Yuen Long farm an hour from the sea may not seem like the ideal location for a boat workshop, but it’s where French- Japanese environmentalist and inventor Cesar Harada is based.
That’s where he is designing and building unique robotic boats with shape-shifting hulls and the ability to clean up oil spills. The hull changes shape to control the direction “like a fish”, Harada, 30, says. It is effectively a second sail in the water, so the boat has a tighter turning circle and can even sail backwards.“I hope to make the world’s most manoeuvrable sailboat,” he says. “The shape-shifting hull is a real breakthrough in technology. Nobody has done it in a dynamic way before.”Harada hopes one day a fleet of fully automated boats will patrol the oceans, performing all sorts of clean-up and data- collection tasks, such as radioactivity sensing, coral reef imaging and fish counting.
Asia could benefit greatly because, Harada says, the region has the worst pollution problems in the world. Yet the story of his invention started in the Gulf of Mexico, following one of the most devastating environmental disasters in recent years – the 2010 BP oil spill. Harada was working in construction in Kenya when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired him to lead a team of researchers to develop a robot that could clean up the oil.
He spent half his salary visiting the gulf and hiring a fisherman to take him to the oil spill. More than 700 repurposed fishing boats had been deployed to clean up the slick, but only 3 per cent of the oil was collected.
It then dawned on him that because the robot he was developing at MIT was patented, it could only be developed by one company, which would take a long time, and it would be so expensive that it could only be used in rich countries.
This realisation made Harada quit his “dream job” to develop an alternative oil-cleaning technology: something cheap, fast and open-source, so it could be freely used, modified and distributed by anyone, as long as they shared their improvements with the community. He moved to New Orleans to be closer to the spill, and taught local residents how to map the oil with cameras attached to balloons and kites.
Harada set up a company to develop his invention, originally based in New York before moving to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and then San Francisco. Now, Harada says he will be based in Hong Kong for at least the next five years. He built his workshop and adjoining office in Yuen Long himself in five months on what used to be a concrete parking space covered with an iron roof after acquiring the site in June last year.
He first visited Hong Kong last year while sailing around the world on a four-month cruise for entrepreneurs and students. It is the perfect location for his ocean robotics company, he says, because the city’s import-export capabilities and the availability of electronics in Shenzhen are the best in the world. Also, Hongkongers are excited about technology, setting up a business is easy, taxes are low and regulations flexible, he says.
He named the boat Protei after the proteus salamander, which lives in the caves of Slovenia. “Our first boat really looked like this ugly, strange, blind salamander,” Harada
says with a laugh. He later discovered that Proteus is the nameofaGreekseagod–oneof the sons of Poseidon, who protects sea creatures by changing form, and the name stuck. “He is the shepherd of the sea,” Harada says.
Harada built the first four prototypes in a month by hacking and reconfiguring toys in his garage, and invented the shape-shifting hull to pull long objects. A cylinder of oil- absorbent material is attached to the end of the boat that soaks up oil like a sponge. The shape-shifting hull allows the jib – or front sail – and the main sail to be at different angles to the wind, allowing the boat to sail upwind more efficiently, intercepting spilled oil that is drifting downwind. “Sailing is an ancient technology that we are abandoning. But it’s how humans colonised the entire earth, so it’s a really efficient technology,” Harada says. “The shape-shifting hull is a superior way of steering a wind vessel.”
The prototype is now in its 11th generation. The hull, which measures about a metre long, looks and moves like a snake’s spine. Harada built 10 prototypes this month, which are sold online to individuals and institutions who want to develop the technology for their own uses. He has collaborators in South Korea, Norway, Mexico and many other countries. “The more people copy us, the better the technology becomes,” he says. Harada, who describes himself as an environmental entrepreneur, says investors have offered to buy half of the company, but he has turned them all down. “They do not understand the environmental aspect of the business,” he says. “They want to build big boats and sell them as expensively as possible.”
