A Trunk on Wheels

Denmark’s Tripl electric motorbike has more cargo space than a Mercedes E-Class estate. The vehicle is aimed at goods delivery in large cities. Heated and refrigerated cargo boxes are available. Some specifications:

  • tripl elektric motor bikeCargo volume: 750 litres
  • Load capacity: 200 kg
  • Electric motor: 4 kW
  • Top speed: 45 km/h (28 mph)
  • Battery: 5.3 kWh / 6.7 kWh / 8 kWh
  • Charging time: 5.3 – 8 hours
  • Range: 70-100 km (with 8 kWh battery), 50-80 km (6.7 kWh battery), 30-60 km (5.3 kWh battery)
  • Weight excl. battery: 221 kg
  • Weight with 8 kWh battery: 301 kg
  • Length: 241 cm
  • Width: 127 cm
  • Height: 1170 cm
  • Wheelbase: 150 cm
  • Turning diameter: 7.5 m

The Case For Dangerous Roads and Low-tech Cars

car accident in poland wikipedia commons“The design of automobiles has tended toward insulation, offering an ever less involving driving experience. The animating ideal seems to be that the driver should be a disembodied observer, moving through a world of objects that present themselves as though on a screen.”

“We have throttle by wire, brake by wire, and electrical assist (versus hydraulic assist) brakes, as well as traction control and anti-lock brakes that modulate our driving inputs for us. What all this idiot-proofing and abstraction amounts to is a genuine poverty of information reaching the driver.”

“What’s more, the information that does get through is presented in a highly mediated way, conveyed by potentiometers and silky smooth servos rather than by the seat of your pants. It is therefore highly discreet, and does not reflect fuzzy, subtle variations. Nor is it sensitive to changes that haven’t been anticipated and coded for ahead of time, for example the vibration that might arise from a brake caliper bracket that has come loose or cracked. Perhaps most troubling, the electronic mode of presentation means that information about the state of the car and of the road is competing with information from other electronic devices that may be a lot more interesting.”

Read more: The Case for Dangerous Roads and Low-Tech Cars, Matthew B. Crawford. Picture credit.

How To Buy a Low-Tech Car

You might not guess it after strolling through a few dealerships, but cars and trucks with limited technology still can be found if you are willing to work at it. And there still are plenty of low-tech used vehicles: even some that haven’t yet been classified as classics. To find them, though, takes patience and willingness to compromise.

simple carThere has been huge growth in the number and complexity of electronics features on passenger vehicles, says Paul Green, a research professor at the University of Michigan. In tracking just one model, the Infiniti G, over a seven-year period, Green found that the total number of pages in this entry-level luxury car’s multiple owner’s manuals grew by an average of 30 a year.

That means the owner of a 2013 Infiniti G has to read the equivalent of a small novel to understand how to operate all the new features added since 2006.

Just as all cars are not alike, technology-averse car shoppers don’t all slip from the same mold. There are, of course, the traditional Luddites: people who believe technology diminishes humanity and want nothing to do with it. But there also are those who’d rather avoid complex technologies because they can’t, or won’t, take the time to learn how to use them. Some want to avoid technology that they see as increasing distraction because it requires drivers to look at information screens while operating the vehicle. Some are concerned about the trend toward cars with greater connectivity to the Web because of their potential for being hacked. And there are motoring purists who want nothing to come between them and the hands-on driving experience.

How to buy a low-tech car — car shopping tips for technophobes, a practical guide from automotive website Edmunds. Via WSJ.

A Scooter for Everyone

electric scooter johanson3The Johanson3 is a stable three-wheeler, with the driver leaning back rather than sitting (though sitting is an option). Feet rest on a plate, and pressing down on that plate creates a lean on the front wheel, turning the vehicle while the rear wheels remain solidly on the ground.

That makes for easy on-and off, especially for those who – owing to age, injury, or fashion choice (“skirts, saris, djellabas, and kimonos” are accommodated, according to Johanson3) – cannot throw a leg over a bicycle seat. Various models accommodate single riders or as many as three adults plus two kids, and can haul up to 660lbs of flesh and cargo. Read more: The J3, a trike that hauls freight, spares frocks.

The Johanson3 is available for pre-order and costs $3,150 – $3,900.

