Many of the homes and villages in rural sub-Saharan Africa are very isolated, and travel in these areas is often slow. As a result, many people in this region have a difficult time getting to a hospital or clinic when they need medical help. There are no ambulances and people have died because they were unable to get medical attention quickly during an emergency.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the area of Africa that lies south of Sahara Desert (see map at left). Across this vast area, more than 65% of the people live on farms and in villages, with large distances between them. Buses and other forms of mass transportation are in short supply, and less than 1% of the population owns a car or truck. Besides walking, bicycles are the primary means of transportation.

People also use wheelbarrows, donkeys and carts – both hand-pulled and animal-drawn – to get around. In general, people in rural Africa walk and carry their burdens using their own strength. If a person is sick or injured and unable to walk, getting medical attention can be very difficult, if not impossible.

The Bicycle Ambulance is a humanitarian project that responds to the problem Read More
Many of the homes and villages in rural sub-Saharan Africa are very isolated, and travel in these areas is often slow. As a result, many people in this region have a difficult time getting to a hospital or clinic when they need medical help. There are no ambulances and people have died because they were unable to get medical attention quickly during an emergency.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the area of Africa that lies south of Sahara Desert (see map at left). Across this vast area, more than 65% of the people live on farms and in villages, with large distances between them. Buses and other forms of mass transportation are in short supply, and less than 1% of the population owns a car or truck. Besides walking, bicycles are the primary means of transportation.

People also use wheelbarrows, donkeys and carts – both hand-pulled and animal-drawn – to get around. In general, people in rural Africa walk and carry their burdens using their own strength. If a person is sick or injured and unable to walk, getting medical attention can be very difficult, if not impossible.

The Bicycle Ambulance is a humanitarian project that responds to the problem of rural isolation during a medical emergency. It combines a common form of transportation in Africa – the bicycle – with a means of safely and comfortably transporting people who are sick or injured.

© 2005, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

A bicycle for life

In rural sub-Saharan Africa, travel is generally slow and difficult. People often have to transport their loads using their own strength.

Niki Dun
Bruce Mau Design, Institute Without Boudaries

©2005 Niki Dun.


Africa

Map of Africa

Bruce Mau Design and the Institute.

© 2005 Bruce Mau Design and the Institute.


The Bicycle Ambulance is designed to help transport patients from their homes in outlying farms or villages to hospitals or clinics. It consists of a removable stretcher and a trailer frame that is light enough to be towed by a bicycle, or even pulled by a person, if need be.

The stretcher is made of tarpaulin fabric (a type of woven plastic used in tents and other temporary shelters) and a metal frame. The tarp is held in place by pieces of rubber repurposed from old bicycle inner tubes, which also act as shock absorbers, making the patient’s ride more comfortable. The trailer is a welded metal frame riding on two bicycle wheels, and is attached to the bicycle using a ball-joint trailer hitch from an old car.

The Bicycle Ambulance is what is referred to as a “piggy back” solution because it makes use of skills and technologies that already exist in the area where it is intended to be used. In this case, the solution takes advantage of the fact that bicycles are used nearly everywhere. They are easy to maintain, and provide affordable transportation for the world’s poor and rural populations. Because of these factors, bicycles are an Read More
The Bicycle Ambulance is designed to help transport patients from their homes in outlying farms or villages to hospitals or clinics. It consists of a removable stretcher and a trailer frame that is light enough to be towed by a bicycle, or even pulled by a person, if need be.

The stretcher is made of tarpaulin fabric (a type of woven plastic used in tents and other temporary shelters) and a metal frame. The tarp is held in place by pieces of rubber repurposed from old bicycle inner tubes, which also act as shock absorbers, making the patient’s ride more comfortable. The trailer is a welded metal frame riding on two bicycle wheels, and is attached to the bicycle using a ball-joint trailer hitch from an old car.

The Bicycle Ambulance is what is referred to as a “piggy back” solution because it makes use of skills and technologies that already exist in the area where it is intended to be used. In this case, the solution takes advantage of the fact that bicycles are used nearly everywhere. They are easy to maintain, and provide affordable transportation for the world’s poor and rural populations. Because of these factors, bicycles are an ideal source of raw parts.

The Ambulance itself is designed to be easy to build by following schematic drawings that illustrate the steps needed for its construction.

© 2005, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Schematic

The design of the bicycle ambulance is relatively simple. It can be built with materials that are easily available in the areas where it is intended to be used, and using the skills of local tradespeople. This schematic drawing shows the bicycle ambulance trailer (below) and the removable patient stretcher (above).

Niki Dun

© 2005 Niki Dun.


Bicycle test

The bicycle ambulance is designed to help transport patients from their homes in outlying farms or villages to hospitals or clinics. Even the closest hospital or clinic can sometimes be very far away.

Niki Dun

© 2005 Niki Dun.


The team that designed the Bicycle Ambulance was lead by Canadian industrial design student Niki Dun, and included many different people and partners from a variety of backgrounds.

