City creates futuristic-looking 'nests' to help keep homeless people warm in the winter
This is what it looks like when the community looks after one another.
Elijah Chan

The best kind of innovation is the one that builds community.

Homelessness, unfortunately, has become a universal challenge. Wherever you go and no matter how developed a nation is, there will always be people on the fringes of society.

The problem is further exacerbated by unemployment, skyrocketing housing prices, and red tape within the social welfare system.

A team of engineers wanted to tackle this growing problem.

It was brought to their attention when they joined an innovation project where inventors tried to solve the problems experienced by the city of Ulm.

Citizens submitted these concerns and one of them was about homelessness. The main concern was sheltering amid freezing temperatures.

To start, the team dove into research and data.

The city of Ulm has already implemented a system for homelessness and protection during the winter months. But the team noticed one thing – the system was not accessible to everyone.

Shelter programs often need registration systems. Most of the time, these shelters refuse to admit homeless people with pets.

People who are anxious about being with other people would most likely opt out of the system. Shelter services are also unavailable for people who can’t prove their formal residence in the city.

The team then focused on this group of people.

What they needed was a space that can be accessed easily, safe, warm, and protected. They need a shelter that can go around the requirements of the existing system.

That was when they thought of the Ulmer Nest. The pentagonal prism is more than just a capsule. It is a futuristic way of tackling homelessness.

While the project is still in its pilot stage, it is already an impressive engineering feat.

The capsule can fit two people or a person and their pet. The capsule uses a wooden shell for better insulation and for ecological and economical purposes.

It is also equipped with a wide array of devices to ensure the resident’s safety. They have sensors for GPS, temperature and humidity readers, smoke and CO2 detectors, and motion sensors.

The capsule was also designed to be cleaned easily, which members from the social welfare office do daily.

The Ulmer Nest team emphasized, however, that this is not a permanent solution.

The problem of homelessness is cultural and systemic, and the Ulmer Nests are designed just to bridge the gap of accessibility.

Despite this, however, their project has received positive attention from the residents of Ulm. Florian Geiselhart, one of the engineers said they even saw people giving hot tea to residents who stayed in the capsule overnight.

They also received criticism from the “right-wing” section of the community, which the engineer described as people who set people in need against each other.

The project ran in a limited prototype phase.

The team envisions scaling it bigger, depending on the demand from cities. Upscaling includes the improvement of building materials and implementation of other revisions from data collected from the prototypes.

The project was spearheaded by the Wilhemsburo Project, a think-tank initiative that gathered engineers and innovators to solve a city’s problems.

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By Elijah Chan
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Elijah Chan is a contributor at SBLY Media.