Just a quick brain dump: more and less useful things you can do with the components of an old electric wheelchair (usually two 24 V DC geared electric motors of 200-400 W each, a motor controller, and batteries).

  • Telepresence robot for tele-farming. The robot would have a video camera and a high resolution still image camera. It would carry PV panels to recharge itself, so would never get completely stuck (but may only be able to move a few hundred meters per day). The robot can be used to inspect the farms and growing conditions for remotely giving advice to smallholder farmers in developing regions. Also, it could allow consumers from so-called developed countries to explore the farms and village where their products come from, without having to travel there. As part of a P2P food monitoring scheme like the Fairdirect Label (which I co-developed), the telepresence robot would allow customers to check whether the farming conditions are as stated.
  • Telepresence robot for “visiting” friends and relatives.
  • Remote gardening robot. So you can grow your food in one place even when living a nomadic life. The robot for this would look like a portal robot, driving above a row of plants.
  • Weeding robot. Would use deep learning based image classifiers to identify weeds.
  • Irrigation robot for gardening.
  • Robotic parcel delivery in a village. Would be a simple line following robot, with a network of lines on sidewalks in the village.
  • Toolsharing robot for multiple villages. At 7-10 km/h it’s realistic to let the robot move tools on demand in an area of 5 km diameter (6-8 villages). Delivery time would be at most one hour (going to the village 5 km apart, and coming back). It could be a simple line-following robot, with lines on the ground between villages.
  • Pulling a trailer with load.
  • Solar powered autonomous vehicle. This is more like an art project: an autonomous robot that is left to travel alone forever.
  • Firewood collecting robot.
  • Street sweeper robot. Of course autonomous.
  • Street graffitti robot. CNC painting on the street and other large surfaces. ith spray paint cans, chalk or other means.
  • Telepresence robot for the public. Would be put in some interesting location, like an abandoned industrial area, a refugee camp, or a war zone. It would be controlled by anyone on the Internet who is interested in driving it for a time.
  • Animal herding robot.
  • Open source StreetView mapping robot. In contrast to normal StreetView, it would collect 360° pictures in a grid every 5-10 cm. This allows to fluidly visualize moving from anywhere to anywhere (while keeping eye distance from the floor, of course).
  • Soil mapping robot for agriculture.
  • Autonomous mini library. It would drive around in a city by itself and offer books to anyone who wants them.
  • Sutonomous mini sales cart.
  • Snow pattern maker. Some people create huge, nice geometric patterns in snow by walking them. This would be more efficient.
  • Autonomous terrace farming robot. It would probably be tracked for that purpose.
  • Fertilizer robot. In organic gardening that would mean urine and compost.
  • Load carrying robot that follows a person. Using an optical beacon attached to the person.
  • Drink and food server for a restaurant.
  • Self-driving battery power tool carrier and charger.
  • Storage management robot. Carrying pallets or boxes to storage workers, like Amazon does it in their storage areas.
  • Robotic load carrier for mountain villages. It would move slowly but autonomously between villages. For villages in Nepal which are still often only connected by footpaths, this could be an interesting and economical new logistics infrastructure.
  • Vacuum cleaner robot for indoors.
  • Trash collecting robot for cleaning up outdoors.
  • Camera rig robot.
  • Childrens’ toy car. They will love it.
  • Remote surveillance robot for guarding a place. WIth cameras and LED lamps attached.
  • Advertising carrier robot. To be used in pedestrian areas etc..
  • Segway type vehicle. Quite suitable as there are two independently powered wheels normally.

To approach any of these ideas, or your own of course, have a look at some of the more interesting devices people already created out of electric wheelchair parts:

Finally, here are some good technical explanations about how to add remote control to an electric wheelchair:

A friend with a big heart for victims of human trafficking asked me to identify opportunities for helping trafficked women in Europe. As my (initial) results can be useful for others as well, I publish them here. My research focused on work opportunities for English speakers, as opposed to also speaking, say, an Eastern European language. The sections are ordered accordingly: the "most adequate issue" for English speakers to care about comes first.

(1) Issue: Nigerian women trafficked via Italy

Summary: This "trend" is becoming worse and worse since 3-4 years and it is not an understatement to call it a human rights crisis since early 2016. It also seems the most adequate (or one of the most adequate) work opportunity in Europe for social workers and counsellors with English language skills.

