back to article Open source team creates apocalypse survival kit

A team of open source enthusiasts is putting together instructions for how to build 50 tools essential to establishing – or reestablishing – a civilization. The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is being developed by the Open Source Ecology (OSE) group, and includes such basic tools as a well drill, steam engine, and …


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  1. Friendly Neighborhood Yank


    "End of the world? No problem! I have this awesome book on how to reconstruct civilization from scratch. Give me a minute, I'll go fetch my kindle."

  2. Stevie Silver badge


    Paper making? Printing press?

    And that 3D printer looks like a re-branded machine from somewhere else, but with no acknowledgment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You may think that's amusing, I'm not so sure.

      James Lovelock, the man behind the oft-misreported Gaia theories, rightly pointed out a year or three ago that there is a potential big problem with the amount of modern knowledge that requires some kind of electronic gadget to read it. He didn't even go into the nightmare of incompatible media formats, incompatible applications, and incompatible file formats which the PC world have brought upon us in the post-magtape era.

      If he turns out to be right...

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        OH dear god.

        Another doom-monger. I hates em for giving up on humanity.

        You do realise its not beyond our current technology to build a fondleslab that would charge from Solar and last long enough to rebuild a basic technology base.

        Besides if the end comes you'll only have to fight off the zombie hordes to get to an idle printer.

        1. MacroRodent Silver badge

          No eternal Kindle.

          Re: "You do realise its not beyond our current technology to build a fondleslab that would charge from Solar and last long enough to rebuild a basic technology base."

          I don't think so. At least not one that you (or even a team of survivalists) could afford. A sophisticated device like that contains a number of components with limited lifetime, when you think in terms of decades instead of internet time...

          Some time ago, I tried to fire up my Oric 1 home computer (bough in 1983). Power came up but it did not boot. My guess is that its EPROMs had become corrupted simply because the charge had leaked out of some of its memory cells in the 30 years since they had been written. And that was a memory device of several orders of magnitude less density than current devices.

          If I were allowed to pick only one book, the one I would take into my survival bunker would the "Taitokirja" ("Book of Skills") compiled by Vilho Setälä. It is a thick tome from the 1950's full of short entries on building or fixing almost every item you would need in a 1950's -level household. The copy I have is still perfectly readable, unlike the Oric 1 EPROM.

        2. Richard 81


          ...and when that fondleslab breaks?

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          So get with the building that thing already...

          ... and make sure the world stocks up on a few per person. Because if the shit does hit the fan on that scale, the first thing that goes is the power grid, and designing and building these things on a few handy generators (and what would you feed those with?) provided you have a handy design-and-manufacturing shop nearby (most of those are in the far east; do you speak Chinese?) isn't a sinecure.

          The fact we could do it now is of exactly no use if we haven't done it before it's too late to still do it. That's nothing to do with giving up on humanity. It's everything to do with recognising just how brittle our high-tech infrastructure is. Thailand, anyone?

        4. M7S

          Dear Gordon 10

          That's all very well, but if no-one's actually made them, sold them, and they're then filled with the information required, and stored safely out of harms way but where people can get to them (and this might very well be in your own home) its not a lot of use as the unexpected tends rather to come as a bit of a surprise.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Lovelock's rather far behind the curve

        "James Lovelock, the man behind the oft-misreported Gaia theories, rightly pointed out a year or three ago that there is a potential big problem with the amount of modern knowledge that requires some kind of electronic gadget to read it."

        A year or three ago? This has been a commonplace in library science for decades. (No doubt similar concerns for non-digital media go back even further, probably at least as far back as the Enlightenment, with its surge of interest in anthropology and ancient history.) Nor is it confined to electronic gadgets - there are obscure microform formats, for example, that can be difficult to read these days because their (typically electromechanical) readers are no longer available. Back in the mid-90s I had to scrounge up an old microcard viewer to read old US federal government documents at a federal depository library (ie, an official archive of that material).