Harada has a bigger vision for Protei. He wants to create a new market of automated boats. He hopes that one day they will replace the expensive, manned ocean-going vessels that are currently used for scientific research. He says one of these ships can cost tens of millions of dollars, and a further US$4,000 worth of fuel is burned every day. That does not include the cost of a captain, three or four crew members, a cook and a team of researchers.The expense of these research missions is one of the reasons we know so little about the ocean, Harada says. We have explored only 5 per cent of the ocean, even though it covers 70 per cent of the earth. “We know more about Mars than we know about the ocean.”
He notes that there is no gravity in space, so we can send up huge satellites. But submarines that have tried to explore the depths of the ocean have been crushed by the pressure of the water. Ships are not free from risk, either.“Seafaring is the most dangerous occupation on earth,” Harada says. More people die at sea than on construction sites. An automated boat would also prevent researchers from being exposed to pollution and radiation. Harada’s Japanese family live 100km from Fukushima, and he will go back there for a third time in October to measure the underwater radioactivity near the site. Although he admits to being scared, “it’s the biggest release of radioactive particles in history and nobody is really talking about it”.
Harada is also working with students from the Harbour School, where he teaches, to develop an optical plastic sensor. “We talk a lot about air pollution, but water pollution is also a huge problem,” he says. He says industries in countries such as India and Vietnam have developed so fast and many environmental problems in the region have not been addressed. “In Kerala [India], all the rivers have been destroyed. The rivers in Kochi are black like ink and smell of sewage. Now it’s completely impossible to swim or fish in them.”
Hong Kong has not been spared, either. Harada joins beach clean-ups on Lamma Island and says even months after an oil spill and government clean-up last year, they found crabs whose lungs were full of oil. He says locals fish and swim in the water and there are mussels on the seabed that are still covered in oil.
“The problem is as big as the ocean,” Harada says. But he believes if man made the problem, man can remedy it. The son of Japanese sculptor Tetsuo Harada, he grew up in Paris and Saint Malo and studied product and interactive design in France and at the Royal College of Art in London. But he believes that at an advanced level, art and science become indistinguishable.
“I don’t see a barrier between science and art at the top level,” he says. “It’s where imagination meets facts.” firstname.lastname@example.org
We are currently looking
for an industrial space by the water in Hong Kong
boat buyers (small 1m unit, 4m large autonomous unit for data collection, 7.m for 2 sailors leisure)
Intern Electric Engineer
Intern Software developer on Android, with interest in robotics
Intern Aeronautical / Naval egineer interested in biocomposites
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.
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
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.
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.
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 : http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/06/25/1314705111.full.pdf I am selecting only some essential information but I recommend you to read the paper, it’s short, only 5 pages + references.
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.” http://rt.com/news/169564-ocean-surface-covered-plastic/
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 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.
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.”
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 (http://plastic-pollution.org/ 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.
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.
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.
Mobile sensing platform
With a motivated group of young students, we hacked a low cost water video channel.
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.
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 : http://www.idec.com/sgen/technology_solution/our_core_tech/plastic_sensing.html
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).”
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.
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 :
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.
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
Many local residents living near the beach are concerned and actively cleaning the beach
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?
It was a great honor to present Protei recent development at TEDxHongKong Ed. I was originally planning to speak about how much we are engaged into education with Scoutbots and Protei, but in the light of the discussion I had with the curators of the event, it turns out they were more interested in my personal learning experiences. So I am sharing here some very personal stories. I don’t know when the talk will be up online, but in the mean time you can enjoy my slides.
In this presentation I argued that I learn most from people I meet and work with, places I go and study, things that we make and play with, producing new ideas we love sharing.
The People I talk about :
“Captain Courage” in New Orleans, that worked on the BP Oil Spill despite his handicap
Thanks again to the organisers, and to all who attended for your support and attention.