Niki developed the Bicycle Ambulance as her thesis – her final project – for graduation from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, which is located in Vancouver, Canada. The project has allowed Niki to work with a diverse team of international producers and users who continue to field-test her design.

In the East African country of Malawi, Niki worked with the UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Transaid, and the Salima Garage and Welder’s Association. With the help of these two groups, she tested and modified the Bicycle Ambulance to make sure it would meet the needs of the people it was intended to help.

Since it was made up of people and groups with such diverse backgrounds, the design teams had some difficulties at first. In particular, members of the team had trouble communicating and understanding each other. However, they managed to get past their differences and worked together to solve the complex problems they faced. As a res Read More
The team that designed the Bicycle Ambulance was lead by Canadian industrial design student Niki Dun, and included many different people and partners from a variety of backgrounds.

Niki developed the Bicycle Ambulance as her thesis – her final project – for graduation from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, which is located in Vancouver, Canada. The project has allowed Niki to work with a diverse team of international producers and users who continue to field-test her design.

In the East African country of Malawi, Niki worked with the UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Transaid, and the Salima Garage and Welder’s Association. With the help of these two groups, she tested and modified the Bicycle Ambulance to make sure it would meet the needs of the people it was intended to help.

Since it was made up of people and groups with such diverse backgrounds, the design teams had some difficulties at first. In particular, members of the team had trouble communicating and understanding each other. However, they managed to get past their differences and worked together to solve the complex problems they faced. As a result, they were able to create a usable and sustainable design.

“Open Source collaboration is particularly relevant to Design for Development. Design problems can be solved more efficiently, effectively and with greater opportunity for transfer of skills to developing countries when resources and skills are shared across cultures and economic and physical boundaries. It’s a challenge for designers to get our heads around the concept of open collaboration, though, and away from the ‘patent, patent, patent’ mentality that pervades design for consumption in the northern hemisphere.”
– Designer, Niki Dun

© 2005, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Malawi

In the Salima district of Malawi, Niki Dun worked with the UK-based NGO Trainsaid and the Salima Garage and Welder’s Association (SAGWA) to modify and improve the design of the bicycle ambulance.

Niki Dun

© 2005 Niki Dun.


Welders

Niki’s design experience and the abilities of the local tradespeople combined to create a successful collaborative process for building and testing the bicycle ambulance.

Niki Dun

©2005 Niki Dun


In her research for the Bicycle Ambulance project, Niki Dun looked beyond North American needs and values to gain a global perspective. She found that more than half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population lives in rural areas where hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities are not within walking distance.

She also discovered that the Bicycle Ambulance’s most common passengers were likely to be pregnant women, since their needs create the largest demand for medical transport. As well, it is important to understand that, in sub-Saharan Africa, bicycles are high-status items that are mostly owned by men. This means the ambulance driver is likely to be male.

Past solutions to the medical transportation problem in sub-Saharan Africa involved local “stretcher groups.” In these solutions, a group of people simply carried the patient from his or her home to a place where medical help was available. When medical facilities were far away, this meant a very slow trip for the patient and a tiring journey for the carriers.

The Bicycle Ambulance is intended to make it faster and easier to transport patients from farms or villages to Read More
In her research for the Bicycle Ambulance project, Niki Dun looked beyond North American needs and values to gain a global perspective. She found that more than half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population lives in rural areas where hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities are not within walking distance.

She also discovered that the Bicycle Ambulance’s most common passengers were likely to be pregnant women, since their needs create the largest demand for medical transport. As well, it is important to understand that, in sub-Saharan Africa, bicycles are high-status items that are mostly owned by men. This means the ambulance driver is likely to be male.

Past solutions to the medical transportation problem in sub-Saharan Africa involved local “stretcher groups.” In these solutions, a group of people simply carried the patient from his or her home to a place where medical help was available. When medical facilities were far away, this meant a very slow trip for the patient and a tiring journey for the carriers.

The Bicycle Ambulance is intended to make it faster and easier to transport patients from farms or villages to hospitals or clinics that can sometimes be up to 50 km (31 miles) away.

© 2005, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Bicycle Ambulance

The bicycle ambulance was built and tested in the area where it was intended to be used. This allowed the design team to gather a lot of input and feedback that helped improve the design.

Niki Dun

©2005 Niki Dun


Salima, Malawi

When designers focus on the people their design is intended to help, there are many benefits. Focusing on the users helps make the design more effective. It also gives the designer the chance to learn from their experiences and improve their overall work.

Niki Dun

©2005 Niki Dun


During her design process, Niki Dun decided that to make her Bicycle Ambulance idea useful in the real world, it needed real-world testing. So she took her design out of her university class in Vancouver, Canada and around the world to Malawi, East Africa.

In assembling the project, Niki made extensive use of the Internet. She joined Web discussion forums and emailed Transaid, a UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO). The people at Transaid were so intrigued by her idea that they offered Niki money and support to set up and carry out a pilot project – a real-world test – of her Bicycle Ambulance in the Salima District of Malawi.