The Guardian has a good, recent introduction to the problem, complemented with a little photo documentary. According to that, 11,000 Nigerian women arrived to Italy in 2016, which is double the already high 2015 numbers. And the UN estimates 80% of them will end up in prostitution across Europe. This fate is also reflected by prostitution in Italy itself: as early as 2008, before the "real" start of this crisis, 90% of Italy's sex workers were migrants, of which 40% were from Africa, mostly Nigeria (source). One interesting fact from the Guardian's reporting is that these Nigerian women are brought into Italy as refugees (mostly in small boats via Libya), and remain in South Italy's refugee reception centers for about three months. That is, until they receive documents granting them temporary residence as refugees. So there is a small window of time in a protected setting to identify, contact and inform them about their real situation – before they leave the refugee center to be picked up by their traffickers again. However, the Guardian article also mentions there are only 1600 places for victims of trafficking in Italy, so currently most of the 11,000 women do not receive any help in time.

Language wise, it can be expected that Nigerian women arriving to Italy at least speak basic English: Nigeria has English as its official language and 53% English speakers. Given the many tribal languages in Nigeria, English is seemingly the preferred medium of communication even among Nigerians, as can be observed from the documentary video in the Guardian article. Regarding interaction with Italians, from my own experience getting around in Italy with just English works quite well, though it works much better in Northern Italian cities than in South Italian towns and villages, where even young people sometimes don't speak English. However most of the activities in South Italy would happen in or around the refugee reception centers, where English is the main mode of communication between staff and refugees anyway, and also between national and the many international staff members.

When it comes to organizations working in Italy against human trafficking, a (non-exhaustive) list is as follows:

  • Piam Onlus. An initiative by a Nigerian woman (who is a former victim of trafficking herself) and her Italian husband, focused on the issue of Nigerian women being trafficked via Italy. Since being founded in the early 2000s, they already rescued more than 200 Nigerian women and girls. A small video documentary about them can also be found in the Guardian article that was already linked above. They currently host 80 refugees in both their refugees hub "Villa Quaglina" and various family homes in the Northern Italian city Asti (source). Not all but some of them are victims of trafficking (source), so in this way their infrastructure can be said to be a safe house. Finding out more details and potential volunteering options will need direct contact, though.
  • Caritas Italiana and Caritas Internationalis. The social work organizations of the Roman Catholic Church – means, they are quite large and well-funded. They carry out the Catholic Church's "official" response to human trafficking in Italy (source). Also, these two organizations constitute two of the four Italian members of the COATNET anti-trafficking network (see).
  • WUCWO. The "World Union Of Catholic Women’s Organization". One of the four Italian members of COATNET (see).
  • Talitha Kum. They describe themselves as "International Network of Consecrated life Against Trafficking in Persons". One  of the four Italian members of COATNET (see).
  • COATNET. An Italian ecumenical network that "brings together different Christian organizations against trafficking in human beings" (source). They do not operate safe houses by themselves, but will be a good source of further information.

Obviously, given Italy's religious demographics, >90% of all faith-based organizations working against human trafficking in Italy will be Roman Catholic. To find more of these organizations, an appropriate Italian search term is "cristiani organizzazioni contro tratta di esseri umani".

(2) Issue: Trafficking for sexual exploitation in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Norway

The demographic composition of sex workers in these three countries, but esp. of the UK, makes it another work opportunity for English-speaking social workers and counsellors. (The numbers below are from 2008, as found in the TAMPEP report. Obviously, significant changes could have occurred since then, but more recent numbers are hard to come by.)

  • United Kingdom. 59% of sex workers in 2008 were UK nationals, so would speak English. Of the 41% migrant sex workers, two thirds are from Eastern Europe, and cannot be expected to speak English well initially. However unlike in other countries with this situation, migrant sex workers would learn English over time while in the country. Furthermore, human trafficking in the UK is a rising issue, with a 246% increase over 5 years, resulting in 3266 victims identified in 2015 (source).
  • Belgium. 60% of its sex workers in 2008 were migrants. Of these, 26% came from Western Europe and another 26% from Africa. To communicate with the 40% national sex workers, and for getting around in Belgium in general, English is probably sufficient. Belgium is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country anyway, with its French and Wallone populations, and most speak English quite well there.
  • Norway. 70% of its sex workers in 2008 were migrants, of which 43% came from Nigeria. This might be however completely different now, as the population in Norway is small, so its sex workers are fewer and change can happen faster.

(3) Issue: Trafficking for sexual exploitation in Germany

In Germany, working in English with victims of human trafficking seems rather difficult due to demographics: 60-70% victims of human trafficking in Germany come from Eastern Europe. Some more data: "Two thirds (612) of all identified victims [of human trafficking in Germany] originated from Eastern Europe: Bulgaria (25,3%), Romania (20,9%), Hungary (7,7%). 20,8% of victims had German nationality." (source, translation my own). Since many of the victims come with a low level of formal education, and English has not been the predominant lingua franca in Eastern European countries for decades, it cannot be expected that they know to speak English. People with Eastern European language skills, of which there are a considerable amount in Germany, seem more apt for this particular work.