        And formal proposals to address the problem have been around for years, like the ELO's Acid-Free Bits recommendations.

        However, the kind of catastrophe that leaves large amounts of this sort of information inaccessible also makes it largely irrelevant for a long time. If we lose all our electronics, we won't have the leisure to worry about old preprints. Yes, we'd lose a great deal of human knowledge, but it'd be generations before we even knew what to do with it, and there's no reason to think most of it would survive much better in print form over that kind of timespan.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Asimov's 'Foundation'

      Asimov proposed the idea in his foundation series of technology that became so reliable that it outlived it's original designers and builders, and so complex that the next generations were unable to understand it (and therefore maintain it) properly. It's important to keep some basic knowledge such as this in book form, not just electronic.

      I'm not seriously thinking this kit will be used as a post-apocalypse kit, but it surely would be very useful as a start-up kit to impoverished or disaster-struck areas

    3. Haku

      3D printer

      Yes it bears an uncanny resemblance to the RepRap Mendel...

    4. Nphyx

      The 3d printer is a reprap. It is credited on their site and in many of their talks. It's not "rebranded", reprap is an open-source device so it doesn't have a "brand". They use a couple of other open source hardware projects as well - for instance, the multimachine. They're not out to reinvent the wheel, they're just out to unpatent it where necessary.

      You don't need a paper making machine or a printing press to build a civilization capable of making a paper making machine or a printing press. You'll note they also don't have espresso machines, personal massagers, or many other lovely and useful devices on the list that we'd all like to have access to; that is because the machines that *are* on the list are what you need in order to manufacture those items (and, more importantly, other machines that can automate the manufacturing process for you).

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pardon me ...

    I would think that in the event on an "apocalypse" that a plough would be more useful than a brick making machine. No?

    After all, property development would be fairly low down the fucking list, one would imagine. And anyhow, there would be plenty of existing stockpiles of bricks to pick and choose from, if you needed the odd hod or two?

    Secondly: yes, a printing press would be very high up on my own list, as a previous poster mentions. Paper, too (although that's easy and fun to make).

    1. James Micallef Silver badge


      There's 50 machines, not all of which are mentioned. I'm pretty sure that if there's a tractor, there's also a plough. Otherwise what's the point of having a tractor?

    2. Richard 81

      Bread won't keep you warm in winter

      Actually, good shelter is a pretty important consideration. In temperate climates you need a decent house to survive the winter. In hotter climates you need to be able to get out of the sun.

    3. Nphyx

      Eh, they do have a plow. Among other things. But it's not actually an "apocalypse survival kit", that's just some silly crap the author of the article made up. The target scenario is a third-world/undeveloped village or other off-the-grid, remote location looking to bootstrap into a modern industrial society without borrowing billions from the IMF - not a cozy stretch of farmland in Kansas where the zombies can't get you. Of course the tools have plenty of applications outside the target, as open source things tend to.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    No computers?

    What about some plans for a Babbage Analytical engine (and some lathes etc. to build the cogs and gears)? Electronics? We don't need no stinkin' electronics!!

    1. jake Silver badge


      I still use an abacus and slide rules on a daily basis :-)

      The abacus in the feed barn is used to calculate nutritional requirements for the various critters (more modern calculators don't last more than a couple weeks in that environment). And I use my[1] old Sun[2] Engineering slide rule for back-of-the envelope calculations (decking needs, fencing, roofing, DG, roadbase, beam loads, and the like), and I have a circular slide rule in each of the aircraft.

      [1]My Dad's, actually, it got him his Electrical Engineering Masters at Berkeley in the '50s. Helped me with mine a couple decades later.

      [2] No, not that Sun! This Sun:

  5. jake Silver badge

    Decades late, and sights set too high.

    See "Whole Earth", for a start.

    Trust me, as a dude who subsistence-level farmed his property for three and a half years[1], the last thing on my wish-list was a 3D printer. And it seems to me that Humanity has managed without a backyard brickmaker for a LONG time. As for a machine to plant 100 trees in a day? WTF?? I can plant about 100 seedlings in an hour by hand!

