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March 16, 2009

Pondering Prototype Processes

As [ClubStead](http://www.seasteading.org/strategic-areas/engineering/clubstead) gets wrapped up, I’ve been pondering the next steps for our structure development. ClubStead demonstrates that a spar platform seastead can be built which can endure the worst storms in a fixed location of California, at a certain price point. But we don’t want to demonstrate just via [engineering reports](http://www.seasteading.org/files/MIandT040_08_R1_Seastead_Exec_Sum.pdf), we want to do it by building prototypes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a rendering is only worth a hundred, but walking onto the deck of something real – that’s more like a hundred thousand.

Unfortunately, the engineering reality is that the optimal design for different size structures is very different. A scaled down ClubStead will perform poorly in deep ocean waves (which stubbornly refuse to scale), and something that works well at 1K ft^2 won’t scale up to 100K ft^2. Do we build something that reflects our long-term goals but doesn’t perform well? Or something that performs well but doesn’t scale up. isn’t as new and different and exciting a design? Or is there a clever way to have both?

Personally, I lean towards making something that is good at being what it is. If we make a great studio, apartment, or house-sized seastead, we know we have something which is useful for at least some segment of the seasteading population. Let’s save the scale models of big designs for wave tank and aquarium experiments. Why build a 1/5th scale ClubStead when we can build a 1/100th for the wave tank, and learn just as much at a tiny fraction of the cost? I guess the answer is what I led off with – because getting to experience something physically is a powerful and important tool for marketing. Even if it can’t handle big waves, perhaps a small spar platform (or VersaBuoy-style articulated platform) would still be useful.

Now, we still haven’t decided whether to do this by paying consultants, creating an engineering design competition, or doing a hybrid (say, a competition where the consultants evaluate entries), and we are actively discussing it within TSI and on the forums. But regardless of what path we choose, we need to figure out what our goals are. Do we ask for a great design for a small seastead? For a design which cleverly works well at both small and large scale? For the best way to scale down the spar platform concept? I don’t know what physical embodiment will best aid the seasteading movement. I know we need to build something, and it needs to look cool and different. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

Which is where you come in :). Given that the next iteration of design will be aimed at creating something we can go build in the SF Bay, what should it be?