"Transport is necessary in achieving a wide range of objectives including economic growth, personal welfare, governance and empowerment as well as security." ~ P. Njenga & A. Davis, Drawing the Roadmap to Rural Poverty Reduction

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Home at Long Last - But Not Quite Finished

So, I finally made it home. I've had a week to relax and recoup, get checked out by the doctor and hang out with my nephews and their parents. I've really missed my family quite a bit over the past few months, and it's been great to see them again. Leaving Jess is always hard, but this is thankfully the last time we'll have to do it. That made it easier, but it still sucks :) If there's one thing I learned this summer, it's that I love spending time with her - it's my favorite thing to do. Work, school and hobbies can wait, I'd really just like to go for a walk with Jess. But I digress.

So, now that I'm home I have my work to finish. I need to do some testing and finish the documentation packet so I can begin to distribute it to NGO's and some local resources around Meri. First off, I'd like to show some of the videos I didn't get a chance to upload in Cameroon. First, here's an example of a typical road in Cameroon (this one rates pretty well among the roads in the area). This is Jess, Yaya and I riding on a moto towards Maroua:

Next, here is one of the mechanics riding the HPUV. Notice when the other mechanic sits on the back (adding 150 lbs of weight to the vehicle) it barely slows the rider down:

Next, the HPUV at the market, surrounded by people who had questions:

It was exciting to see so many people take such interest in the vehicle. The most predominant questions were whether copies could be built, and how much they cost, and the mechanics answered them with quite a bit of enthusiasm.

The thesis is also in its finishing stages. My plan is to finish everything before school starts, and have the documentation packet ready before Jess heads back to Meri the second week of September, so she can take copies with her for the mechanics and anyone else interested. I'm finding home o be pretty hectic, and it's difficult to find time for all the things I want to do and people I want to see. Hopefully over the next few posts I'll be able to show some of the documentation packet, so the plans will be available here too! Out for now.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Testing the Human-Powered Utility Vehicle (HPUV)

So, I lied - this post is coming to you from Garoua, on my way to Yaounde. The last few days have been pretty busy, and I was able to get some more pictures of the HPUV uploaded as well as a video! You can paruse them here:


Friday we met one last time with the guys to give them certificates of appreciation, and to tour the village with the and the vehicle. It was great to hear feedback from so many people, and to get a good idea of how well the vehicle was being accepted by the community. All told, I think our mechanics are going to find themselves with plenty of work in the near future!

The HPUV turned some heads. Actually, it turned a LOT of heads. Everyone who saw it had questions about it, but one question that was pleasant to hear repeatedly asked was "Can you build more?" When we went to the sous-prefecture (the local government building), the mechanic driving the vehicle shifted into a middle gear and raced straight up to the front door, over some notoriously nasty ruts - without problem. The local dignitaries seemed retty amazed, and talked about the unique font end of the vehicle. Almost everyone, at first, asks if it is difficult to drive, and the mechanics are quick to say it just takes some getting used to.

Apparently in the few days I was gone from the village, they spent quite some time testing it. Pere Roger, the priest at the mission who wasn't sure the vehicle would be that useful, asked the guys to load up as much stuff into it as they could move with one person - he was reportedly delighted and surprised that it was over 100 kilos, a feat even two people couldn't do on foot.

As questions about the vehicle abounded, I directed most of them to the mechanics, who handled them with good preparation. Based on their knowledge and the small concepts that I taught them about frame strength and balancing, they've already figured out the changes they want in the next model they build. It was hearing this that let me know my work is nearly finished here. The guys don't really need me anymore, and that is the best feeling in the world. They understand that it's their vehicle and their knowledge, and they will be able to handle production in the future.

We also took the vehicle to the market. Ousman flew down the hill like he was on a simple bike, showing off how fast he could go on the thing. HE waited for us outside the market, and as we walked in with the vehicle, so many people gathered around that we couldn't even move. I have a good video of it, but I'm having trouble uploading it. Said and done, some revisions will be needed for future models, but the HPUV is a hit. I've never been so happy with one of my designs, and I can't wait to get a final document uploaded and sent all over the world.

I'll revise this post with some pictures later, but we need to get lunch for now.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Finishing Up in Cameroon

So, the vehicle is pretty much finished! It's been a heck of a couple of weeks since the last time I posted, and things are pretty rushed here at the end, but I think the results of the project are turning out well. Literally twelve hours after my last post, I found myself with another rather serious bacterial infection and amoebic dysentery, which put me on my back for several days. I just finished the meds today (with pleasure- Flagyl is some pretty strong stuff), but the first three dyas I was barely able to sit upright.

Once I was feeling strong enough to ride out to Douvangar, the guys and I were able to finish the vehicle to a usable state:

It was a weird experience getting on the thing for the first time. As soon as it started to look more like a vehicle than a cart and bike parts, quite a crowd of kids and men gathered to watch it in operation. I didn't even have the thing out the door before 6 young men hopped on it, straining some of the welds. These guys likely weighed in the neighborhood of a half ton - four times the maximum load I designed the vehicle for. After an explanation that people weigh a lot more than grain, I think they came to understand the vehicle's real uses.

I got to ride the thing around for a bit, and got a good feel for how it would perform. I think the oddest (why should this be odd?) feeling was that it drove almost exactly as I expected from my simulations. After a year of simulating the vehicle's performance with various tools, I knew in my head almost exactly how it would respond running over ruts, and how hard it would be to ascend a slope with it. To actually feel the thing under my legs, responding to the steering, etc., was pretty exhilarating. Jess said I rode around with a dumb smile on my face. I'm fine with that :)

I didn't get a whole lot of playtime, because I needed to finish my ASME paper to submit it today, so we rode into Maroua after doing some work with Jess's trees yesterday morning. Being sick had put me behind with writing the paper,, so I needed to take time to finish it now. I wish I had more time to test the vehicle, but I've already learned what I came to learn.

Leaving for home is always bittersweet. Sunday evening will likely be the last time I get the chance to see this part of the world. Another 6 days, and I'm on a plane bound for Detroit, drinkable water and the rest of my family. This is the longest I've been away from home, and it's going to be good to see my family. I hear my one nephew is starting to stand up, and I can't wait to see him, my other nephew and everyone else. I'm really looking forward to taking three weeks and relaxing before hopping back in the saddle again. It's been a hell of an experience, to be sure.

There's still a lot of work to be done and blog posts to be made, especially once I get to Yaounde, and when I finally get home - I'll be working on the documentation packet likely for the next month, and some other ideas I've come up with for the project, and I'll be able to upload some videos once I'm home to an actual broadband connection. Next post coming to you from Yaounde, Cameroon!