    [1] Using 1850s technology, and totally off the grid. I wanted to prove to myself that I had payed attention to my grandfathers ... Yes, I was young, idealistic & stupid. Today, I use what I learned to help "at risk" yoof get a new perspective on life. It's amazing how fast attitudes change when you teach a kid something as basic as milking a cow, and then turning the milk into cheese. Milling wheat and running down to the coop to get eggs to make pasta is another big one :-)

    1. Nphyx

      Yes, you can probably plant 100 seedlings in a day. But if you have a machine that can do that, you can plant 100 seedlings in a day while reading through your backlog of Whole Earth Catalog issues. The point of machine tools isn't to do things that humans can't do; it's not even really to do things better than humans can do (for instance artisan craftsmanship trumps industrial manufacturing processes). The point is to do things so that humans can do other things that are less tedious.

      Humanity has survived without a backyard brick maker for a long time. But before we had modern industrial infrastructure we did have backyard brick makers. We just usually called them "slaves". Bricks are an essential terrain- and environment-independent building material. If you have dirt, you can build CEBs. Any human village on earth that does not have access to modern building materials or a wealth of natural resources builds with brick. The only scenario where you can't build a house with CEBs is the cold vacuum of space (or on top of the arctic ice cap, assuming there's any ice left up there). That's why they're useful in a kit that does not anticipate having access to modern construction materials.

      1. jake Silver badge


        That's 100 in about an hour ... thus leaving the rest of the day free to do anything other than keep an eye on not-so efficient equipment.

  6. Christian Berger Silver badge

    The problem most likely won't be an apocalypse

    However in all likelihood that "economic crises" some people are predicting will come at some time in the future. It may be tomorrow, it may be a hundred years from now, but eventually every monetary system with interest will crash and did crash in the past.

    This won't be a total apocalypse and you'll likely still have electric power an public transport, however things requiring large amounts of logistics and money might fail. For example Google services will shut down once advertisement income won't be able to cover their cost anymore.

    In such a situation, being able to make a brick making machine is of great advantage. You can make bricks which is something of value you can trade for things you like. (e.g. food) Same goes for other devices. Having that knowledge puts you in a situation where you have an advantage.

  7. hesekiel

    100 trees per day?

    Must be a newbie in tree planting. 500+ is the normal rate using only a hoe.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Using only a hoe?

      That's a bit sexist. Can't men help out too?

  8. heyrick Silver badge

    My mother just texted me...

    ...having watched a bright green meteor burn up nearly at ground level. That's the second in three months. Thus I conclude the only logical explanation... that beings from another world are regarding this Earth with envious eyes and that they are slowly and surely drawing their plans against us (starting, perhaps, with that pesky atmospheric drag).

    These reboot the world plans might have a purpose sooner than we imagine. Just... if we have a chance to start afresh, are we sure we want to come back to how things are now? I say we find out where the info is held and sneak in some extras like "thou shalt not suffer a lawyer". In the brave new world they might not know what a lawyer is, but if one should turn up.....

    1. Turtle_Fan

      I know it's a bit off topic but it always impressed me how most ordinary_human_beings (tm) subscribe to the rule of law and yet despise its practitioners.

      And no, I'm not ordinary, I'm highly masochistic. I married one.

      And I hate judges just as much as lawyers.

    2. scifidale

      "In this brave new world, with a handful of men, we can start all over agaaaaiiinnn!

    3. Nphyx

      Well, you and I may have different ideas about what is wrong with what we have now, but OSE solves many of the systemic problems that I see - unsustainable energy, tight coupling, open-ended resource management (as opposed to closed-loop), intellectual "property". The key component to a better society is better people, though, and no machines I've heard of can make people better. They have to choose to do that on their own. (Doesn't stop us from being selective about the company we keep, though)

  9. Zog The Undeniable

    More important things

    Personally if I were living off the land, I'd be most worried about vaccines. Otherwise future generations will be regularly decimated by plague, TB, polio and all those other troublesome little poxes that we've forgotten. Most of the other stuff can be done the way our prehistoric ancestors did it.

