I am really excited to be giving the keynote presentation at the 3M Carlton Society in a couple of weeks. The Carlton Society is an award given to 3M employees for technical excellence within that corporation. We use 3M products all the time, not just the Post-It notes so it will be a real treat to tour their facilities in St. Paul.
What I’m going to discuss is the the Construction Set and how we try to use it and reinvent it at Little Devices, our lab affiliate at MIT. An abstract:
Reinventing the Construction Set
The explosion of information technology that makes our world more connected than ever is revealing the edge boundary of its promise. A developing world clinic, a makerspace, and a research labotoary remind us that although we are connected digitally, our richest experience in still analog.
In our work in design for emerging markets, fostering the next R&D revolution relies less on the Information set, and more on the Construction Set. While the Information set unleashes a storehouse of global knowledge, it’s the tangible components of hardware available through global supply chains that enable inventive behavior around the world to reveal itself through every day hacks by seemingly unsuspecting participants. The Little Devices Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology creates mechanisms for fostering this DIY behavior around the world by creating hardware construction sets for medical technology, Pop-Up Labs within hospitals, and makerspaces in rural settings (or extreme environments).
Reinventing the Construction Set begins with hacking the supply chain and finding the most versatile products for the purpose. It adds a rich assortment of Hardware Languages–interchangaeable components across sectors such as electronics and mechanisms, but also future sectors such as biology and materials science. It matures by implementing Design for Hack methodologies to anticipate innovation driven by the degrees of freedom in which the products are hacked, and not by the internal drive of the lead user. Finally it thrives through a community of makers and users that will ultimately change and redesign the Construction Set, the next phase in the adoption cycle.
In response to the lack of appropriate medical technologies in the developing world, we use these approaches in resource poor areas to quicken the R&D cycles aimed at better medical devices. One example is the MEDIKit project, a series of design building blocks that empower doctors and nurses in developing countries to invent their medical technologies. Empowering the the hacker nurse in the middle of nowhere has taught us a lot about empowering R&D labs at MIT.
As these innovations from emerging markets trickle up back home, we find a convergence of a growing “maker sector” and the increasing costs of medical technologies. It’s an exciting clash where DIYers can offer their inventive nature to a healthcare sector that is desperately in need of being more lean. For research and development, it’s an opportunity to transition from designers of individual components of a global supply chain, and into the designers of global invention architectures.