Since setting up shop in Cambodia, the Agile Development Group (ADG) have sought to deliver innovative and inspiring results in the areas of disability and inclusive design, social enterprise development and rural community development.
In recent times, ADG has embarked on building a social enterprise hotel that has a room dedicated to people with disabilities. While working on that project they started to explore how people with disabilities could travel around the city since typical Tuk Tuks are not wheelchair friendly, in a city with no accessible transport.
This thought formed the basis of their next project which is what this article is all about – the Mobilituk, Cambodia’s first ever wheelchair accessible Tuk Tuk.
Geeks in Cambodia sat down with Ian Jones, the Executive Director of ADG to have a chat about the Mobilituk project, how it was developed and what technology went into this innovative solution.
The following interview has been edited for clarity, flow and language.
First things first, what are some features of the Mobilituk?
Ian(I): If you talk to Tuk Tuk drivers, they’ll tell you that the current design of the Tuk Tuk has been this way for years but for us, when we looked at it in terms of its form rather than its function, its effectively a box on wheels.
So if we approach it from this angle, we can look at it again and that’s where we realised we could put in a ramp at the back, extra strapping locks, enable the rear seat to move out and of course, add in some loading lights so people can see that something or someone is being unloaded.
Could you tell us what kind of technology goes into the Mobilituk?
I: I think for us, the technology that is being implemented is really simple and it’s more about the simplicity that can be explored in innovation. So, it’s like a slight shift in terms of how a Tuk Tuk is designed and we were more concerned with product design. Tech wise, we have explored the possibility of linking up our Mobilituks to apps which make use of ICT and other technologies to make it more accessible to Cambodians for booking.
Once we get 3 or 4 Mobilituks on the road, this is an avenue we will definitely explore in terms of linking up the Mobilituk to a mobile app.
What were some challenges you faced in developing the Mobilituk and how did you overcome them?
I: There’s a couple of things. The biggest thing is really shifting the mindset of fabricators. We went to seven fabricators before finally settling on one. And we know that he deliberately increased the prices for us because we asked him to do something out of the ordinary but eventually we found a price that we were ok with and we’re now going back to him. Whether it’s a new Mobilituk built to order, or a retrofit of an old tuk, its important that we have a good fabrication partner.
The other challenge is to do with quality control and I think the only way to overcome that challenge is to really be there all the time to ensure that the product turns out the way that we want it. We’re now completing the retro-fit of a third Mobilituk and we’re still having issues if we are away from the site.
To overcome these, Keogh, our designer and builder is constantly working together with the fabricators on quality control, health and safety and general production processes to help with their efficiency.
How do you hope the mobilituk is able to impact society?
I: To tell you the truth, the way we look at it, we ask ourselves how we can get a systemic change going. We could always simply put out a couple of Mobilituks but at the end of the day, that doesn’t get people to think about the service that the Mobilituk can provide. As such, we are looking at how we can influence the mainstream society to use such a Tuk Tuk.
This affects how we frame the pitch to different segments of society. For example, we can’t sell it to a Tuk Tuk driver that if they change the way their Tuk Tuk is built, they can pick up a couple more passengers. But, we can market it as a multi functional Tuk Tuk. For example, if we pull out the back seat, we can tell them that they can transport two motors in the Tuk Tuk or fit a lot more produce.
In that way, we hope that the Mobilituk will be adopted as a primary mode of transport which can then also make it a lot easier for those with disabilities to travel around the city. What is exciting at the moment is that we are now expanding into Siem Reap and we’ve taken orders for another 3 Mobilituks for hotels, with more pending. By the end of the year, we will have 6 Mobilituks operating with orders already penciled in for another 6 in the first half of 2017.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs/innovators in Cambodia?
I: My advice would be to include your eventual stakeholders in the process of developing your proposed solution. So for us, we’re developing a solution for people with disabilities so we include them in our process. We created a prototype, checked with them how they felt inside, whether they were safe, and what else we needed to add to make them feel better.
Another piece of advice I can give would be, like any tech startup, to keep iterating various versions of the product. Go to a potential user, build a prototype, re-design it, build a second one, and let the process repeat till you find something that works. And be sure to test your market as well.
Also, when working on a project like this where you obviously have people with disabilities as the users, and then the Tuk Tuk drivers as owners, you have to think about how you can create value for the Tuk Tuk drivers as at the end of the day, this is where we truly want the change to occur. For example, we know that many Tuk Tuk drivers sleep in their Tuk Tuks so if we modify the Tuk Tuk, so they can adjust the rear seats to be flat and create more room for themselves to sleep, this in itself will create a kind of unique value proposition for them and place Mobilituk ahead of its competitors, the standard inaccessible Tuk Tuk.
That was our interview with Ian Jones, the Executive Director of ADG. Its really great to see how innovation and technology are being utilized to have a positive social impact.