    1. Nphyx

      The medical industry is pretty entrenched in politics. It'd be difficult to produce open-source medical supplies for legal reasons even if the technical problems were overcome. Nonetheless there are some quiet, speculative efforts out there to get going on it (for instance my good friends over at Broken Sidewalk Farm are sketching out plans for open-source insulin production). I think we'll see more space for open-source biotech in a few decades if the legal environment catches up with the technological capability.

  10. Eddy Ito Silver badge


    Where does clean water show up? Too basic? Maybe it's basic at the family level but get upwards of a dozen people and it isn't an easy resource to produce so you can expend more energy on building that well drill. Of course that isn't to say the water you find underground isn't contaminated with things like arsenic as it is in much of Bangladesh; where I might add has surface water full of biological nasties that tolerate fairly high temperatures. Let's get our priorities straight and start with making ale, wine and distilled spirits that will not only keep in the cupboard but can sterilize so many things should it come to it.

    A pint because, well... duh.

  11. them

    uh, power ?

    So, how do they expect to power these devices (well, the ones that need power) post-apocalypse? Presumably, all the oil rigs and refineries will be offline or destroyed. There isn't going to be any oil or gas.

    Further, nearly all the "low-hanging fruit" (easy-to-reach) oil has already been extracted, requiring a higher level of technology to reach the deeper stuff that remains. Solar and wind are very limited, especially if you have to power large machinery.

    Our golden age has been fueled by petroleum, and was possible because oil was easy to reach. It is no longer easy to reach. So the technical threshold needed to bring back the golden age will be much higher than it was to get it rolling the first time. Yeah, MUCH higher.

    Knowing this ought to provide some extra incentive to do what's necessary to prevent the collapse of civilisation in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Knowing this ought to provide some extra incentive to do what's necessary to prevent the collapse of civilisation in the first place."

      Indeed it *ought* to. But does it?

      See any evidence where you are, or round here? Or indeed anywhere, except from a few easily-stereotyped and often-dismissed outfits such as the Transition Town folk?

    2. Nphyx

      Uh yeah they thought of that. Several of the machines are alternative-energy producers (wind, solar, biofuel). In fact the "power cube" that runs most of the machines (and is already designed, prototyped, tested and in production) is a flex-fuel device. But again, this isn't *actually* a post-apocalyptic thing, that's just some silly sensationalism on the part of the author.

  12. heyrick Silver badge

    I thought about this while at work...

    And I wonder if it isn't all a bit screwed. Following an apocolypse, nobody will be interested in much of this stuff. Survival will be the main aim. This means somewhere to shelter from the elements, even if it is the wreck of an upside down car, and food. There may not be time or resources to kick-start any form of agriculture. So it might be animals. Or each other.

    Useful skills to have in a post-apocalyptic world:

    * Lighting fires with practically nothing.

    * How to correctly kill, skin, and gut an animal (or human). Vegetarians, sorry, we'll watch you die of hunger as you wait for your lettuce to sprout...

    * How to hide when others come looking - it's no good wielding your sort-of katana if they've come with guns, you have to assess their capabilities first.

    * How to run a distributed system. In other words, don't put all your goodies in one place.

    * How and when to push your berserk button. You don't want to "scare" intruders, you want to f'king kill them. Then there's no risk of them coming back with bigger weapons. Plus, it could be a source of food if it's come to that.

    * Childcare 101. I'll leave you to join together the dots, suffice to say that the continuation of your "clan" will require new people to be created.

    * Basic medical. For when the beserk button is broken, or the other guys had one with nitro-injection. Anything that can't be patched up by a blindfolded junior school girl will probably end up being fatal, so pay attention.

