radical Expert Insight: Weak Signals & Creative Transitions with Gabriella Levine of X (Alphabet)


To borrow a line from the ever-prescient Will Ferrell, that escalated quickly.

In the span of a few weeks — or even a few days — governments, organizations & leaders of both have found themselves faced with an urgent need to jettison common practice and rapidly evolve new ways of thinking, doing and being. Here at be radical, we stay committed to giving you access to practical insights and guidance on the future of business — regardless of channel or medium. Because we know that now is the time to double down on learning and taking action, we’re ramping up our research and sharing more of our learning to help you accelerate yours.

Today, we bring you an extended commentary from our radical Expert,Gabriella Levine, Senior Hardware & Systems Engineer at X (Alphabet). In response to “The Signals are Talking” (radical Briefing #0017), Gabriella considered some of her own weak signals she is attuned to for 2020 and beyond.

What comes to mind is the importance of transition — In particular, the transition from sketch to scale, in the domain of solving environmental crises using technology.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Building and breaking: How experimental play can lead to creative problem solving”, about how fostering a creative, playful environment is a critical ingredient in the recipe towards innovation.

I’ve always been a hands-on person — building things, climbing things, putting things together, and taking things apart. I’ve thus built a career creating hardware solutions, proof-of-concepts demos, and iterative designs using a variety of creativity, ideation, and fearlessness to try something even if it might fail. I have found a sense of belonging in creativity, using play as a catalyst for problem solving, with the aim to change landscapes, particularly in the technology-ecology intersection (i.e., climate change mitigation, conservation, and environmental preservation).

I’ve also been a huge proponent of open-source-hardware, because through sharing designs, documentation, and physical hardware, the barrier for creatively prototyping and innovating solutions has dramatically lowered. For example, Arduino is an open-source company making micro-controllers and a software platform. Arduino has expanded the world of hardware development to hobbyists, youths, and artists, who have made prototypes and hardware companies using the Arduino kit as a launchpad (space-exploring satellites, weather stations, underwater robots, electronic marketplaces, 3D printers, industrial farming machines).

However, the transition from a creative idea to a scalable solution is a big, difficult shift. In the past few years, I have found depth and value in leading such transitions, from prototype through production (including manufacturing and distribution). This transition point is critical, allowing for a successful prototype to scale and deploy, to reach the hands of people.

Though the barrier for prototyping has lowered in the past 20 years, through the growth of the Internet, information sharing, and an explosion of open source tools and development kits, the path to manufacturing still remains an enigmatic challenge that is much harder to crack. Hardware manufacturing requires documentation, rigor, repetition, and communication. The barrier for entry for transitioning to scale has not significantly lowered, and there is a critical need for more tools to reduce the friction of scaling up.

Might there be new tools that can make this transition from sketch to scale smoother (i.e. automated documentation systems)? How can engineers, hackers, and community members be empowered to create solutions that can scale more easily? How, if at all, can play have a role in this transition?

It is critical to incentivize solutions to address the existential threats of our contemporary world (pandemics, climate change, food security) and scale good ideas that can address such global threats. Perhaps this can be done through continuing to embed creativity, even more, into more parts of a project’s life cycle, including into production, market strategy, distribution, and the rigorous environment of manufacturing.

Gabriella Levine.

Senior Hardware & Systems Engineer at X (Alphabet)

Gabriella is a creative engineer, bridging the gap between technology, ecology and robotics. Gabriella has created several open source environmental-sensing robotics startups, and was President of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), promoting open source accessible technologies. She co-founded Floating Point Collective, a Brooklyn-based design studio, and has been a visiting lecturer at ITP (NYU) and CIID (Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design). Levine has exhibited work internationally, and received the 2012 Prix Ars Electronica Hybrid Arts Award. She was a Fellow on Unreasonable at Sea accelerator, circumnavigating the world by boat. She is currently working on a PhD at the European Graduate School. // More about Gabriella Levine.

We agree with Gabriella. Now is the time for bold new ideas and scaling creative designs into sustainable solutions. We’re supporting both by bringing you radical Expert Insight as part of the be radical Digital Learning Partner program. Learn more and sign up.

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