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Spring 2010 - Vehicle driving

Destination Purdue > Spring 2010 - Vehicle driving

Basic vehicle driving for deluxe results

By Liz Shelton

Members of the Purdue basic utility team

Photos provided by John Lumkes

Members of the Purdue basic utility team (from left), John Gibson, Austin Bello, Craig Blough and Jacob Oswalt, test ride the vehicle to find out how much weight it can carry safely.

As much as 30 percent of the food grown in the African country of Cameroon may be wasted after harvest. Without transportation or electricity, transporting food to a market or preserving it to eat later can be difficult or impossible.

But a team of Purdue students is helping to change that through their work on a basic utility vehicle, or BUV.

For people in remote areas, a sturdy and versatile BUV can provide transportation, a motor to run machinery (like a grinder for grain) and the ability to haul their crops to market.

"These vehicles have to do about 200 things," said John Gibson, a senior agricultural systems management major from Claypool, Ind. "It has to be strong and versatile and accomdate all of the many uses the people want."

Designing the BUV was a senior class project. Agricultural and natural resources engineering students first entered a design contest for a BUV about four years ago. Purdue student teams have placed second and third in the contest, but have not won. Still, Purdue established a strong reputation with their designs. When the African Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (ACREST) in Cameroon wanted a specially designed machine, they contacted the Purdue BUV group.

Although the BUVs are designed to carry a payload of about 1,200 pounds, Purdue team members know the vehicles need to do more. "We figure they frequently hold up to a ton, and sometimes more," said Austin Bello, a senior agricultural and natural resources engineering major from Wahiawa, Hawaii.

"These vehicles never go anywhere less than fully loaded," said John Lumkes, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering and the team's advisor.

The students must design the vehicles so they can hold all of the things the drivers will use them for. BUVs will haul rocks an sand, food, firewood, small livestock and even children. A BUV has to be a combination taxi, dump truck, minivan, livestock trailer, school bus and amublance, all rolled into a single package with a top speed of 20 mph.

ACREST asked the Purdue team to design a BUV that could be assembled locally and from locally available parts. So before the Purdue group could design a vehicle, they had to know what kinds of parts were available.

"Everyone there drives the same kinds of vehicles, so that makes it easier," said Gibson. Toyota parts were the most readily available in Cameroon. That means the team used lots of 1980s Toyota parts. They built the BUV frame from a Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck bed.

But going to the parts store was out of the question. A trip to the junkyard is the only way to get parts in Cameroon. Even tools weren't easy to come by.

"The ACREST center had a welder they had made, but no torch and no plasma cutter," Gibson said. "You can't count on having the same time schedule because everything takes longer over there."

The team hopes that by creating a versatile, cheap and useful vehicle they can cut down on the time and labor needed to do simple, everday tasks in Cameroon. "If they could just send one person to collect and bring back potatoes to the village, that would free up many other people to do other tasks, including some that could make the village money," said Lumkes. "It could vastly improve people's lives."