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Activist Engineering – Engineering for a better world

Engineers have been at the forefront of shaping the world we live in. There’s evidence all over our planet showing how early civilisations fashioned basic tools to build things to make life better, one of the most significant examples is The Great Pyramids. Built around 5000 years ago, these are still visible today! These days things aren’t quite "built to last", with perhaps the exception of the Nokia 3110, where urban myth says that it would still likely power up after being buried in the sand for 5 Millenia!

Although the profession of engineering emerged in the 1500s, it wasn’t until The First Industrial revolution in 1765 where the age of steam power led to mechanized production. The Second Industrial Revolution brought us Electricity in 1870 and the Third in 1969 brought us computing and the beginning of space exploration. We now find ourselves in the dawn of Industry 4.0, where Smart connected factories will transform manufacturing to be more efficient.


Although Engineering has shaped the way we live and work, it's also contributed to many of the environmental challenges we are living with today. Our hunger for the latest technologies has created a throwaway economy with many of our personal effects and gadgets having a much shorter lifespan than days gone by. Much of this sadly ends up in a landfill earlier than it needs to, either due to low quality or obsolescence.

Cop 26 ran during the first two weeks of November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. World leaders assembled to address how together we can tackle the problems that are damaging the planet and the health of its inhabitants. If we don't work together and don't act now, it may be too late to repair the damage.

As Engineers, we play a key role in society. The products and technologies we develop can directly affect people’s lives and wellbeing, as well as the health of our planet.

At DesignSpark we reach and engage with millions of engineers from around the world, we work with world-leading manufactures of technologies that are the building blocks for engineers. To help us all on an engineering journey that makes a difference to the world we live in, we want to help educate and influence engineering responsibility to all generations of engineers, so that together we can all be “Activist Engineers”

Sustainability is becoming high on the agenda for companies as well as individuals, and we all need to play our part in looking after the environment and its inhabitants. As Engineers, we can make a real difference in the way that products are being designed. From conception, ensuring that that we are designing products to last longer and use fewer components and materials, as well as being more aware of what happens to them once they have reached their end of life.

Can products be re-used, recycled, or more easily repaired? Are they using precious natural resources that end up in landfills across the world? We want you to join us and influence how design through ​#ActivistEngineering commits engineers to step back and ask how they can create engineering outcomes that have a more positive impact on the world around us.

Sustainability by design

We all read every day the impact we are having on the world around us, we all have a responsibility to make a change no matter how small that is, is there something that we could be doing but are not doing today? How can we as engineers make a difference and become active participants? By taking direct action and influencing those around us to also make a change we can become influencers for #ActivistEngineering.

We want to celebrate the role that design engineers play in solving sustainability challenges and enhancing the wellbeing of those less fortunate. How are you innovating to create fresh solutions to address current environmental issues? What can you do to make a difference or it might be that you are already doing something?

With the introduction of new legislation and the push politically to become Net Zero, we will all be impacted by these changes in how we live and how we as consumers come to view products and how these impact the environment around us. What will this journey look like from where are today to a world where the earth’s resources become more limited, and we become less reliant upon fossil fuels for energy.

Do we all know where the raw materials come from for the products being designed and how far do they travel, how much energy do we need to manufacture them and what are the waste products?

We need to consider the whole-life impact of our designs.

For the most impact, all design processes will need to be considered as we move forward. We need to change from being a throwaway society and we need to enact change through design to change this. What are your thoughts, how can we help, what can our suppliers do to enable this change to happen and happen faster, please tell us! We want you to share your thoughts and stories on and across social media platforms - #ActivistEngineering

To support this vision in the next few weeks, we will be introducing our first open-source collaborative project using our Open Source Environmental Sensor Development platform.

Jude Pullen showing the open-source hardware

This first initiative is to raise awareness and understanding of the Air Quality where we live, work or commute. It’s a tool to act based on the results to make a positive change, either through changing your environment or developing technology to tackle the problem.

The DesignSpark Environmental Sensor Development Kit (ESDK), affectionately known as the “Jam Sandwich”, has been designed and developed as open hardware and software in conjunction with Award-Winning Creative Technologist, Jude Pullen and Andrew Back and Callum Snowden of AB Open.

Powered by a Raspberry Pi, it has plug-in sensor modules from Sensirion featuring PM2.5, CO2, TVOC and Temp/RH. In addition to a touch screen display, it also connects to a Grafana powered cloud platform to visualise and share data. The kit also supports the PMOD standard, so you can connect up PMOD compatible boards.

Credits -

Created by DesignSpark in conjunction with;

Jude Pullen - Overall Concept and Key Design Features
AB Open Ltd - Hardware Design, Development, and Layout
AB Open Ltd - Software/Firmware/API/Cloud Integration –
Jude Pullen - Enclosure Design

This is a callout to Engineers to take action to help us build and deploy a community-led global network of air quality monitors for your homes or workplaces. We will share with you how some earlier adopters will be using our Air Quality kits to drive change where they are located by creating some amazing applications that interact with the kits. Coming soon, we will ask the DesignSpark community to apply to be a BETA tester and receive a free kit to take part.

Interested in taking part!? Here's how to find out more!

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