Previous multi-terrain vehicles have been notoriously expensive and have issues with durability. Other vehicles, such as tractors, have a tendency to struggle on more challenging terrain due to their mechanised drive system.
Agile contacted North East-based hydraulic motor manufacturer, Rotary Power. The challenge was to develop a hydraulic motor that could power each wheel independently, while driving additional wheels using an internal chain drive system. This would provide the vehicle with a compact, powerful drive system with an ultra-low centre of gravity.
The solution was a bespoke motor with a unique through shaft that allows the motors to be attached to the vehicle’s chain drive system, as well as the wheel hub. The motor’s two-speed feature allows the vehicle to reach speeds of 40 km/h, and provide 4,000Nm of torque.
Stuart Sowray, chief designer at Agile, said: “As a start-up, we were working to a really tight budget so it was important to get the design right first time. Laura, one of the design engineers at Rotary Power, took a lead on the detailed design work for the motors, which was particularly impressive since this was her first major engineering project. She has been fantastic; she’s really thrown herself into the challenge and it’s been brilliant to watch her develop as an engineer.
“The willingness of Rotary Power to engage with a start-up like us on the technical challenge we presented has been really refreshing. This made a huge difference as made it easier for us to gain funding for our ideas. Their introduction to other manufacturers such as [hydraulics supplier] Related Fluid Power, enabled us to access expertise that would have otherwise been difficult to come by. What we’ve achieved collectively is really exciting and it’s been great to bring together innovative engineering companies to develop a ground-breaking product.”
The resulting eight-wheel vehicle combines a fully-sealed water-tight body with a 1.8m-wide, three-way tippable load bed and two tonne capacity. The vehicle’s ultra-low ground pressure means it can function on any terrain without causing damage. The underlying hydraulic base can be reconfigured for a variety of applications including firefighting, agriculture, recreation, sport and forestry.
Laura Parnaby, design engineer at Rotary Power, said: “It has been a great learning experience collaborating with the customer on this project. I have had the opportunity to visit them at several locations to carry out data acquisition and witness the vehicle successfully operating in extremely challenging conditions. Seeing our motors performing in the field was so rewarding and gathering ‘real life’ application data was invaluable.
Since being manufactured in the UK, the machine has been tested in a number of environments including a fruit farm in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The vehicle is particularly useful for this application as it can manoeuvre through waterlogged ground during the rainy season while creating minimal damage to the plants’ ground roots. Other vehicles are unable to access the fruit during the rainy season and so many are left to rot and go to waste.
Neil Brunt, director of global operations at Agile, explained further: “The rainy season currently forces farmers to waste a high percentage of their crop because they can’t access it. Our vehicle solves this problem by allowing farmers to access existing plants all year round, maximising the harvest gained and minimising wastage. This increases both the profitability and sustainability of the farming industry in West Kalimantan.”
Agile are working on further reconfigurations of the vehicle using the hydraulic drive system developed by Rotary Power. Involving robotics, sensors and autonomous features will allow the vehicle to operate in the most uninhabitable environments. The flexibility of the initial design concept means that the vehicle can be adapted for many applications.
Neil Brunt summarised: “There’s not a vehicle anywhere in the world that’s got the same performance in such a compact design. There’s nothing like it and that’s down to the collaboration of Rotary Power, ourselves and other associated partners such as Related Fluid Power who, together, have achieved something that no one has ever done before. It’s a real British triumph.”