A team of industrial design students at Carleton University are work at perfecting a hand-cranked bike built for Ugandans with disabilities by their fellow countryman, Nelson “Kio” Mukiika.
“We were amazed he was producing these bikes for $170 a piece,” said Dean Mellway, Acting Director of the Research, Education, Accessibility and Design initiative at Carleton University. “He’s built over 50 of them from old bikes now in his local machine shop in Kasese, one of the poorest areas of Uganda.”
A little more than a year ago, Mellway found out about Mukiika through an Ottawa initiative called CanUgan which had been helping pay for the bikes. Mellway thought Carleton’s students could help and got the International Development Research Centre on board.
“We took the design and tried to learn what it would be like to be Kio,” said Andrew Theobald, a fourth year industrial design student working on the project. “He’s a self-taught welder and works with little equipment. He doesn’t work with blueprints. He uses his fingers to measure.”
Roughly 2.4 million people with disabilities in Uganda live in chronic poverty without the means of making a livelihood. The bikes, Mellway said, give them mobility and the chance to earn wages.
To design a bike like the one created by Mukiika, the students had to limit their options. “We would usually create parts to exact measure,” said Theobald. “But we built this prototype with hacksaws. We wanted to learn a design empathy with Kio.”
Each bike he builds is a one-off since they’re made from the scraps of broken bikes. “I looked into how he manufactures the tricycles,” said Alyssa Wongkee, “to see if he could bring some of the principles of mass manufacturing into his process to make it faster and easier to build.”
The students have already come up with a major design improvement, said course instructor Stephen Field. “They figured out you could develop a new backbone for the steering and chain.”
Next Monday, the students will be meeting with design experts from San Francisco and will be joined by Ugandans participating in the project via. Skype.
“These are very smart people in Uganda and we’re trying to design with them, not designing for them,” said Field. “They’ve done so much with so little.”