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On Terra, many many people used to be nomadic. Now very few are. An exception is Mongolia, where now in 2023, about 30% of the population remain nomadic. The world I am building is a sort of global-Mongolia. A large percentage of the world's population remain nomadic amidst 21st-century technology. This naturally means motorvehicles.

Basically my question is: what would an offroad camper van that is slow and resilient look like? Nothing too exotic here; something that a car company could produce today if given the brief. The technology level is the same as in the real world.

Design considerations:

  • Speed is deprioritised. They trundle along. Trundle, I say. Data from the Binford hunter-gatherer database shows that nomadic hunter-gatherers travel a maximum of 1351.85km per year (the Piegan are the record-holders). Now that's not 4km a day every day, there's probably a lot of camping and maybe 100km max in a day, conservatively. So I think a vehicle with a max speed of about 15km/h would be plenty for nomadic migrations; that's a 3× speed gain over walking, and you can haul tonnes.

  • Resilience is important. You don't want something that will break down. Having said that, you're travelling in a nomad-troupe of maybe 100-300 people, 20-60 vehicles, and there are tools and know-how and handy blokes there who can do basic repairs.

Design decisions to be made:

  • Electric or hydrogen or fossil fuel or gasified biomass It would be cool & solarpunk & cool if you could have solar panels and power your car that way. I've done the numbers before and know that's ridiculous for conventional cars; but maybe it is realistic for slow vehicles moving <4km/day? I'm leaning towards gasified biomass, as that would fit nicely with a nomadic lifestyle and not require non-nomadic infrastructure.

  • What kind of wheels? It is basically an offroad vehicle. Should it have six wheels? (An image search for 'offroad RV' does show a few with six wheels.) Should it have very wide wheels? Should it have tracks instead of wheels? This physics stackexchange question talks about how more wheels basically makes things better on soft ground. Looking at the advantages&disadvantages section of the 'Airless tire' Wikipedia, it seems like airless tures are good for this purpose: offroad, resilience prioritised, distance deprioritised. Hackaday says that tracks are more mechanically complex and require more maintenance, so I probably don't want tracks. I'm leaning towards six airless tyres.

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    $\begingroup$ What kind of terrain and weather they have to deal with? $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2023 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ You could consider screew propelled vehicles en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screw-propelled_vehicle It'll protentially traverse any resonably flat ground, or water (lakes or rivers) and should be possible to make them large enough to carry a small "house" $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2023 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ Motor vehicles require some industry to produce all that metal, solar panels, etc... do you intend to have permanent settlements from place to place where smelters/forges/factories are, or are you aiming for fully nomads, with the smelters/forges/factories moving as part of the caravans? (Though not necessarily operating while moving) $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2023 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ A lot of this probably depends on the reason for moving. The typical scifi reason is for example that one part of a planet is constantly in the sun, one part of a planet is constantly in the shadow, and one can only live life in the twilight zone. In such a case everything needs to be carried along (as Matthieu suggested, entire industries need to be moved), whilst if the reason is for example cultural or 'religious' then the sitution (and vehicle design) changes completely. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2023 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ "This naturally means motorvehicles." - Why? Nomads aren't nomads for fun, they have a specific culture and a different rapport with nature. So why is it natural that they would embrace a technological change that would change their relationship to their horses/camels/etc, and to life itself? $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2023 at 7:59

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You could look into something like an overland train. This suits your needs fairly well off the shelf: large wheels with independent drive make it great at offroading, and while slow, it has a tremendous carrying capacity. Long, offroad trips at a steady pace are what it's for.

It's also ideally suited to the caravan part of your lifestyle. Like a regular train it's fully modular; you can swap engine and cargo cars around as much as you want to form multiple caravans or split a smaller group off to take advantage of some resource. It's easy to add new cars if the caravan grows and, if worse comes to worst, it's also easy to cut one out and leave it behind if it can't be repaired.

