Roadless: work-in-progress

Roadless is a project developing a transforming wheel system that can be adapted to suit different road conditions, it is aimed at places without adequate transportation infrastructure.

image-1project poster

blank2The project’s focus area is in Nkhata-Bay, a district in North Malawi

new funding mdoc1The project was conceived with the intention to develop an infrastructure independent means of transport targeting the access and mobility needs of small-holder farmers and their associated rural households.

kwheel type #1 (arched spoke configuration)

cwheel impression


awheel type #1  prototype #1 (nylon rods)

1reusing bicycle hub

2new hub

4spoke configuration

5wheel type #1  prototype #2 (fibre glass rods + natural rubber)

6cart #1 rolling test

7rolling + load test  (32 kg of bricks)

8damage assessment

initial prototype testing

1wheel type #1 – tire test

2front view

3side view

jwheel type #2 (polar arrayed scissor jack mechanism + arched fibre-glass members )

kwheel impression


lwheel type #2 prototype #1

rwheel type #2 prototype #2 (expansion and contraction test)

bprototype line

image-3scissor jack mechanism (steel spokes and 3D printed hub elements)

structuremode #1 (large width – low height)

structure-1mode #2 (mid width – mid height)

structure-2mode #3 (small width – large height)

tyre3wheel mechanism test with bus tire


tyrewheel mechanism structural integrity test with bus tire (full expansion)

uwheel type #3 (segmented tire configuration)owheel elements

hub-part4telescoping hub

pexploded view of the telescoping hubitelescoping hub (technical drawing)

epart #1.1

fpart #1.2

gpart #1.3

hpart #1.4

part7upper nipple

part8lower nipple

texploded view of wheel type #3

untitled.68cart #1

untitled.69cart #2

untitled.70cart #3

denterprise model

project description

Roadless is a project developing a transforming wheel system that can be adapted to suit different road conditions, it is aimed for places without adequate transportation infrastructure.

The wheels transform by cranking a telescoping hub that works on the same principle as a scissor jack. As you crank the hub up or down the wheel expands or contracts to give more traction or better ground clearance. The wheels can be fitted onto an axle and used to transport goods. Currently the wheels are intended for hand-drawn carts in order to enable subsistence farmers in rural Malawi to be able to move their produce to market centers.

Eventually the wheels will be applied to light motorized vehicles, and due to their ability to transform while keeping full functionality, they have a built in gearing system (continuously variable transmission (CVT)) and suspension system.

Personal motivation

I grew up in a remote village in Malawi, in an area with no road infrastructure,. It was not unusual for people to head-load in excess of 25kg for more than 10km, this is the load and journey my cousins and I took to mill corn when I was about 11.

The ability to move goods from one point to another is a significant aspect of modern life, over the past hundreds of years we have developed extensive transportation technologies, infrastructure and networks, which allows us to share and trade globally. Conversely, a societal inaccessibility to adequate transportation services can be profoundly devastating. More than 80% of Malawians live in rural areas and rely on subsistence farming, and about 66% of them are cut off from their country’s designated road networks, therefore inhibiting market participation and resulting in an extreme bottleneck for economic growth and prosperity.

And so I thought I could try to develop a means of transportation that doesn’t require road infrastructure.

Project report excerpt 

General objective

It has been widely argued that diversification from agriculture has been one of the most significant achievements of human history, because it enabled people to dedicate time to focus their attention to do other things rather than their primary occupation, which in turn further contributed to the general well being and prosperity of their communities. In contrast communities that have been stuck in the perpetual subsistence, struggling to fulfill the most basic of needs day in and day out, have not managed to go further than subsistence farming for hundreds if not thousands of years.

This goal of this project is aimed at contributing toward diversification from subsistence farming to small-scale commercial farming for rural communities in the Nkhata-bay district of Northern Malawi, this is with full understand that this is an objective that cannot be achieved by one project alone or in a short period of time. Nonetheless, the project envisions the rural farming communities becoming active participates in their local economy, directly inputting farm produce into the market. Through this local farmers will begin to earn money doing what they do on a daily basis, and having access to market centers could encourage people in the communities not only to sell some of their produce, but actively to grow what they can sell and develop better farming practices.

Specific objective

The specific object of the project is to develop a means of transport that could enable farmers to effectively move farm produces to market centers; a solution that is empathetic to the road conditions in the district (or lack thereof),  and leapfrog the need for transportation infrastructure, while still being within the economic reach of the context. This should not be understood as meaning to leapfrog or bypass all means of transport available in the region, I think such an approach is unrealistic, and impractical to achieve. People have access to transport if and when they need to travel long distance (granted they have enough money for high fares and are willing to walk long distances to access them). What they do not have and which is often overlooked are intermediate means of transport (IMTs), i.e. moving produce from their respective villages to a point where they would be able to get on locally available transport.

This is where this project makes the most sense, in places where rural and feeder roads connect farms and villages to each other as well as to market centers. The absences of IMTs in the villages, has meant that people necessarily rely on walking, shoulder and head-loading as means to carry gods within and between villages, fields, homes and market centers.

Earlier concepts

untitled.25#1 village-wide water delivery service

untitled.26in-context rendering

road#2 amphibious wheel with internal storage space


road1on water (barge)

v#3 build your own wheel (weak materials, strong structure)

About these ads

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.