Still, for completeness, here are ways to identify organizations working against human trafficking in Germany:

  • Gemeinsam gegen Menschenhandel. A German network whose name translates to "United against Human Trafficking". Their membership organization list is one of the best resources here. Of the 27 member organizations, many seem to be Christian faith-based organizations, and 11 of them are particularly active in practical help "on the ground".
  • KOK. Another German network against human trafficking. They seem to be a Christian faith-based network, though not all member organizations have an equally Christian perspective. They have a list and a map of their member organizations online.
  • Frauenhaus organizations. A Frauenhaus (literally, "women's house") is the German equivalent of a safe house. However, unlike a safe house, it usually focuses on victims of domestic violence. There are specialized ones caring for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation as well, though. In any case, see the (long!) list of Frauenhaus organizations in Germany. Another, partial and mostly overlapping list is found here.
  • Stern list. German magazine "Stern" published this list of organizations caring to help prostitutes leave the business. They may or may not be faith-based organizations.
  • Sisters e.V.. A German association caring to help women leave prostitution. They seem to not operate a safe house themselves, but will have information about those available.
  • SOWODI. An international organization helping victims of human trafficking. They also work in Germany and operate safe houses there.

So I just finished another little project: my new entrance ladder. Ok, let's say it's finished except for a layer of paint, as always. All paint jobs pile up for when I have no urgent needs and will start to care how things actually look 😛

2016-06-02.EntryLadder.1600x1200

This shows the truck's right side, with the door to the living area open. The new ladder is hooked for storage to the inside of the door and will only be in use (means hooked below the door) when the truck parks on the roadside or otherwise in confined spaces where the normal stairs cannot be used. Or, like now, where the normal stairs exist only in pieces laying around …

The reason I'm writing this is to illustrate how a few pieces of trash and a few hours of time, mixed in the right way, can become useful items for everyday use. Here are the ingredients:

  • ladder hooks on door: self-made, bent to shape from 3 mm stainless steel; originally this was a broken bumper bar at the truck's box body that I had to cut off, so it's free …
  • blue mounting plate: leftover pieces from big aluminium 2 mm metal sheets that I bought from the junkyard to create door and window frames; originally all this were commercial signs at a MOT station; maybe back then I paid 0.40 EUR for the amount used here?
  • steel ladder: basically free trash, since I cut it out from the leftover back part of a tractor trailer that I had to shorten for a friend
  • lower holder: tool holder from the wooden leftover body of a 1953 firefighter truck which I burned one winter in the wood stove of my truck
  • hooks below door (not shown): bent from 5 mm steel that came as a leftover 20 cm slice of a MAN truck frame
  • nuts and bolts below door (not shown): stainless steel nuts and bolts I sorted from a 5 kg package of mixed overstock material I bought on eBay for 20 EUR … let's say these are 0.20 EUR again all together
  • rivets: seven are found by sorting a big free bucket of nuts and bolts; five are bought (0.20 EUR each?); one of them I shortened because I did not have the right length at hand (how to? remove pull pin, cut off a bit of the rivet head, put in pull pin, remove grate with file)
  • PU sealing agent: used as glue behind the blue base plate and lower holder; bought, used amount might be worth 1 EUR
  • cutting and sanding disks: I used a 125×1 mm angle grinder cutting disk half, and a 125 mm sandpaper disk half … together about 1.40 EUR
  • electricity: the sun did not send me an invoice yet

Which makes for a total monetary investment of 4.00 EUR, or 4.55 USD. I'm still ok with that amount 😀

Of course I could also have bought an entrance ladder. Why didn't I? For one thing, it is difficullt to find something that fits here (I looked once, and only found fitting ones from yachting accessory for at least 100 EUR). And then: While this might be uneconomical in monetary terms for me now, I am learning and getting better at building my own stuff. It's an investment into the future, because I discovered that building your own stuff grants you a form of freedom. How so? Because you can always build some simple, useful items you need, and this way you can always cover some of your needs without a paid job. Just free trash and free time needed. Now what if we could build everything we need from trash? Would we still fear "unemployment"? Would we still accept hiearchies in the workplace, strict time regimes, uninhabitable and ugly offices, bad pay?

With projects like these, I'm exploring how much freedom there is in free trash. I know about efficiency issues with DIY building, the need for automation and so on. But it's just the start, and so far I cannot even see the end: open source tech solutions are getting more powerful every day. (Have a look at EarthOS if you are not convinced yet, it's my collectionf of "open source solutions for everything in life".)