stereo imaging system in action underwater
They explained us how they  sample the coral reef ecosystem using stereo-video to determine fish density, biomass, diversity and community structure along 1 500 km of the Western Australian coastline.

We were kindly introduce by Bernelle Verster of TEDxCapeTown to the amazing crew of MarineTransect & Moving Sushi Michael and Linda Markovina, Justin Beswick .

They just arrived from a 4 months journey the day before our departure from Cape Town! We had to meet!

The East African Marine Transect expedition is a not-for profit expedition that is managed and facilitated by Moving Sushi. Moving Sushi actions strong ideas by facilitating globally important marine-based scientific expeditions to explore the relationship between humanity, our marine environment, science, technology and how new knowledge is communicated and shared through open source channels.

They just completed  234 dives, were quite tired, and after sharing a quick breakfast they went back to unpack their boat.

Joe Heywood of North Sails

Our last encounter in South Africa was with Joe Heywood of North Sails. It was great sitting down with his family, sharing food and geeking about sail / rig designs. Thanks a lot for your precious advices Joe!

20130321 Earth Hour 2013

For one hour, could humanity unite to realise that we are one? Earth hour is tomorrow. Be part of it!

20130321 EarthHour


20130319 Rehan Hasan 101 law for start-ups

We had a great introduction to law for startups by Rehan Hasan from Denver, CO.

Stages of the life of a company

  1. Formation
  2. Running a business
  3. Contracts
  4. Scaling
  5. incentivizing
  6. Investment, financing
  7. Exit strategies

Top 5 mistakes entrepreneurs do

1. wrong formation of entity because they were too short-sighted

You will need to respect the corporate formalities.
Dont mix personal and corporate finance.
Utilise your legal as a strategic asset. It is always easier / cleaner to do formalities at the front end.
The choice your company really depends where you want to see your company in 3, 4, 5 years.
LLC or S-corp is usually what I would recommend. It is easy to convert from S-corp or from LLC to C Corp. Why choosing a C-Corp? It is very much loving giving money to the government. There is a big difference when it comes to tax on Asset acquisition and Asset in stock purchase. Don’t make it too complicated. Keep things simple when you are small, it will become complicated anyway.

2. Folks don’t have the right governing documents

We need to have proper operating agreement (for an LLC). There will be disputes. What are the rules we operate by?

3. Protect your assets

In the USA there are only 4 legal IP forms.

We talked about piracy in the context of Open Hardware.
Many times the contract will act as a deterrent. Agreements are there to influence behaviour.

4. Putting down on paper transaction documents.

You are legislating all that could go wrong.

Don’t count on the growth of your company to pay taxes. We talked about the burst of the .com bubble and 83(b) and sweat equity.

Loan VS Investment

Should I take it as equity or as a loan? Convertible note : it is a hybrid between a promissory note and equity. Some love it, some advice not to. It can be converted in equity, stock at a discount, cash. So when you make such a call, you can phrase it like this :

“We’re looking giving away a convertible note. We’re looking at raising 700,000 USD. The investor will get a 20% discount on stock. ”

The company doesn’t have to give away the control.
It is good for investor because they will get paid before the owners of the company. It is a great way for an investor to wait. It becomes a credit, a liability for the company.

How do you make a valuation? Book value, asset value… the trick is to have a market value that everyone can recognise.
You can make a pre-money valuation and put upfront what the “investor” (someone who owns a note – not shares – not ownership)

5. Lack of a clear exit strategy

There is a variety of exit strategies :

  • You want to sell to a third party
  • You want to sell to your key employee
  • Sell to family members

Work closely with an attorney that will help you be entrepreneurial about the structuring of the company.