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Ultra-light vehicle to travel over trees for scientists working in forests

Our Prototypes column introduces new vehicle concepts and presents visuals from designers who illustrate the ideas. Some of them will be extensions of existing concepts, others will be new, some will be production ready, and others really far-fetched.

The concept

The Canopi is an ultra-light vehicle capable of travelling gently over trees to conduct canopy biology. It would be used by scientists to study the fauna and flora above the tree crowns of the world’s vast forests (such as the Amazon).

Renderings courtesy of Charles Bombardier

Origin of the idea

I recently saw a news article about scientists doing canopy research in Panama. They were working on a canopy raft, and it gave me the idea of creating a vehicle capable of travelling over dense forest by using the tree’s branches and leaves to support a very light vehicle. As you can imagine, this idea is tricky because each canopy density varies, and it’s preferable to reduce the impact/disruption created by the passage of the vehicle to a minimum.

How it works

The Canopi’s frame (or shell) would be built of light composite material. It would have large windows which could be opened to collect samples or deploy canopy rafts.

The Canopi would be powered by six 15 Kw electric motors mounted directly on the frame’s side. These motors would be designed and adapted specifically for the Canopi (torque, speed, dimensions, etc), and they would each power a half-shaft made of a flexible composite that would be fixed/glued directly on the Canopi’s huge spheres to act as a suspension for the vehicle. The half-shaft’s material would be able to bend and absorb shocks or become more rigid when needed.

The translucid wheels of the Canopi would be shaped like huge spheres. The operators would inflate them with a lighter-than-air gas to reduce the total weight of the vehicle. Their overall size could also be increased by inflating them, thus improving the contact area with the trees.

The Canopi would be able to accommodate 2-6 passengers. It could be lifted on top of the forest with a thermal airship and people could also get aboard by using a manual or electric hoists. The overall weight of the vehicle could be trimmed down in various ways depending on the motorization and equipment.

What it’s used for

The Canopi could simply be used to travel across a forest rapidly and safely – you can certainly travel faster on top of it than by going through it (The Amazon forest is 6,400km long). I think it could serve scientists well, but it could also harm and disrupt the plants, animals and insects. In any case, this is a first draft/idea, so let us know how we can improve this idea or if its inspiring you to think of another concept.

The designer

I would like to thank Juan Garcia Mansilla for the renderings. Mansilla completed his studies in industrial design at the University of Buenos Aires. He currently works as a senior industrial designer for BCK and Tridimage.

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