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:

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".)