    * Puppetry. It'll be a hard come-down from the days of staring at "The X-Factor" and "Britain's Got Talent", so a couple of rag dolls hooked to strings ought to be a convincing enough replacement. Certainly, you'll be hard pushed to tell the difference between them and Ant&Dec.

    If you have any doubts as to the difference in opinion between myself and the original article, please go look up apocalyse in a dictionary. Or if you can't be bothered, dig up that old VHS copy of "Mad Max" and watch it.

    1. Nigel 11

      A better idea

      Agreed. I don't think they've quite thought this through.

      Suppose something completely trashes our civilisation. Might be nuclear war, a small asteroid, a bad mistake in a bio lab, blind chance / mother nature / God (take your pick) unleashing the mother of all human flu virii. Human genetic diversity is unusually low - we went through a genetic pinch-point ~80k years ago. We're far more vulnerable to plagues than (say) chimps.

      After the few survivors have climbed back to agriculture, iron and cities after 500, 5000 or 50,000 years, they'll have lost just about everything we know today and will have to discover it all the hard way. Paper won't last that long exposed to the elements, digital media neither (anyway they won't have readers). How can we help, just in case it happens? At little cost, unless a very pessimistic billionaire gets involved?

      Ceramics are far less destructible. We have the technology to print a lot of small detail onto plates etc. for little extra cost compared to humdrum decoration. (We're using it to print marble-effect tiles, no two alike! ). What about an encyclopaedia ceramica? Sell as many as possible as novelty items, and in the far future if someone digs them up they will still be legible. Plates and tiles might even last long enough to reach the next intelligent species, if this one goes extinct.

      Trouble is, they'll also have lost English as a written language, and cracking an extinct language without a Rosetta stone has never been done. So another interesting interesting part is to devise a code that will let them read the stuff we're trying to leave them with.

      Hopefully, it'll never be needed. However, it has the makings of a fun project - what to write and how to code it, to save the future 10,000 years of pre-electrical civilisation? What to attach it to, that will be produced in large numbers and be noticeable by the naked eye after that sort of time buried? And so on.

  13. Herby Silver badge

    I once heard a song about something like this...

    "If I had a hammer".

    Enough said.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What use is a Kindle

    If you have no electricity?

    Has to be said, I mean the battery in these lasts about two years before it begins to degrade.

    I'm not sure but the e-ink itself only has a finite lifetime, certainly the adhesives used to hold the e-ink to the backplane will eventually depolymerise.

    If you want a display to pass the test of time, it needs to have components which do not degrade.

    Possibly e-ink based on inert gas instead of oil and nanoparticles?

    Sort of like a cross between e-ink and a plasma screen, with the advantage that it also illuminates if HV is applied to the panel.

    IIRC neon Nixie tubes last at least 40 years so its not too far fetched.

    Combine with vacuum thermoelectric power (ie heat) and as long as the chips used

    and driver board don't get damaged then it should have a lifetime measured in centuries.

    -AC 6EQUJ5

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Making bricks? Planting trees?

    Who cares about these useless contraptions! If the end of the world comes, what we need are open source distilleries, breweries, and fried chicken pressure cookers.

  16. The Nameless Mist


    Lets hope they store the info on a non-degrading hardcopy somewhere.

    In fact lets hope they store the info in Multiple Locations in Multiple Written Languages and have a primer to teach the pre-industrials how to make the basic materials required.

    Because lets face it .. starting the guide with "the next product requires steel" when the natives are barely in the bronze age is going to be hilarious.

  17. Speeder

    Fallout 2

    mm this reminds me of the G.E.C.K. out of Fallout 2.

    (G.E.C.K. stands for Garden of Eden Creation Kit)

  18. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    DIY metal foundary

    A 3D printer that has only really been a tool of the last few years is an essential? I'm not even convinced by a brick making machine or tree planter, but what strikes me is that many of these tools rely on prerequisites (like metal, nuts and bolts) yet there are no tools to create those prerequisites.

