Monday, 31 August 2009

Small is..?

Engineers Without Borders is organising a celebration and evolution of the ideas of 'Small is Beautiful' in a weekend summer festival in the grounds of Practical Action Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby. September 5th & 6th

James will be there proposing that 'Small is' .. "Appropriate" and illustrating the importance, and subtleties of, 'appropriate' design using examples from Red Button Design, Maker Faire Africa and more.

James' session will be held at 2pm on Saturday 5th.

More information, full weekend schedule and tickets available from EWB-UK

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Red Button Design co-founder Amanda, profiled in The Sunday Times

For those spending bank holiday weekend in Scotland, you'll be able to find me in today's Scottish Sunday Times.

For those currently elsewhere .. the digital article can be accessed here:

"The ethical way to get ahead in business"

Red Button Design and Maker Faire Africa, a perfect fit?

Before our recent trip to Maker Faire Africa in Ghana a short while ago I was asked to write an introduction to RBD, what we are all about and why we wanted to be at MFA09. My response is below, originally posted over at

"Red Button Design is a UK based not (just) for profit startup which works towards developing products for emerging markets. We are currently working on a water transport, purification and storage device which uses human power to drive the filtration process. Other projects include a sustainable vaccine cooler, and a solar powered irrigation pump. In this regard we are a commercial venture, however our main social aim is to foster the sharing, development and manufacture of locally-sourced ideas and innovation through a network of local manufacturing co-ops.

Initially these co-ops would manufacture our products from ‘kits’ of components which are difficult to source locally in the required quality and quantities. However, longer term we see this network as a way of sharing ideas between distributed co-ops whilst providing access to resources that would be otherwise unavailable. We would offer support to the network, perhaps by providing product development services, access to specialist knowledge or components/materials etc.

We believe that a network of linked manufacturing co-ops could harness the latent talent that exists throughout emerging markets on a small scale with a multitude of local fabrication centres which, by exploiting the network, could each have an impact on a global scale.

An innovation in Ghana could be combined with another from India and developed with support from the US or Europe and the market ready product could then be manufactured wherever local demand existed. If the innovation was a way to protect against maleria, or a safe, low cost solution to lighting (or a drinking water transport, purification and storage device) then the global impact could be huge.

MFA09 for us holds the opportunity to meet people already involved in small scale manufacture, to learn more about their capability and barriers to growth and to learn about how we can best support local talent."

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Makers of MFA '09 - Post 2/3

I am clawing a few minutes away from the chaos that has enveloped RBD post Ghana, to share with you a few more of the Makers we met there...

I'll start you off with Wisdom, who if i am honest, sort-of embodied the whole of Maker Faire Africa for me..

Craig Calfee / Wisdom Toxla - Bamboo Bike:

There are many versions of the "bamboo bike" concept, this one is the 'Bamboosero' and was designed by American Designer Craig Calfee and built by Ghanian Maker, Wisdom Toxla (a.k.a "The Boy").

Wisdom assured James that his Bamboosero was lighter, faster & more comfortable to ride than a metal frame cycle and, heavily prompted by James' questions, went on to give him detailed instructions on how to go about crafting his own bamboo bicycle, back in Blighty. Amidst all the enthusiastic gesticulating I noticed Wisdom's watch ... find me a man more MFA than him and I'll eat a recycled plastic hat ...

Amit Gandhi / Mark Driordan - Plastic Bag Recycling Press:

Another IDDS team, Amit Gandhi and Mark Driordan (USA, UK respectively), displayed their heat-press designed to transform waste plastic bags into useful plastic sheeting from 3ply to 40ply in thickness. This recycled plastic sheet can then be used to produce... well, anything! Shoes, satchels, pencil cases and folders were some of the examples on display but critically the cost of assembling and running this press is minimal and doing so is well within the technical capacity of Ghanaian Makers, meaning anyone could produce their own recycled plastic goods. Seriously good stuff.. I genuinely want to make and use one. What more can I say?!

...and I will be leaving it to James to introduce you to the zero-electricity fridge; as he spent most of the last academic year researching similar technologies before starting development on what will be Red Button Design's second product, 'Medicool'.

"Medicool is a temperature controlled vaccine carrier that allows health workers in developing countries to keep vaccines within their safe temperature range for longer, increasing the range of immunization programmes. It works by capturing waste heat so avoids the need for a traditional power source."

