The DIY Three-Wheeler

Kevin Becker recently moved to Kenya and built this great DIY three-wheeler for his son.

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“My son wants to be outside all of the time. This three-wheel cart allows him to pedal himself around like Fred Flintstone, or I can push him from behind with the handle. The larger wheels are good for the rough terrain on our farm. He can turn the front wheel to steer himself, or I can tilt the cart back so the front wheel is off the ground when I need to steer.”



The Three-Wheeler in action.

“Except for the wood, I used parts that I had on hand which I brought with me from the U.S., but I’m sure everything could be found here in Kenya. The wheels came from golf club bag carts, but any spare wheels, around 10″ diameter, should work. The rear handle and front wheel support are made from 1″ PVC. The front handle is 3/4″ PVC.The seat is a piece of spongy foam used for padding your knees when doing yard work.”

Parts list

  • 1 – 5″ angle bracket
  • approx 10′ of 1″ PVC pipe
  • approx 2′ of 3/4″ PVC pipe
  • 4 – 1″ PVC T-joints
  • 2 – 1″ PVC 90° joints
  • 1 – 1″x3/4″x3/4″ PVC T-joint
  • 2 – 3/4″ PVC 45° joint
  • 2 – 3/4″ PVC end caps
  • 1 – foam pad
  • 4 – 1″ washers to attach the foam
  • 1 – 19″ 2×4 board
  • 1 – 21″ 2×4 board
  • 1 – 12″ 1×2 board
  • 2 – 16″ 1×2 boards
  • assorted screws and bolts as needed

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Let’s see how long it will take until this is replicated in Ongata Rongai!

A Tablet for Africa?

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For many of you reading this, the title of this article might lead you to a vision of one laptop per child – or some other Silicon Valley vision of progress for Africa.

The technology I wish to discuss is slower and simpler. Full disclosure: it’s my invention.

The Betabook is a portable whiteboard, which can be used with a smartphone for archiving, content creation, and social media sharing.

During my time in Egypt working with the icehubs network, I tested the initial prototypes. Uses in this context included:

  • Translation – through drawings (and the written text of others) I’ve been able to communicate with Deaf Egyptians in Aswan and others who cannot speak English.
  • Improved communication – visual aids, allow for clearer communication of objectives or ideas
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Part’s list for Air Quality Kit – Preparing for a Hackidemia workshop in Alexandria – see previous post for outcomes.

  • Note taking during field work, and archiving using my smartphone
  • Annotation of photos as a form of resource documentation.

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    A visual model of the problems of land inheritance in Egypt, along with potential solution.

  • Creating an illustrated children’s story with my wife (story by me, illustrations by Zeinab)

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I found the Betabook to be an invaluable tool, and something I could share and use freely with my peers. Asking collaborators to “draw it for me” allowed for clearer communication, and easy creation of new ideas.

Three deaf brothers I used it with in Aswan liked it so much we decided to do a spontaneous workshop to show them how to make their own.

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Early prototype showing difference between readily available plastic and custom created.

We used locally sourced plastic sheet – not as good as our custom material but enough for their needs.

I hope that the project can also serve as inspiration, demonstrating that Technology need not always be digital. This project started in a bedroom with a pair of scissors, and developed in the open.

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An early prototype built from an old notebook, some plastic sheet and some tape using a pair of scissors.

Since the end of my contract we have funded the product on Kickstarter. I’m pleased to report it’s been enthusiastically received by the Egyptian Market.

We recognise the current price of the Betabook makes it less accessible to all tiers of the African market. To address potential demand we are making our material available for people to produce their own. We are also encouraging group buying to reduce postage costs.

For Hubs which already use new process models such as:

  • Graphic Facilitation
  • Open Space
  • Hackathons
  • Service Design Workshops
  • Business Canvas Workshops

The Betabook offers the opportunity to reduce long term material costs and generate additional income streams.

There are lots of discussions about localised production within various hubs and organisations. We can see the potential of local micro-businesses to profit from producing their own versions of the Betabook. We’re interested to connect with communities who upcycle local waste. Collaboration with local artisans could also lead to unique product offerings.

While its too early for us to get this network of producers up and running at this point, we are eager to gage the demand for this model. Please feel free to get in touch if you’d like to be one of the first to know when we are ready to take this conversation further.

Disclaimer: The ? in the title is there because the title is intended as a teaser – a playful prod to high tech solutionism.
The Betabook is not designed solely for African Markets, but could be adapted to suit local needs should there be demand. It is not offered as a solution or “magic bullet”. It is simply a communication tool I have found useful in the field, and have prototyped localised versions of it in Aswan and Alexandria.
The above article is a review of my personal experiences with it, and intended to open discussions as to further opportunities.

SK8OPIA – Skate Ethiopia

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These are great news from our Ethiopia-based partner iceaddis: a student recently designed a new wheel for skateboards that can be produced in Ethiopia – made and designed in Africa. Reinventing the wheel? Eh!

Bauhaus product design student Daniel Scheidler presented his bachelor project on affordable and locally appropriate vehicles for individual transport in Ethiopia. Through extensive field research in Addis Ababa, Daniel concluded that new roads of good quality have been built across the city and the country, but owning a car is still far too costly for the great majority of the population, while the public transport system (buses & taxis) on the other hand is overcrowded. Derived from personal experience in the skateboard scene, Daniel’s proposed solution is a locally adapted type of skateboard, as a viable option for the daily transport needs of the urban masses.

