I’m not going to discuss the technology or the design of this project. You can read about that on Richard Spillman’s Old Salt Blog or watch the video below. What interests me most is that the Greenheart Project to build a 220 ton zero-emission cargo ship is Open Source (no patent protection – they’re happy for people to build on their work) and part of the funding is Crowd Sourced.
Deliberately aimed at the low end of the market – effectively creating a modern replacement for the old trading schooners of the Pacific Ocean – they are doing what national aid organisations should be doing. They are using the resources of the countries they are setting out to help.
While I was in Botswana in pre-retirement mode after leaving a big multinational company, I contracted to a number of aid agencies working in sub-Saharan Africa, and to some degree they all shared a common approach:
- They were applying sophisticated first world technology to third world problems (I remember one country, on being offered laptops to help in a survey, pointing out that pencils and paper would be more use)
- They forbade the purchase of hardware from competing countries even if they were the established local suppliers (USAID insisted on supplying computing hardware from US manufacturers, not from Asian companies – even though the US stuff was often manufactured by the same or related Asian companies).
- A large fraction of the funds supplied by the aid agencies paid for hardware or services supplied by companies based in the aid-giving country.
Greenheart is building their first ship in Bangladesh. The country has adequate basic skills in the industry, and giving it the specialised knowledge involved in building a sail/photovoltaic-powered hybrid will ensure that the Pacific nations and other second- and third-world countries do not have their progress determined by the objectives and viability of a first-world country corporation.
I’m familiar with the Open Source concept in the world of software, which is ruled by copyright, but I haven’t seen examples of it being applied to hardware concepts, which are usually subject to patent law. I’ll be interested to see how Greenheart handles that. I imagine they’ll still have to put in the effort and funds needed to register patents, and then licence them freely. Otherwise, it seems to me that they run the risk of some patent troll deciding to cash in and ruin the whole game.
Bravo! Greenheart, and good luck! I recommend anyone with a bit of spare cash and a desire to contribute to the general enhancement of the whole world’s standard of living to join in the Crowdsourcing of this project – and your chances of getting a return on your investment are probably at least as good as any other option open to you in the current economic environment.
If you don’t understand why I claim that Greenheart is likely to contribute to the enhancement of everyone’s standard of living, read Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist. If Greenheart succeeds in its goal, trading among the poorer nations – particularly in the Pacific, where they are separated by long ocean voyages – will increase. which will increase their wealth.
And thank you, Emmanuel Berque, for bringing Greenheart to my attention via Facebook. I hadn’t been checking The Old Salt Blog regularly enough, so I missed Richard’s post on the subject.