Cesar Harada | Being an inventor for the ocean and an entrepreneur for the city

A novel idea for cleaning up oil spills.

For most people, Cesar's name jumps out with his widely spread speech on TEDxSummit 2012, in which he raised a attention-meriting oil spilling issue and presented his invention for it, the Protei.

You may watch this video via TED.com, right under his speaker page, along with another speech he gave three years later. In 2015, the inventor for oceans had settled in Hong Kong and started giving some classes for kids in Hong Kong Harbour School. In his blog (and personal website) , he described this experience as "not a smaller challenge" compared to teaching at master level, as the words needed to be for non-techies and the topics should be closely related to their daily lives.

He later wrapped up his learnings during that time on a TED Fellows Retreat. But for now, let's start with Protei.

Inventor and Protei

The ocean wasn't Cesar's born interest. After obtaining his degree from the Royal College of Arts in London, he went through several projects, including being a construction manager in iHub--a tech innovation incubator in Nairobi, Kenya.

It was during his time in Africa when the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, aka the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred. Cesar was appointed by MIT to create a hydrocarbon absorption solution. He was impressed (or rather shocked) by the current solutions and moved to Gulf to develop his own unmanned, open-source cleaning robot Protei.

Protei began as a rather rough prototype, but later turned into a well-designed biomimetic (as its name indicates, proteus )sailing drone. Its deformable body part deforms to optimise the use of wind and waves as a core driving force. While the sorbent material (which changed a lot from version to version) equipped absorbs oil when it sails.

[image source:http://protei.org/download/20110831press-kit/handbook/Protei-Handbook-web.pdf]

During its development, the Protei project attracted team members from all over the world and time-by-time formed an online community. Community members, along with Cesar himself, are still working on the next version of Protei.

Entrepreneur and MakerBay

After operating Protei in several costal cities, Cesar brought the project to Hong Kong. He then noticed a significant factor--a factor that citizens here have overlooked for ages--that the city's amzaing geological location and environment have made it a perfect location for one to create hardware projects and start some businesses, not to mention the life quality here and real business-friendly policies for entrepreneurs (actually, he did mention both during this interview ;) ).

To provide a place for like-minded people in this financial city, he created MakerBay, a makerspace (co-working space for makers) in the heart of Hong Kong.

Turns out that it's providing more than just a work space. There are, of course, places for individuals and teams to work. Apartment from that, they also host meet-ups and workshops on various topics. Other types of services are provided as well, e.g. consulting, studios with hot desk, digital fabrication, etc..

The place, which targets at not only makers but also designers and general public according to Cesar, has just opened. He's being quite optimistic about its future, given the positive feedback from those pre-signup users.

But not so satisfied with the local investors though.The only downside of running a business in Hong Kong, as he pointed out, was that the investors only get short-term views on the future thus being too reserved. As for the investment decisions, capital return would be the sole focus while social and environmental concerns are excluded.

Cesar is not such kind. Being an environmentalist, he is not only managing Protei but also paying regular trips to Fukushima, Japan to measure its remaining radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean. His personal projects, including the development of new Protei, have slowed down for MakerBay. But he will refocus on those things when MakerBay achieves financial sustainability. That must be the time when the creative minds in city all find a place to scratch ideas, and let's hope it comes away sooner.

#interview #makerbay #protei

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