The electrical transmission also makes it uniquely agnostic to your power supply. That is, as long as you can provide the right voltage, it'll drive. Solar panels for long, slow journeys? Biofuel reserves that you slowly top up at each location before moving on to the next? A backup diesel generator for those sticky spots? All can coexist harmoniously.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 And it looks so cool :-) Perfect for a unique look in a story. $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Sep 8, 2023 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ You forgot nuclear as a power option. That was actually planned at one point, apparently. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Sep 10, 2023 at 7:06
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You would want to watch this (and then go down the rabbit hole of links to similar videos). In short, you want a rugged truck, which is ready-made to plod along while carrying many tonnes of people and cargo and uses as many standardised parts as possible, so that they are cheap and common enough for every village garage to have them in stock. This is especially important for nomads, who would be only loosely attached to the monetary economy and therefore need to use their scarce money sparingly. This includes tyres; you use standard-sized truck ones, and when they can't cope with the condition of the road, you don't travel. (Or you get stuck, and then you don't travel either.) Plan ahead accordingly ;)

For fuel, diesel and petrol are your best choices by far. Diesel has an advantage in that your engine would need to be able to withstand a lot of abuse, deferred maintenance, dust, substandard fuels etc. and it's somewhat easier to make a tolerant diesel engine than a petrol one. Also biodiesel is much easier to produce, and some diesel engines can be run on straight plant oils. Both diesel and petrol are widely traded and therefore are cheap and accessible, and they have high energy density thus taking less space on board, which is an important consideration for a vehicle that also acts as a home and needs to carry all your other posessions at all times. Gasified biomass could work, but it provides less power, is bulkier, and gasifiers require much more maintenance; don't be surprised if your fellow travellers poke fun at you for being unable to afford a proper fuel.

You would have nowhere near enough money for an electric vehicle, and in any case a sufficiently sized battery storage would absolutely kill your cargo capacity. Solar power too is a very bad idea. Your truck just will not have enough area to generate sufficient amount of it even under ideal conditions, and conditions will generally be far from ideal: few roads happen to follow the Sun for best exposure, and the panels will promptly get covered in dust as soon as you start traveling. Yes, you would want to carry some solar panels for those few uses where electricity is genuinely superior to the alternatives; it's just that powering a vehicle isn't one of them.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a really good answer in a lot of ways. Just to push back on your point about batteries a bit: have you considered how slow they're going? Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of speed, so a vehicle moving at 15km/h uses one-sixteenth the energy of a vehicle moving at 60km/h (road speed). $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Sep 7, 2023 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ @wokopa, thank you. Yes, a slower-moving car requires less power to overcome air resistance, but it still requires the same amount of power to overcome the rolling resistance of the tyres, which depends mostly on the vehicle's weight and the surface it travels on, with unpaved surfaces giving much more resistance. Since we're talking about heavy vehicles traveling offroad, high rolling resistance is unavoidable and will likely dominate over air resistance, so going slower would not save quite as much energy. $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Sep 7, 2023 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ @wokopa For an off-road truck, you're looking at an average of about 0.5 km/h (including stops) on solar-battery power alone. 16 m2 on top of a mid-size truck will average ~12 kWh/day, enough to propel the Tesla Semi about 11 km. That's on the road. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Sep 8, 2023 at 8:15
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You already brought up Mongolia, why don't you just do a web search for trucks in Mongolia? Some years ago, they usually used ZiL-130 and sometimes GAZ-66, but nowadays Korean and maybe Chinese 7.5 ton trucks are more popular. Or UAZ-452 or Hyundai Porter if there is not so much luggage.

Considerations are:

  • the truck should be able to carry the whole household plus the house itself (i.e. a yurt). Since nomadic herders do not have that much furniture, a ZiL 130 or a 7.5 ton truck is definitely big enough for one family.
  • the truck does not need to carry lifestock because lifestock can move on their own.
  • the truck should be able to do some light offroad driving and especially(!) wading. I think Russian vehicles may be better at this than others, but Korean ones can be worked with as well.
  • the truck should either need very few repairs, or be easy to repair and it should be easy to find spare parts. The "easy to. repair" bit (not the "does not need repairs often bit!) used to be a big advantage a Russian trucks, but not sure how it is nowadays.
  • related: the truck should not need much maintenance.
  • the truck should be cheap! This also used to be an advantage for Russian trucks, but nowadays used Korean trucks are cheaper I think.
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There is the zeroth issue of "why would people move around". Hunters and Mongols (and others) primarily moved after or with animals, which primarily moved to other grazing areas. But trucks don't need other grazing areas, so why would nomadic lifestyle continue? Can it continue with high population density? There are other problems, but let's ignore those as I have no answer to them.