Thanks to the other amazing speakers for inspiration : Daniel Makoski, Mark Sagar, Karin Ann, David Hanson, Steve Brown, Maurizio Rossi, Ryan Lee, Josh Steimle, Kim Anderson, Edwin Keh, Lizette Smook, George Skoumas, John Hoffmann, Po Chi Wu, Mark Kersten, Marty Schmidt, Judy Tsui, Bernie Quah, Underload, Jameson Gong.
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 Windtrain.org 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.
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 !!!
Comments Off on 20140305 Lecture : School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong
Today I presented several works at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, on the invitation of the brilliant Takuro Mizuta Lippit ak DJ Sniff. It was interesting to present to a young designer crowd and connect older art / design works I did to my current robotics research Protei– all creative to my point of view. Here are the slides. I highly recommend to pump up the volume and turn off the lights for the 2 first videos on Vimeo.
An inspirational Dorkbot-HK event, co-presented by Videotage and the K11 Art Foundation. The programme consists of four intriguing talks by local as well as international artists. Their seemingly diversified spheres are united seamlessly by Dorkbot, as they all design with electricity. Creative design ideas from coding vs. non coding, animation design works, interactive multimedia design to experimental digital music design will be presented by gurus from each field. The programme is guaranteed to open up new horizons for friends who want to experiment designing in a new dimension!
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).
But we did not stay long in Shanghai, too excited to discover Shenzhen. I was told that Shenzhen is the “world capital of electronics”, and I would not believe this until I see it. So we took a flight from Shanghai to Shenzhen as soon as we could.
I knew nothing of Shenzhen when we arrived. So, first thing I see at the airport, the tube map, with the address of a cheap hotel near the Electronic market. Sweet.
I want to be an old dude in Asia, because it’s totally normal to do that in the train:
But the reason why we are in Shenzhen is this (!!!) :
Now the question remains: where is my blond girlfriend in this mess? THIS IS A MOBILE PHONE MARKET!!! It is several stories high. They only sell mobile phones, of all kinds. All of them. And there are several buildings like this one. We are talking about thousands and thousands of people selling and buying phones at the same time in a ridiculously small perimeter. And it is chinese new year. The market is not even half as crowded as it normally is!
Pop-up, or “push-out shop” I should call them: when they have more supply, they extend into the street (#ChineseGenius).
And that is the motto here I guess.
We had the luck to meet with Hao Zang @azureviolin and his girlfriend, as they were working on the “Puzzlebox Orbit brain-controlled helicopter” at the Chaihuo MakerSpace, supported by Seeed Studio. Hao showed us the newest hackerspace in the area, and talked about another project “Dorabot” that connected both of us to NoiseBridge back in San Francisco.
Chaihuo has everything you want from a HACKERspace except the mess and the “rebellious feel to it”, that’s probably why it is a “MAKERspace” – which makes sense, we’re in China.
Half of Shenzhen “Champs Elysees” is under construction, as the rest of the city.
The atmosphere in the city is electric. Old buildings, large ancient and opulent properties are being teared down to build high-rises. There seem to be no forthcoming end to the frenetic growth of Shenzhen.
We love Seeeds Studio. From left to right : Gabriella Levine, Eric Pan, Cesar Harada, Violet Su, photo taken by Leslie Liao. Seeeds first wrote us about 2 years back, to propose us to mass-manufacture Protei. We’ve been ordering parts from them a while! Excellent speedy service. We get parts from them in the USA in under a week when other chinese manufacturers typically use weeks. All Open Hardware. Bravo.
In this room, Seeeds manufactures small batches of electronics. If you have an order of a thousand boards or less, Seeeds can make it for you. With Eric Pan, Leslie Liao and Violet Su we discussed how, and how much it would take to manufacture Protei.
They showed us similarly-scaled and complex electro-mechanical products they do at affordable cost which was very encouraging. They recommended us some specific parts, factories etc… So extremely helpful.
Just outside of Seeeds Studio : I wont speak too long about these, but the electric scooters of Shenzhen are just amazing. I’ve seen huge water delivery made with these. Rugged beyond expectation!