Africa Teaches the West How to Build a Car

Smati turtle 1 african car

Today’s cars look like spaceships and are built by robots in futuristic factories. At least, that’s the picture in the developed world.

In Ghana, West Africa, both the cars and the auto industry look rather different. In a neighbourhood called Suame Magazine, an estimated 200,000 artisans take apart discarded western cars and use the parts to build easily repairable vehicles that are suitable for African roads. All this happens manually and in open air.

Artist Melle Smets and researcher Joost van Onna, both from the Netherlands, set up shop in Suame Magazine and built a unique African concept car in collaboration with the local community: the SMATI Turtle 1. Their project calls into question western ways of dealing with technology, waste, employment and automation.

Picture: The SMATI Turtle 1

[Read more…]

Micromachines: Decentralized Urban Services in South-Asia

VelochariotArchitects Damien Antoni and Lydia Blasco have compiled an interesting document that focuses on small-scale technology in countries like India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. They photographed, and made technical drawings of miniature taxi’s, family run water turbines, domestic rain harvesting systems, pedal powered kitchens, home digesters, and the like.

The architects consider their work to be a toolbox, a starting point for thinking outside the conventional norms and recepies. They argue that decentralized services are more flexible, provide more autonomy, and are more efficient in space, energy and materials.

Antoni and Blasco present, in their own words, an equivalent to Neufert’s “Architect’s data“, the book for architects that records standardized dimensions for centralized systems. “Micromachins” is written in French but the visuals dominate.

“Micromachins”, Damien Antoni and Lydia Blasco, 2011 [download the page to get the high resolution PDF-document]. Thanks to Yann Philippe Tastevin. Update: the architects have added a new link with colour pictures and English translation.

Gas Bag Buses in Shawan, China

Gas bag buses in china

This photo shows at least six operating gas bag buses in Shawan (“Sandy Bay”), Shandong, China, in 1965. I have added the picture to the article on gas bag vehicles. Cars and buses powered by uncompressed gas in large bags were used in many European countries in World War One and Two, and remained in use in some regions of China and other Asian countries until the 1990s. They are more than a historic curiosity, however. In a comment on our earlier article, Paul Nash notes:

“On further reflection, I think the best application for this system, and certainly the one with the least government regulations to hinder the process, would be for powering of farm equipment.

  • The gas bag could be installed on a frame on top of the tractor, or on a trailer behind, or a carrier in front or to the side, or some combination of these.
  • Aerodynamics are a non issue, and neither is the height of the bag.
  • There are no road safety rules to be dealt with.
  • The short range is often not an issue, the refueling station is never far away and the diesel engines can still operate on diesel alone if need be.
  • The gas bag system also eliminates the $4000 home compressor station needed to fill car CNG tanks from home.

And, of course, the farmer can produce the fuel himself, from waste material – manure, straw, even wood chips, instead of using the harvested grain for ethanol or biodiesel. A wood gasifier could also do this, but needs a warm up and cool down period – the gas bag can be used instantly and for short duration running – a common situation on farms.”

Read more about Gas Bag Vehicles and Wood Gas Cars (another answer to the limited supply of gasoline in World War One and Two).

Picture credit: Ray-Wu.

Mumbai Rickshaws

“Recognizing the role that auto-rickshaws play in sustainable urban transport and meeting daily commute needs in Mumbai will go a long way in improving conditions for drivers, as well as passengers, and will result in social and environmental benefits for Indian cities, as a whole.”

And why not in the rest of the world? Mumbai Rickshaws. Via Emile Hooge. More low-tech cars.

How to Make an Adult Soapbox Kart

Adult soapbox kart “This guide will teach you the basic aspects you’ll need to consider to make yourself a road-worthy gravity-powered vehicle. Full suspension on gokart wheels, driver restraints, a ridgid frame with roll bar, and balanced drum brakes are features of the example kart I’ve built that weighs in at under 100lb.”

Of course, this thing only works downhill and is useless as a practical means of transport. But could we please get rid of the Indy 500 and the Formula One circus and race these karts instead? Seems like a lot more fun to me. Previously: DIY replicas of 1930s race cars.

Tricycle with Foldable Fairing

The Hase Klimax has won the Eurobike 2010 award. The Klimax is a recumbent trike with a foldable fairing and electric assist. Beats any electric city car in terms of efficiency.


Hase Bikes