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Catching up with the Rapid Foundation

We interviewed CoDesRes partners, Colin Keogh and Shane Keaveney, founders of The Rapid Foundation, whose goal is to empower people around the world to create, innovate and tackle the challenges they face head on, by giving them access and training to new forms of disruptive technologies.

Rapid on the pier at Cahersiveen, Feb 2019 Rapid at 'A Better World' launch, UCD 2019

The Rapid Foundation has been going from strength to strength. We just applied to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland’s Academy program to grow our activities in Ireland. Earlier in the year, Colin spent a week in Cahersiveen with the TY students working on CoDesRes marine-based waste research projects. We also attended the launch of Ireland’s new overseas aid program in UCD, which was launched by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. This new international development policy, entitled 'A Better World' will see Ireland increase its overseas aid to meet the target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) set by the UN. At this event, Colin met with Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development. Ciaran Cannon, to discuss using technology to increase Ireland’s impact overseas.

Colm Keogh (L) Shane Keavney (R), Rapid's founders

Can you explain the motivation and process of setting up The Rapid Foundation?

SK: The original motivation for The Rapid Foundation was really to change the world for the better using our engineering knowledge. As engineers, we have the knowledge, skills, and ability to solve problems quickly with low cost solutions. The other major influence was the opportunity we saw from low-cost, open source technology. As is more common knowledge now, these technologies have the ability to change lives quickly and cheaply. When we were first investigated them, we immediately saw the ability of them to quickly manufacture solutions that were long-lasting and easily replicated. We wanted to utilize 3D printing technology for use in developing regions. We first planned to volunteer our expertise, but when we found little to no use of the technology for developmental work, we decided to supply the hardware, training and support ourselves.

As someone with close to a decade of experience in manufacturing, I can still see the massive value in these low-cost systems. They have totally opened up manufacturing to the masses, allowing people that would have never been able to gain access to an industry-standard manufacturing system to have them on their desktop, at home, and with no limitations but their imagination. And even imagination is completely thrown on its head when people see these systems, they make what was a complex task look so simple that people’s creativity is unleashed!

What got you interested in engineering?

SK: I grew up wanting to explore the world around me at every level. I wanted to take apart everything and see how it worked and then try to rebuild my version! But this wasn’t exclusive to engineering, I was interested, and still am, in all topics around me, so I wouldn’t say that I am solely focused on engineering. I am really just interested in exploring and creating new ideas, solutions, concepts, and methodologies. Even to this day, I am looking to gain new knowledge, insights, and skills as I go through life. In terms of engineering however, I was generally interested in speed! I loved cars and anything else that moved. From a very young age I started building my own little toy cars with lego, then little go karts with timber, and then onto more sophisticated systems with motor bike engines, full suspension systems etc. It was here that I really started to understand more industry-standard manufacturing methods, milling, turning, welding etc. and get experienced with them from a young age.

I loved the limitlessness of engineering; however, I didn’t really consider myself an engineer in those early years, but it’s where I learned a lot of my core insights and empathised with the topics of it. What is interesting about my early years is that I never had the opportunity to study engineering in school, my school was a small school and didn’t have the budget to run an engineering subject, for the leaving cert I didn’t even get to do physics! So my education in engineering was very organic, using the internet, people around me and my own curiosity to learn and solve my problems. It certainly kept my parents busy, and I spent more time in the garage than the house most evenings!

How do you see the role of engineering in rural development and sustainable cities and communities (SDG11)?

CK: Engineering, and new disruptive technologies in particular, have a huge role in rural development. New technologies, be it video conferencing, 3D printing or virtual reality, all have the potential to connect people to urban centres and locate complex manufacturing and operations in rural communities. Via these technologies more jobs and innovations can stem from rural communities, helping to protect population numbers, attract in new people and build up knowledge in the region.

SK: In terms of the Rapid Foundation, where we see our role is giving people the tools to create solutions to local issues. I think that engineering can play a key role in rural development through upskilling and creation of local solutions supported by low cost technologies. The use of these innovation technologies gives people the potential to create new solutions to their own topics.

What are your views on waste as a resource?

CK: Waste is 100% a resource. Waste materials in most cases have significant value. Waste plastic bottles for example. The plastic in the bottles is 100% useful as a material, it will last for years and still be structurally sound long after the bottle has been used to hold liquid. We are throwing away highly valuable materials every day, which should be used as a local resource. Previously these materials were difficult and costly to recycle at a large scale, but with community-based efforts and localised solutions we can recycle and reuse these materials for the benefit of local communities.