    I've always predicted the world will end after some disaster with society starving while surrounded by food for lack of ability to build a can opener. That those who know how to rebuild will, by Sod's Law, be amongst the first to die and consequently doom the rest.

    I'm sure we could rebuild from nothing to where we are today, just as we did it the first time, but that process will have to be incremental, starting from the basics (fire, the wheel, the engine, etc) with the added difficulty that we've taken so many resources out of the earth that they won't be so easy to obtain next time round.

  19. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I'm always amused by these people who say "I'm going to live without technology!!!" yet still insist on using spades, clothing, footwear, shelter, etc., all technology and all dependent on background production processes.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    books a bit frail

    You need vellum.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Books are surprisingly robust

      I own several wartime economy grade paper books of my grandfather's -- horrible stuff, really thin, cheap and nasty paper designed not to last and the paper is very acidic. Regimine I believe it was called.

      However, these books are almost pristine still, if a little grey, decades after their pre-programmed self-destruct lifespan. Not delicate or crumbling to dust as you would expect (as they were probably intended to).

      Good quality paper and vellum will, as you say, last for centuries. Even longer than they normally would, probably, in the absence of petrol and other pollution.

  21. Dylan Fahey

    After reading all these comments...

    After reading all these comments...

    I know 99% of you will die in first week after the global financial meltdown in 2012.

    You all FAIL as I didn't see one comment on DONATING to this worthy project. I donated, I actually give a flying fuck about helping my fellow human being.

    1. jake Silver badge

      @Dylan Fahey

      Methinks your money would have been better spent taking a class on harvesting this year's tomatoes for their seeds in order to have tomatoes for next season, and the like.

      Or you could get fancy & learn how to cure milk, meat, fowl and fish so you can save your bounty without refrigeration. Better, learn to preserve fruit juice with the help of fermentation.

      Presumably, you already know how to butcher a hog, how to train a horse/cow to pull a plow, and how to grow, harvest & mill grain to bake bread and brew beer. No? I humbly submit that you have thrown your money away.

  22. noFreeLunch

    Seems to me that if you are building computer controlled machinery you'd at least have to have a way to build the computer. The older chips, not so dense, or just a lot of circuit boards... that people can actually put together without laser alignment. A disk drive.... that sort of thing....

    The list is to build a society, and that's fair enough, individual survival is not the target here. Building fires is a skill for individual survival. Building a tractor might be, though the horse drawn plow sufficed for a long time.

    ...but I note the absence of a paper mill. ? ... and my supply of the 8" floppy disks is pretty low.

  23. Nphyx

    Yeah But

    Cute (and sensationalist) as "apocalypse survival kit" is, OSE is not about survival nuttery or Fallout fandom. It's about poverty relief and individual autonomy. It's not pie-in-the-sky, either; unlike certain other projects trying to upset the industrial order, it does not rely on science fiction or wishful thinking about human nature to work (*cough*Venus Project*cough*). It's an amazing project and I proudly contribute to it. Criticism of your framing of the project aside, I am happy to see it getting some press coverage. :)

    Also, the laser cutter is not at all far-fetched. There's already an open-source laser cutter fully funded and far into development (see:lasersaur). Neither is circuitboard printing (in fact, it's trivial to print circuitboards using toner transfer techniques and equally trivial to prepare circuitboard blanks for that purpose - we do it at my hackerspace all the time).

    Re: building computers and gadgets, OSE has not set out to make every conceivable machine that has any place in a modern high-tech society, it's about making the basic components of industrial infrastructure available without the price markup and intellectual property obstacles presented by equivalent commercial products. The point is to bootstrap your way to developing more specialized devices as you need them.

  24. Stephen Gray

    Power is simple

    Diesel generators will run on vegetable oil ( I have run a Merc 190D on veg oil bought at Costco and poured straight into the tank) and petrol generators can run on ethanol (minor teaking required to induction) and both these power sources are sustainable. Perfect for developing countries and of course post apocalypse.

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