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Of central importance to the concept is the wheel, which was especially designed for easy production with locally available materials. Up until now, any complete wheel on the Ethiopian market, be it for bicycles, wheelchairs or skateboards, has been an expensive import from abroad. Daniel’s prototype relies on a core out of spray foam insulation, cast with a reusable mold and supported by a fiberglass coating and leather or rubber from used tires. The wheel design is meant to be gradually enhanced and adapted through the iterative process of small-scale local manufacturing.

See it all in action here (@ 01:33):

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(via icebauhaus, thx!)

Maker Faire Africa comes to Jo’Burg

Maker Faire Africa was first held in Ghana in 2009, then Kenya 2010, Egypt 2011, Nigeria 2012 and now in South Africa 2014. It’s been an amazing thing to be a part of, and the best is to be there and see the local ingenuity, the practical inventions that are made by some of the smartest and scrappiest people in Africa.

Maker Faire Africa 2014

Makers from across Africa will join ZA Makers for 4-days of meet-ups, mash-ups, workshops, and seed-starting ideas for new collaborations in open innovation across the continent.

When: Sept 3-6, 2014 December 3-6, 2014
Where: WITS (University of the Witwatersrand), exact location TBD
Who: You + all the other Makers, just sign up

Maker Faire Pop-Up Makerspace

Maker Faire Africa 2014 will bring together over 5,000 attendees, along with featured inventors, world-class makers, self-made entrepreneurs & workshop experts from South Africa, across the continent, and around the world, to manufacture real solutions for some of Africa’s most pressing challenges & opportunities in the areas of agriculture, health, education, power, and more. Whether your interest lies in technology, engineering, science, humanities, design or fabrication, you’ll find the best grouping of enthusiastic hardware innovators at MFA 2014.

At the heart of the Maker Faire Africa Community experience is our Pop-Up Maker Space – facilitated through a collaboration between local hackerspaces & volunteers and visiting world-class makers. Open the full length of the faire, it caters to all ages, skill levels, and interests. Visitors can organize their own impromptu maker projects using available tools & supplies, attend demonstrations such as 3D-Printing Indigenous Patterns, Light Up Your Gele, or Strawberry DNA Extraction, or participate in supervised workshops such as Learn to Solder, Solar Energy for Personal Power, Microelectronics 101 or AfriRobotics for Beginners.

MFA is structured to encourage visitors to actively make, not just observe. We integrate students and professionals alongside informal inventors in a way not happening elsewhere across Africa.

Some school girl makers in Nigeria 2012

Some school girl makers in Nigeria 2012

Handmade hydraulic toys at MFA 2012 in Nigeria

Handmade hydraulic toys at MFA 2012 in Nigeria

“Solutions for Africa’s economic growth must emanate from Africa to be wholly understood and integrated. Maker Faire Africa has the potential to be the birth- place of African invention fundamental to the continent’s development… these are Africa’s unsung heroes, as it is their understanding of what is needed, rather than what is simply cool, that translates into the most valuable economic asset on the continent today.”
– Deo Onyango, GE Commercial Development Director for East Africa

Handmade Fashion Glasses - MFA Kenya 2010

Handmade Fashion Glasses – MFA Kenya 2010

(crosspost from Whiteafrican.com)

The Mukombe

The Mukombe - Zimbabwe's tippy tap

The Mukombe – Zimbabwe’s tippy tap

Dr. Peter Morgan, winner of the 2013 Stockholm Water Prize and resident of Zimbabwe, recently shared the design of The Mukombe on the forum of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance. The Mukombe is a hand washing device – a “tippy tap” as it is commonly known within the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) scene – as it just requires a little tip to provide the user with just enough water to wash the hands. In water-arid areas, such a simple device can be essential to hygiene.

Naturally occuring Mukombe

Naturally occuring Mukombe

“(The Mukombe) was first conceived by Dr Jim Watt when he worked in Zimbabwe as a Salvation Army doctor in Chiweshe in the late 1970’s. (…) This vegetable had a hard shell and could be used as a gourd or calabash for carrying water and other commodities. It is commonly grown in the fields. The great innovation was to turn this common plant into a hand washing device. (…) Many years ago I made a fibre glass replica of this remarkably simple and elegant device. Many if not most natural plants did not have the right shape. Using the fibre glass replica with its idealised shape, Prodorite in Harare have been able to mass produce the product. The mukombe holds about 2 litres of water and can provide enough water in a single filling to give about 35 hand washes.”

How the Mukombe works (drawings by Jim Watt)

How the Mukombe works (drawings by Jim Watt)

“Modifications are made to the naturally occurring Mukombe. An opening is made in the top and a cork or plug is placed at the end of the neck as shown above, with a small opening for water to drain. Holes are drilled into the top of the mukombe and a string passed through. The mukombe is suspended by the string so that it lies at a special angle. The mukombe is filled with water and then tipped up so that some water passes up the neck. When the mukombe comes to its resting position again, some water is left at the end of the neck and slowly drains out. It is this water which is used to wash the hands. The flow stops automatically when the small reservoir in the neck runs out.” (src)

Use at a school

Use at a school

The beauty of the Makombe over other tippy taps is that the design is based on a naturally grown product and that it only uses a very little amount of water. Plus: you can hang it anywhere, there is no need for an advanced construction. Clearly another winner in the “it’s cheap, it works, it wins”-category.

Avid readers may remember Dr. Morgan as the inventor of the Blair Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) Latrine, which has meanwhile been adapted as the national standard by the Government of Zimbabe.