Once again, photo credits go to the brilliant .. nah 'course we're not biased!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Makers of MFA '09 - Post 1/3

Installed myself just outside the hotel, in the heat & darkness of a Ghanain bar. I have live music, a beer, and my Mac :-)

...Whatsmore, I am very pleased with myself, because if I orientate myself *just so* I can pick up the wifi from the Hotel Business Centre without having to sit inside the ice cold confines of its sodium lit, air-conditioned, anonymity. Bliss!

Although is is somewhat hard to know where to begin, I thought I'd dive right in and introduce you to 3 very different "Makers" I met today:
Meet Bernard, Yasmeen and Stephen.

Bernard Kiwia - Pedal Powered Hacksaw:

Bernard is a Tanzanian bike mechanic. Like many at Maker Faire Africa, he was also part of 'IDDS Ghana' last week (The International Development Design Summit) Bernard's "Make" is ... well it is a bicycle / pedal powered hacksaw for disabled workers. Which really has to be seen to be believed. He has also created a mobile phone charger, a water pump and a windmill, each based around cycle technology.

Yasmeen H. Nsiah - Handmade Soaps:

Yasmeen hand crafts soaps from natural, locally abundant, ingredients like shea, eucalyptus and coconut. She sells them at a premium price in her small store in Accra, citing that her native, minimally processed products are much better for the body than highly processed chemically stabilised American brands which, as they are imported, also command a premium price. A business savvy eco-chic, Yasmeen is a one-woman Lush - what's not to love?

Stephen Gerrard - Bike Powered Water Chlorinator:

Stephen Gerrard (no, not that one) is a recently graduated chemical engineer from Cambridge and was exhibiting a concept-stage chlorinator. By producing enough electricity via pedal-power to pass a current through salt water, the prototype can produce a chlorine solution for use in disinfecting drinking water.

As I say, these are just three of many, many amazing innovations at MFA..

Stay tuned for information on the "Bamboo Bike", which is as it sounds, a bamboo framed bicycle, a "Plastic Bag Press" which makes clothes from a leather-like compound made from old plastic bags and a "Passive Cooling Fridge" which operates without electricity..

Photo credits to James Brown of James-Elliot

Introducing MFA 09 - 'Can't miss' BoP Tech!

Well Maker Faire Africa is in full swing, stalls and stands sprawling out from the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence and I like to think Red Button Design is holding its own amidst a bustle of new innovation & nascent collaborations from the obvious (water & agriculture) to the sublime (roboteers and traditional doll making - culturally diverse animatronics anyone?!)

Completely surrounded by dust and tech* but diligently on hand to blog the mind bending array of inventions presented: from traditional hand crafts, paintings & dolls, through eco-goods made from roadside trash, up to plastic fabrication technologies (made, in part, with old MIT kit!), robotics, cycle powered chlorinators, and agricultural rice processing...

I will endeavour to cover, in the detail they deserve, as many of these ... 'cant-quite-express-just-how-amazing'.. ideas as I possibly can over the next few days. SO if you don't already RSS us, get us on your Reader.

This is 'can't miss' BoP tech.

*(an interesting combination... I think our Camera equipment and Macs are enjoying the dust and humidity about as much as my damnable Caucasian hair!)

Monday, 10 August 2009

So... we're going to Ghana.

Oh how I have wanted to post this!
No, it isn't just a dirty rumor,

Red Button Design are officially going to Accra, Ghana for Maker Faire Africa!

In true RBD style, flights, visas, inoculations and other logistical necessities have been arranged in less time than is theoretically possible, and we're off to Ghana in 72 hours thanks to some amazing ongoing support from some genuinely fabulous people.

Pleased for us, but still not sure what MFA 'really' is at its heart? Well now that it's all finalised, check out this great interview with Emeka Okafor (Maker Faire Africa co-founder) speaking about who and what will be at the event, recorded for the BBC.

Now you've seen that, I know you're as excited as we are and you'll not want to miss a stitch of gossip!
Here is how you keep ahead of the game:

@JamesElliot - Tweets by James Brown, RBD
@RedButtonDesign - Tweets by Amanda Jones, RBD
@NubianCheetah - Tweets by Nii Simmonds, co-founder MFA

#makerfaireafrica - Maker Faire Africa official hashtag

and we'll be posting photographs to Flickr ... many more details to follow!