ThinkCycle

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ThinkCycle is a web-based 'open source based' industrial design project:

URL = http://www.thinkcycle.org/


Description

“ThinkCycle, is a Web-based industrial-design project that brings together engineers, designers, academics, and professionals from a variety of disciplines. Soon, some physicians and engineers were pitching in - vetting designs and recommending new paths. Within a few months, Prestero's team had turned the suggestions into an ingenious solution. Taking inspiration from a tool called a rotameter used in chemical engineering, the group crafted a new IV system that's intuitive to use, even for untrained workers. Remarkably, it costs about $1.25 to manufacture, making it ideal for mass deployment. Prestero is now in talks with a medical devices company; the new IV could be in the field a year from now. ThinkCycle's collaborative approach is modeled on a method that for more than a decade has been closely associated with software development: open source. It's called that because the collaboration is open to all and the source code is freely shared. Open source harnesses the distributive powers of the Internet, parcels the work out to thousands, and uses their piecework to build a better whole - putting informal networks of volunteer coders in direct competition with big corporations. It works like an ant colony, where the collective intelligence of the network supersedes any single contributor. Open source, of course, is the magic behind Linux, the operating system that is transforming the software industry. Linux commands a growing share of the server market worldwide and even has Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer warning of its "competitive challenge for us and for our entire industry." And open source software transcends Linux. Altogether, more than 65,000 collaborative software projects click along at Sourceforge.net, a clearinghouse for the open source community. The success of Linux alone has stunned the business world." (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.11/opensource.html)


Example

From Wired at


"Cholera is one of those 19th-century ills that, like consumption or gout, at first seems almost quaint, a malady from an age when people suffered from maladies. But in the developing world, the disease is still widespread and can be gruesomely lethal. When cholera strikes an unprepared community, people get violently sick immediately. On day two, severe dehydration sets in. By day seven, half of a village might be dead.

Since cholera kills by driving fluids from the body, the treatment is to pump liquid back in, as fast as possible. The one proven technology, an intravenous saline drip, has a few drawbacks. An easy-to-use, computer-regulated IV can cost $2,000 - far too expensive to deploy against a large outbreak. Other systems cost as little as 35 cents, but they're too complicated for unskilled caregivers. The result: People die unnecessarily.

"It's a health problem, but it's also a design problem," says Timothy Prestero, a onetime Peace Corps volunteer who cofounded a group called Design That Matters. Leading a team of MIT engineering students, Prestero, who has master's degrees in mechanical and oceanographic engineering, focused on the drip chamber and pinch valve controlling the saline flow rate.

But the team needed more medical expertise. So Prestero turned to ThinkCycle, a Web-based industrial-design project that brings together engineers, designers, academics, and professionals from a variety of disciplines. Soon, some physicians and engineers were pitching in - vetting designs and recommending new paths. Within a few months, Prestero's team had turned the suggestions into an ingenious solution. Taking inspiration from a tool called a rotameter used in chemical engineering, the group crafted a new IV system that's intuitive to use, even for untrained workers. Remarkably, it costs about $1.25 to manufacture, making it ideal for mass deployment. Prestero is now in talks with a medical devices company; the new IV could be in the field a year from now.

ThinkCycle's collaborative approach is modeled on a method that for more than a decade has been closely associated with software development: open source. It's called that because the collaboration is open to all and the source code is freely shared. Open source harnesses the distributive powers of the Internet, parcels the work out to thousands, and uses their piecework to build a better whole - putting informal networks of volunteer coders in direct competition with big corporations. It works like an ant colony, where the collective intelligence of the network supersedes any single contributor." (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.11/opensource_pr.html)


ThinkCycle Governance Process

From a case study by Jill Coffin in First Monday, at http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_6/coffin/#c4


"ThinkCycle is an open, Web–based collaborative platform for sustainable design projects. Initiated in 2000 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab doctoral students Ravi Pappu, Saul Griffith, Nitin Sawhney, Yael Macguire, Wendy Plesniak and Ben Vigoda. ThinkCycle seeks to support “distributed collaboration toward design challenges facing underserved communities and the environment" and to create “a culture of open source design innovation" ( ThinkCycle, “About ThinkCycle". Completed projects include a novel, inexpensive cholera treatment device, a passive incubator for premature infants, bio–sand and ceramic household water filters, and a low cost eyewear micro–manufacturing system.

Cofounder Nitin Sawhney cites the Appropriate Technology Movement of the 1970’s as influential to the foundational mores of ThinkCycle. This movement emphasizes design within a social, economic and political context. It promotes the social and moral responsibilities of designers and considers the protection of socially valuable ideas to be unethical (Sawhney, 2003). Sawhney cites three trends which emerged in the 1990’s which were critical to the creation of ThinkCycle: distributed computing and online communities, global dialog on the digital divide and sustainable development, and intellectual and public domain movements such as the open source movement.

The ThinkCycle process begins with members contributing a design challenge within the domain of sustainable design, underserved communities and the environment. ThinkCycle also solicits design problems from non–governmental organizations and other stakeholders. These challenges are peer–reviewed by domain experts and made available to designers through ThinkCycle. The design processes which unfold on ThinkCycle are transparent and anyone is welcome to register and post ideas, critiques, suggestions and drawings of their own proposed solutions. Domain experts are able to give project advice and help with resources.

Each design challenge has a wiki–like area with sections for discussion, shared team spaces, an open digital publication repository and project archives. ThinkCycle, like Wikipedia, reserves a separate space for discussion. Recognizing that these discussion areas often serve as a forum for free–flow, and at times emotional, dialog, this space is call Soapbox and members are invited to post “rants" here.

ThinkCycle has attributes of an open source community: open dialog, peer review, collaborative, iteratively–clarified artifacts, and foundational developers setting project ethos. ThinkCycle supports to the right to fork by developing open source collaborative problem-solving and design software. On the other hand, while ThinkCycle’s Web–based system has a robust organizational structure, there is a lack of political structure to support the bazaar. ThinkCycle is currently facing the lack of a heavily invested, heavily involved benevolent dictator. ThinkCycle was formed by a group of MIT students who are leaving or have left MIT and the project (ThinkCycle, “Topic: ThinkCycle.org: Creating a Sustainable Non–Profit". The result of open participation without political structure is a lack of peer oversight supporting the collaborative process. This lack of oversight in turn results in a lack of focus in posts and some schlock. Also, membership in ThinkCycle is not dependent on project participation. Anyone is welcome to register and post comments and ideas. This practice exacerbates the lack of focus through off–topic and outlandish remarks.

Another challenge which hinders ThinkCycle’s development stems from the co–location of many of its contributors. Because ThinkCycle originated as an MIT project, it was used most by MIT design teams. Because team members were co–located, the projects were developed in real space and then recorded retroactively on ThinkCycle out of obligation. In these cases, participants saw ThinkCycle as a time–waster. They felt they were duplicating their efforts by using the system (Sawhney, 2003).

ThinkCycle would benefit through a political structure that supports peer review, successor benevolent dictators, making participation a condition of membership, and encouraging participation through a more geographically dispersed area." (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_6/coffin/#c4)


More Information

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