So, ignoring that issue, there are 2 aspects of nomadic lifestyle: moving around and staying somewhere. Nomads went somewhere, built their huts, stayed for some time and then moved on. You need to look at both parts to some degree.

I believe a plug-in hybrid truck would be the best all-round solution for several reasons:

  1. Trucks are surely going to be well-developed in most worlds, as it lets you move a lot of goods around over land. Especially with nomadic lifestyle a bunch of trucks is more likely than a point-to-point train. This means many people know how to repair stuff, many spare parts and so on.

  2. Trucks, obviously transformed into mobile house end up with much larger "house" part than fairly cramped campers/vans. I believe these people wouldn't bother putting several containers together making one large house every single time.

  3. Each family has their own truck. Or few of them. When children are old enough to make their own families, getting their own truck is the way to go. This keeps in line with typical nomadic lifestyle, only with trucks replacing animals. Cadence's land train would mean the whole group works for the main train, which is most likely going to change group dynamics.

  4. You use purely electric propulsion. It is more robust / requires less maintenance, making it more suitable for nomads. Additionally, by having several motors as typical for electric propulsion, you avoid single point of failure - if one engine dies, you keep moving. If your diesel generator dies, others in the caravan can let you recharge from their vehicles (if you don't have another generator anyway). Having main diesel engine is a single point of failure, you can't easily replace it.

  5. You have some battery storage for when you stop, while diesel generator lets you move a reasonable distance (or serve as a backup when stopped if the sun is not shining). Obviously, you would unpack and use solar for when you stop - it just wouldn't help you much when moving. Area of truck's roof is small, but unpacking and having several times larger area for panels is going to be enough for a family.

While I kept mentioning diesel generator, it could be replaced by something running on vegetable oils, biomass or whatever else you fancy.

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  • $\begingroup$ For the "why", consider the Roma. Their skills were things where settled communities don't need them all the time - metalwork, horse trading, fair/carny shows, harvest time labouring. They can show up, satisfy that local demand until the business runs out, then move on to the next place. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Sep 9, 2023 at 9:13
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The vehicles would have to be well constructed (duh) and have strong effecient motors, so combustion is out of the way(steam maybe ? you could gather wood, bushes, animal fat to use as fuel), so is gas (not safe), the best would be hidrogen + solar, that would give your nomads a way to refill theyr tanks with either water (assuming its still abundant in your world) or just charge the batteries over a few days (they would serve to power utilities inside the vehicle, be it a hot shower or a tv), it would be more engenierred then a regular RV for the possibility of multiple beds/divisions(when stopped it would change the layout to give you more confort or space to store stuff), it would almost be a fortress with wheels, all of that while keeping it close to the ground (helps with uneven terrain, and not tumbling down on small ramps).

It should also have good insulation and something close to a AC.Wheels ? AirLess wheels can handle a good ammount of punishment before needing replacement, although they are expensive as hell, getting some regular tires and filling them with concrete and ducktape them throughly (you wont slide because you probably are never going over 50M/H and after some time they will have decent texture so you still have friction), for stability when parked, a MANUAL brake will be easly replaced and if its inside, nobody will mess with it.I would assume the material the RV is made out of would be something that doesnt rust, a Jumping mode for "Sticky" situation, like mud etc. And lets not forget but its still important, the BEST SUSPENSIONS on the market to be able to haul as much as you want without them ever failing.

The problem is some company producing them.Because ideally it would be a normal house with wheels all arround, and a decent solar power array to get your utilities running.

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