SK: If we think of waste in its current form; it is of course a valuable resource that we can reuse, this is common knowledge. The real issue is our management of waste as a resource. We actually devalue our waste through our management structures and how we design our products. Even simple things like using difficult-to-remove glues automatically devalues the material underneath due to the cost of cleaning it. We live in a capitalist society and money is the key driver of everything. If it is cheap to make a new one instead of fix , clean, reuse, or recycle the old one then that is how our society says we should proceed. We need to change our mindsets and management of waste, but also change how waste is generated. Why do we need so much plastic in our world? Why can we not redesign our products for ease of clean and recycling ? etc.

Part of our current work is to apply design thinking to packaging from our understanding of design, material science, manufacturing, and sustainability and create new packaging designs.

How does Rapid fit into SDG 4,11, 14 & 15?

CK: Rapid hits all the same goals as CoDesRes, including Quality Education, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Life Below Water and Life on Land. We provide access and training to advanced technologies and target them towards impactful local problems. Many of our locations have the challenge of land and ocean based waste, plastic in particular, so we have focus some of our work towards utilising 3d printing to upgrade these waste into usual commodities and products.

How does, and can, engineering engage young people and provide Quality Education (SDG4)?

CK: Engineering is inherently engaging. People are fascinated by cars, planes rockets, robotics, all the things engineering has produced for the world. Many people enjoy building, from kids with lego to people in their shed at home, this is a key part of the engineering process. They barriers for high end engineering actions have fallen in recent years, with 3d printers and the open source movement opening up the space for non-experts. Young people are innovative, creative and unburdened with the rigors of daily life, so it’s them that have the potential to solve some of the world largest issues.

SK: Quality education starts with true engagement of the learner. The easiest way to engage someone is to talk about something they like to do and see etc. What is really important when we think of engineering is that it basically covers everything around us, the visible and invisible elements that make up our society. Engineering is no longer the old school vision of making cars or planes etc. that only engages a small number of people, but it is the creation of social media platforms, hair styling equipment, sports goods, food and next generation medical devices! In that way we can easily not just  talk to people about engineering, but about anything they are interested in and show them the engineering behind it. This satisfy the major elements of quality education.

How is the landscape of engineering changing?

CK: Engineering has changed. As many of our global problems have become more complex and interlinked, more insights and ideas are required to tackle these big problems. As such the experience generalist, someone with experience in many fields and multidisciplinary projects are becoming much popular. With disruptive technologies we can empower and enable local people to become key players in the solutions to these issues, and play a real role in tackling them.

SK: As I said engineering covers everything in our society, it is no longer focused on making big machines and factories but on all elements of our modern society. The major change the is occurring is that engineering is become extremely digital driven. We no longer need to manually draw out our designs or have an operator on a machining centre to tell the machine what to do. Instead we are doing everything virtually; design, simulation, digital prototyping, manufacturing planning and then relying on advanced robotic technology to enable our designs to come alive, such as 3D printing. With this engineering is a much more attractive industry for all, with opportunities for everyone in different parts of the operation. The new way of engineering also is allowing much more time for multidisciplinary teams. We still need highly trained specialists to ensure that our designs are correct and safe for use in the field, but these specialists can now engage more with expects in the social sciences. This allows for a deeper understanding of design requirements for example how a user will feel when engaged with a product, opposed to the load it needs to withstand.   

What are skill sets people will need to have for engineering in the future?

SK: Design thinking and other soft skills like teamwork and leadership will be key. Knowing the technical knowledge is good but we have to know how to be innovative in our application of that knowledge and create great new products and solutions.

Can you tell us about your week with TY students on the SS Net Reuse project?

CK: The week was great. The team and myself worked with the students on a number of ideas, to give them a taste of interdisciplinary research work. We worked on investigation, ideation, prototyping and dissemination, as well as a site visit to a fishing shed. The students got a good taste of the problem of marine net waste, and how complex these problems can be to solve.

Colin Keogh, 2019 at the Cahersiveen Fisherman's workspace and experimenting with nets

Thanks to Colin and Shane and we will be hearing more from Colin and Shane in future newsletters

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