Tuesday, March 30, 2010

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 61: Pioneering vehicle technology initiatives for a new Caribbean technological (and economic) order

Last time, we highlighted the potential of our region's Disaster/ Emergency Management Offices to lead the way in the sustainable renewal of our region's technology base.

As a part of that, we suggested that we should look at the resilient Community ideas of Marcin Jakubowski et al, and in particular the Life Trac Skid-loader- cum- Agricultural Tractor:

The Life Trac (cf Make Magazine article here) demonstrates (at initial prototype level currently) an alternative architecture for vehicles, that is potentially transformative:
1 --> The power system is based on first generating a transmissible, controllable power source, hydraulic power. (The engine drives a hydraulic fluid power system.)

2 --> Power is then conveyed through the flowing fluid to application points on a frame: wheels, attachment arms, power takeoff.

3 --> Such power flow is partly operator controlled, partly microprocessor controlled.

4 --> All this is built on a basic, welded rigid framework [4" square steel tubing]; designed to be articulating as well.

5 --> This modular framework allows for simplification of components, and for use of standard parts, thus for inherently low maintenance costs.
In addition, the Life Trac or the like would help rebalance the industrial base of the world, where as Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley classically complained in the 1970's, it took an obscene number of tons of agricultural production -- sugar, coffee, bananas -- to pay for the tractors that were needed for mechanisation to gain efficient cost scales for Caribbean agricultural production.

Such tractors and skid loaders are obviously highly useful machines, including for emergency offices, but other vehicles are also useful/needed. For instance, consider the Kubelwagen -- "bucket" -- military/utility car built around the original design of the VW "bug."

Such a basic design could be re-engineered around a similar controlled power takeoff and independently powered wheels, perhaps using electric drive for the wheels instead of hydraulic power. In addition, such an approach could facilitate the use of portal gear axles that offset the axle upwards, gaining ground clearance. With a standard frame base, various coach bodies could be built, probably with a bias towards fibreglass bodies. Thus, too, we see a lifespan car: once built it can be maintained at reasonable cost across a lifespan; sharply reducing demand on scare, energy intensive metals to purchase car after car. And since the architecture uses standard components and modular assembly, an economically efficient scale of operation will clearly be much, much lower than the typical 250,000 cars per year point that the mass production, assembly line automotive industry traditionally targets.

Similarly, a heavier duty version of the design could use some of the ideas of the Unimog utility truck system, for pickups and trucks generally. Minibuses would be a logical extension of this.

Thus, through collaboration between Disaster Management Offices and Engineering Schools, we have a plausible strategy to create a more modular vehicle industry in our region, first for disaster managmeent fleets, then more generally.

Such collaboration can be extended to the creation of robotic vehicles, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- useful for surveillance of disaster sites, for search and rescue and for security in general.

Beyond the creation of vehicles lies a shift to more sustainable fuels as well: biofuels, hydrogen and the like.

Of course, such vehicles will not be as "sexy" as the current mass produced and custom vehicles. But, they would be first steps towards a more sustainable technical base for vehicles for the job world, on the farm, in industry and in commerce. And as the unsustainability of current patterns becomes ever more evident, more and more private individuals and families will want to make the shift to more sustainable vehicles.

So, again, the bottomline question is whether our Disaster Management Offices are willing to pioneer such a development. END

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