It was a great opportunity, but it also presented great challenges. Niki was tested intellectually and culturally as she tried to adapt to ways of life and thinking that were very different from what she was used to in Canada. For instance, in Malawi, women are seldom employed in trades like design and engineering. As a result, the local men were not used to working with a woman.

Testing the Bicycle Ambulance in Malawi resulted in some important changes in the design as well as in the team dynamic. Read More
During her design process, Niki Dun decided that to make her Bicycle Ambulance idea useful in the real world, it needed real-world testing. So she took her design out of her university class in Vancouver, Canada and around the world to Malawi, East Africa.

In assembling the project, Niki made extensive use of the Internet. She joined Web discussion forums and emailed Transaid, a UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO). The people at Transaid were so intrigued by her idea that they offered Niki money and support to set up and carry out a pilot project – a real-world test – of her Bicycle Ambulance in the Salima District of Malawi.

It was a great opportunity, but it also presented great challenges. Niki was tested intellectually and culturally as she tried to adapt to ways of life and thinking that were very different from what she was used to in Canada. For instance, in Malawi, women are seldom employed in trades like design and engineering. As a result, the local men were not used to working with a woman.

Testing the Bicycle Ambulance in Malawi resulted in some important changes in the design as well as in the team dynamic.

“We brought a prototype to Malawi that we made here in Canada, did some testing, and there were definitely things that changed because of that. We realized the roads were bumpier than we thought, so we needed to increase the clearance of the ambulance. We discovered that the strapping for the headrest wasn’t strong enough. That was actually a helpful problem to encounter – it wasn’t fatal, but it showed the group that I didn’t know everything.”
– Designer, Niki Dun

© 2005, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Design process

Click here to see Niki Dun’s design process.

Canadian Heritage Information Network
Bruce Mau Design, Institute Without Boudaries

© 2005, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Today, Niki Dun is working to set up an organization called Design for Development. The organization's aim is to show that we can apply industrial design to create long term, appropriate and practical solutions to meet the needs of developing countries. It also helps advocate the use of those solutions.

The design of the Bicycle Ambulance achieves both economic and humanitarian goals. It employs local people and uses materials that are readily available in the area in which it is to be used. It also fills a social need by improving access to medical care. In 2004, the UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Transaid issued a report about the success of the Bicycle Ambulance project. When Transaid personnel paid a follow-up visit to the area where the project was first tested, they found that the ambulances were being used extensively and were well managed by the villages. At that point the longest trip made by a Bicycle Ambulance was more than 50 km (31 miles).

Schematic drawings for the Bicycle Ambulance will soon be available online. This will enable more groups and more communities to make use of this innovative and economical design, and to improve Read More
Today, Niki Dun is working to set up an organization called Design for Development. The organization's aim is to show that we can apply industrial design to create long term, appropriate and practical solutions to meet the needs of developing countries. It also helps advocate the use of those solutions.

The design of the Bicycle Ambulance achieves both economic and humanitarian goals. It employs local people and uses materials that are readily available in the area in which it is to be used. It also fills a social need by improving access to medical care. In 2004, the UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Transaid issued a report about the success of the Bicycle Ambulance project. When Transaid personnel paid a follow-up visit to the area where the project was first tested, they found that the ambulances were being used extensively and were well managed by the villages. At that point the longest trip made by a Bicycle Ambulance was more than 50 km (31 miles).

Schematic drawings for the Bicycle Ambulance will soon be available online. This will enable more groups and more communities to make use of this innovative and economical design, and to improve access to medical assistance for their populations.

“I think many of the practical problems encountered by communities in the developing world can be solved extremely well by using the design process, because designers are problem solvers. One of the goals of Design for Development is to connect designers with communities who have expressed a need for assistance or with organizations looking to tackle development problems from the ground up.”
– Designer Niki Dun

© 2005, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Bicycle Utility Trailer

As a spin-off from the bicycle ambulance project, Niki Dun designed and supervised production of a Bicycle Utility Trailer. This design was her solution to the unstable and often dangerous way in which goods are transported by bicycle in Malawi. The utility trailer allows users to safely transport large loads.

Niki Dun

©2005 Niki Dun


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

•Learn about the impact of globalization on quality of life
•Understand the links between his/her own life and others’
•Comprehend the impact that a lack of access to sufficient transportation creates
•Explore the ways people with diverse backgrounds work together in spite of their differences
•Discover that the most successful relief-focused designs concentrate on the people in need
•Discover that skills and technologies that already exist where a design is intended to be used can lead to cost-effective and practical solutions (piggy-back solutions)
•Learn how the Design for Development initiative creates long term and practical solutions
•Communicate the importance of employing local people and using materials that are readily available in the area
•Understand that many of the practical problems encountered by communities in the developing world can be solved by using a well-informed design process
• Recognize that solution designs for developing nations are not always predictable and can have significant intellectual and cultural challenges


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