We also made our luck to visit the HAXLR8R, a rising star and one of the only accelerator for hardware start-ups, right in the heart of the electronics market. The place to be. We arrived here also thanks to an awesome person with a french-sounding name, Cyril Ebersweiler, thank you Cyril for putting us on the right track.
To me Shenzhen was beautiful, mysterious, loud, vibrant, welcoming, rough, industrial, making efforts to become a touristic destination. Some people want to give Shenzhen a bad reputation. That’s not what I saw. I fell in love with the electronic market. People’s nonchalant attitude. How quickly the city is growing. The rush of people. The cost of parts (often 6 times cheaper than the USA or Japan).
This is our first impression of Hong Kong. A welcoming table of my friend Makin and his family. Makin’s family used to run a chicken farm in the New Territories until it was forbidden about 20 years ago. The farmers had to transform the farm into a large garage now used by many trucks. We sat with the grandma, mother, brother of Makin, his wife the wonderful Dawa, the grand-kids eating the delicious food made by the father, Mr Ma. We cannot thank enough the Ma family to make us feel at home.
We travelled by land, and were happy to find our friends and our beloved ship the MV Explorer in the Hong Kong marina.
Hong Kong is an incredibly busy vertical city…
… that can be a bit stressful at times, so we indulged ourselves with the oddest thing we could find on the “menu” : cupping. First time for Gabriella and myself :)
I loved the density, how people take over the street to build stuff when they need. Pragmatic, fast, relatively polite, so convenient.
Hong Kong is also the home of our friends and fellow entrepreneurs Catlyn Powers and Scot Frank of One Earth Designs.
This is one map that combines Shenzhen & Hong Kong: yes the 2 cities are only separated by a few kilometers, a frontier and a fast train. It takes less than a month to set up and start operating a company in Hong Kong, it takes much longer in mainland China.
This is an important piece of paper. We looked at many world-cities, large port cities where we could establish our headquarters.
London UK. Too far from the open sea and too expensive for us now. Good bye to my favorite city in the world. I studied there. Many friends. I love british people. Cycling in London.
Rotterdam, Netherlands. Where we built Protei_006. Best port for Europe, not the best access to parts, not the best lifestyle nor weather like London. Not that cheap.
Hong Kong / Shenzhen, China. World center for electronic port. Immense and fast growing port in the new world dominant economy. Great Hacker culture. Easy to manufacture small and large scale. Affordable.
Shanghai, China. Not easy to set up a company. The city is known for it’s culture of trade, less for it’s manufacturing as much as Shenzhen is. I want to come back to see the port.
Seoul Korea. Has been dominating ship construction recently, but quickly being overtaken by China. Not as dynamic as Hong Kong. I really like it still.
San Francisco USA. Probably, best maker culture + Sailing culture in one place. Unaffordable by our standard for now unfortunately. Still an option. If we can afford. But what beats taking your bicycle to buy electronics in the world largest electronics market in Shenzhen? In SF we keep ordering parts from China, it takes weeks and sometimes we have to return the parts. We will never be competitive (price and speed of innovation) if we stay there doing Open Hardware. Heart broken. I will miss SF…
New York USA. Amazing, also quite expensive, Brooklyn’s good :) Gabriella is from there. Great maker and hacker culture. Most large Open Hardware companies are there at this moment. Gabriella has her family there, we will be in and out I guess.
We lined up the parameters to choose : cost of living, cost of parts, ease of prototyping, manufacturing, testing, ease of setting and running a business, maker culture, quality of life, language barrier, community of users… and the winner is … DRUMROLL …HONG KONG / SHENZHEN !!!!!!!!!!!!
So this is now official. June 9th 2013, at 6:45AM I will land in Hong Kong and settle there to manufacture Protei.
Hong Kong is at the center of the world manufacturing and trade. Literally.
The first 8 most active ports in the world are in a tiny perimeter in this part of Asia. We have to be there.
I am delighted to move there. I have missed living by the sea. Asian food. Beginning of a new chapter in my life. Big chapter for Protei. Exciting. So exciting.