Designing and Engineering Peace: A Radical Approach

By: Daniel Christe, Surya Vanka, & Sunand Bhattacharya

Summary: In February 2017, Pi Tau Sigma, Drexel, Autodesk and Authentic Design came together at the PTS Peace Engineering Design Swarms Workshop to address a leading cause of 21st century conflicts. two hundred mechanical engineering students from around the world created 10 disruptive approaches in just 100 minutes by utilizing the Design Swarms technique.

With a projected nine billion people living on the planet demanding twice the energy consumption of current civilization, managing and mitigating conflicts that stem from scarcity of resources in critically important for global security and stability. Pi Tau Sigma’s 2017 convention hosted at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) brought together two-hundred mechanical engineering students from around the world. Pi Tau Sigma is an international honor society that recognizes high-performing mechanical engineering students. Drexel, Autodesk, Authentic Design and Pi Tau Sigma collaboratively produced an integrative design experience to unleash the boundless energy, drive, and creativity of this group.

Climate change is disrupting weather patterns so that rainfall is getting increasingly unpredictable. Swings between extreme droughts and devastating floods are becoming the new normal. Rainwater now varies from pristine to polluted, sometimes changing in purity from hour to hour. Just as the conflicts of the twentieth century formed around oil, the conflicts of this century are forming around water. We have to urgently find smart ways to gather, store, share and manage precious rain water.

Large canvasses served as a guide for the teams’ creative design process

We utilized a version of the proprietary Design Swarms Workshops technique from Authentic Design for this competition. In 2014, Surya Vanka, the founder of Authentic Design, brought together practices from agile, design thinking and maker movement to create a team-based, time-constrained, five-stage co-design process to produce an innovative solution to challenge. Design Swarms Workshops are a facilitated hackathon-like innovation process in which agile teams solve hard customer problems in very short time to create a Minimum Viable Experience (MVX). Teams are facilitated through design thinking sprints over the course of a few hours, and as they solve the problem they also learn and practice cutting-edge twenty-first century design techniques. Participants also learn how to pitch and convince others to support or fund a creative idea. Design Swarms Workshops are fun, high-energy experiences in which participants bond with colleagues, and make new connections. Design Swarms Workshops are becoming popular in business, non-profit and education settings. In recent months, Amazon, Autodesk, Microsoft, Net Impact, MSR, Nippon Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative the University of Washington, the Industrial Design Society of America, and AIGA have participated in Design Swarms Workshops domestically, as have companies and design groups in Hong Kong, China, Australia, and Europe. Design Swarms have produced solutions to wicked problems like homelessness, refugee crises, water borne diseases, ocean pollution, aging, and disaster relief.

With ten teams of twenty members each and a tight 100-minute duration, the Engineering4Peace (E4P) design swarms workshop is the largest and the shortest design swarms workshop conducted to date; typical workshops are 6–7 hours long. To achieve this, we created evenly balanced male-female teams, with no two members were from the same institution. The teams introduced themselves to each other over email in the week leading into the conference, which helped form group dynamics even before meeting arriving in Philadelphia. Teams were given a CAD model of the Pure Sponge Filter (shown below, at lower left), a $10 bluetooth-capable device capable of purifying rainwater and uploaded their results on Twitter for judging.

Students collaborated in real-time on shared Fusion 360 projects to conceive breakthrough rainwater harvesting solutions

Design swarms were a powerful method to engage diverse teams around a challenging mission to imagine, design, and create a better world.

Peace Engineering

Drexel University recently launched the nation’s first Peace Engineering program, through a partnership with the PeaceTech Lab of the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C.. The program aims to produce new breeds of peace builders with strong technical backgrounds. Peace Engineering highlights the integral role engineers can have in preventing violent conflicts through our superpower to create abundance of energy, water, and food, and shelter. After an introduction to Peace Engineering by Joseph Hughes, PhD (Director, A.J. Drexel Institute for Energy & Environment (IExE) & former Dean of the College of Engineering), the conference attendees got a chance to experience radical collaboration and harness the power of Autodesk Fusion 360 to create breakthrough solutions for clean water access in impoverished communities. “This is an excellent opportunity for engineering students to learn about a different kind of leadership and broaden their perspective of how their training can be put to use,” said Joseph Hughes, PhD.

In the month following the conference, the contestants refined their designs and collaborated in the cloud for the Engineering4Peace (E4P) Award jointly supported by Autodesk, Drexel University, and Pi Tau Sigma to win mentorship from Autodesk design professionals at the either of the company’s makerspaces (Pier 9 in San Francisco, or the BUILD Space in Boston) and the United States Institute ofPeace.