19 June 2017

Flamingo, the bike-ambulance designed to save people’s lives, was born from a heart-warming story of social interest. Not for large cities, it has been designed for the inaccessible rural areas of developing countries in which children and adults are unable to receive medical assistance. 

The Flamingo project was created in collaboration with Prof Francesco Trabucco, a lecturer in the Faculty of Design, by young Milanese designer Marta Alice Fattorossi, and was the subject of her Design and Engineering degree thesis at the Politecnico. Marta got the idea for the bike while undertaking a period of volunteer work during her university studies, when she travelled to India: a human experience she describes as being "deep and fulfilling"

I immediately understood that, as well as helping those in need while I was actually there, I also had to actively contribute to improving the living conditions of local communities

Marta had seen the population’s most pressing needs with her own eyes. "Every day, an average of 15 people (five of whom are children) in isolated rural villages cannot receive medical assistance as the only form of transport available to them is the bike. So why not create a bike-ambulance?" 

And it was the need for a simple answer to a complex problem that urged Marta to take on the challenge. The bike-ambulance is made up of a sort of two-wheeled stretcher that can be attached to any bicycle with some hooks that make it stable and well-anchored. 

I chose the name (Flamingo) because of the way this bird stands on just one leg: in fact, one of the wheels of the bike-ambulance can be raised when hooked to the side of the bicycle, like a side-car 

Marta explains.

It is a truly innovative idea that thereby allows the health worker to constantly monitor the patient, even while pedalling. But the great innovation of Flamingo is also its versatility. Not only a side-car, it can also be used as a gurney when transporting patients in the most difficult conditions, or as a hand-cart while accessing secondary roads leading to villages or entering homes. The usefulness of this form of "transport" is further highlighted by the fact it is also relatively cheap to build: Flamingo is in fact designed to be produced with materials, resources and technology that be easily found in the places it is destined to be used (tubes, PVC sheets, etc.) and, as well as being easy to assemble, there is also the possibility of onsite maintenance.
Marta has left no detail to chance: "I wrote a very simple instruction manual with plenty of images as the idea is that Flamingo can be built onsite in developing countries, in collaboration with local non-government organisations".

A second trip to India meant Marta could really fine tune the entire project, "but I also returned to do more volunteer work" she clarifies.

And so Flamingo – a bike and hook to attach the gurney to the bike - as well as becoming Marta’s degree thesis, was also patented by the Politecnico. 

Subsequently, thanks to an excellent collaborative team work exercise between Italian sponsors and suppliers (in the cycling sector Fratelli Doniselli, Renesto Telai and BiArt) and with the precious contribution of Social Innovation Teams (SIT), a community of social entrepreneurs and innovators who created a Crowdfunding campaign and other specific fundraising activities, today the Flamingo dream has finally become reality!

This prototype will be tested in India allowing us to identify the project’s strengths and weaknesses in order to carry out any required improvements. We then hope to introduce our project to national and international non-government organisations as well as public and private organisations

Marta concludes.

Flamingo is the perfect example of how an innovative idea can be transformed into a sustainable and socially useful project which, we hope, will save lives.