Biography and Writings
The Seed Factory Project,
6485 Rivertown Rd, Fairburn, GA 30213
Author's email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm an advanced space systems engineer (i.e., a rocket scientist). That means mostly working on the next generation rather than today's hardware. I attended Columbia University, where I studied astrophysics and engineering, and first started working on space concepts. I then worked for the Boeing Company for 24 years, from 1981-2005, all of it in their Space Systems division. The last major project I worked on was the Space Station, where I variously was a lead systems engineer, wrote operating procedures, and tested software. Since leaving Boeing, I have continued with my own design and engineering work. Currently I am working on the Seed Factory Project, whose goal is to develop sustainable self-expanding and self-improving systems. Such systems have the potential to end material scarcity and expand civilization throughout the Solar System and beyond.
I was supported by the public much of my life, in the form of scholarships and working on government contracts. Now that I work for myself I want to give back to society in the form of open-sourced works like the books and articles below, and through community projects like the South Atlanta Maker Network.
If you want to contact me directly, the best way is my email account, listed above. I tend to use the same user name (danielravennest) for most of my public accounts online (including Wikibooks and reddit). Other methods like posting to my discussion page here might work, but I am on too many forums and sites to track them all. My personal email is the one I check the most often.
My current work is directed at intentionally designed systems that can grow and improve themselves. We have been limited in what we can do in space because of the difficulty and cost of lifting everything from Earth. One way to get around this problem is to send a starter set of equipment (a seed factory), and use local materials and energy to build the rest of what is needed. That includes more equipment to augment the starter set. Bringing a small starter set to someplace like Mars avoids the high shipping cost of an entire human outpost and everything they need to live and work. By early 2013 I had realized that this kind of starter set will work just as well here on Earth, because the laws of Nature are the same everywhere. A single starter set can grow to produce an increasing range of products, including more starter sets. This kind of exponential growth has the potential to solve several of the problems facing civilization. So I shifted my focus to demonstrating the first such starter sets here on Earth. Although I still have a strong interest in space projects, using seed factories there can wait until we have experience with them on Earth.
The starter sets are called Seed Factories, because a larger factory grows from them in the same way a tree grows from a seed. In fact, an automated and self-expanding system like this meets many of the definitions of artificial life. Such systems can even include biological elements like plants for the products they provide. The Seed Factory name thus merges the ideas of living and industrial in a very apt way.
A set of tools and machines by themselves are inert. A complete functioning system includes resources like human labor and raw materials, energy, and knowledge in the form of skills and experience to use the equipment, plans and instructions for what to build, and general literature like reference books and articles. We refer to the necessary combination of Tools, Resources, Energy and Knowledge as the "TREK Principle".
There is only so much I can do as one person. So I started the Seed Factory Project as an open-source collaboration to develop and demonstrate actual working versions of this idea. The approach we are taking is for the designs and technology to be open for anyone to use. The physical hardware would be privately owned by individuals or cooperatives. The hope is that will lead to the widest application and the greatest benefit for the most people.
The project is nowhere near finished, but you can read a more complete description and quarterly status reports and a start at an article series to find out more. As part of the project I started writing an engineering book here on Wikibooks. It covers the concept, history, design, and operation of self-expanding automated production systems. It's on Wikibooks in the spirit of open-source collaboration. I started writing it, but anyone who knows their field is welcome to contribute. We've taken stab at setting up a web page and GitHub repository, but I'll be the first to admit they need more work.
- Project Home Page created 20 Feb 2013.
My Writings on Wikibooks
- Ideas and Notes - This page is for saving thoughts which are not developed enough to start a separate article or book section.
Books in Work
I am in the process of integrating what started as separate books on space systems and seed factories. Space systems were most of my previous career, and I noted a lack of a modern, future-oriented text for the next generation of students. The seed factory idea had first been investigated for use on the Moon by NASA in 1980. It was set aside because the technology of the time wasn't up to the task. When I came across it again, technology was much better, and Earth applications seemed more important, so a separate book seemed the right approach. As I developed the ideas more, it became evident that the technologies and methods for Earth and space are not so different. So the books will be treated as a pair of volumes covering different applications of the underlying technology:
- Better Worlds vol. I: Seed Factories and Self-Improving Systems - This volume presents the basic concepts and their history, technologies and design methods for them, and applications at various scale and types of locations on Earth.
- Better Worlds vol. II: Space Systems Engineering - The principles of engineering apply everywhere, but the environments of space are different and everything is in motion relative to the ground. This volume starts with subjects like orbital mechanics, then covers space transport, because to do anything in space you first have to get there, and generally move around once there. General types of space projects are discussed next, followed by specific locations and projects located there. The ideas from volume I are incorporated as appropriate. It is a future-oriented book, and includes ideas and methods not typically covered in aerospace engineering courses.
No pair of volumes can cover the entire scope of these subjects. We plan to include extensive references to other sources, but online ones tend to be ephemeral. I have accumulated a personal library in the course of my work. If you are unable to find it elsewhere, I will be happy to lend out items on request for personal use.
- Editing Template - This page contains templates so the book formatting will be consistent.
Articles in Work
These are notes and articles in various stages of completion. Some of them will get merged into the above books.
- First Draft
- Bootstrapping the Future: Smart Tools & Self-Expanding Systems - Overcoming job insecurity by the bootstrapping approach.
- To Mars and Beyond - on Becoming an Interplanetary Civilization - Applying the Seed Factory approach to upgrading civilization on Earth first, expanding throughout the Solar System, and eventually beyond it. It got long enough that sections 7-9, which cover the space part, are on a second page.
- Mostly Done:
- Space Elevator Design - an Overview - Class notes for an online class I taught in July, 2015. There is also a Slide Set at Imgur.
- Partly Done:
- Engineering the Future - A program to upgrade civilization using systems design methods.
- Towards a Sustainable Expanding Civilization - Progress and status on the program to upgrade civilization.
- Just Started:
- Life Improvement - Goals and introduction to more detailed books and papers
- Air Mining - The concept of mining the upper atmosphere from orbit for fuel and air.
- Gravity Lens Beamed Interstellar - Concept for interstellar propulsion.
- Community Scale Automation - Using automation at the local scale
My Writings Elsewhere
- Space Elevator article for Fast Company website.