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Kulan is an all-electric beast of burden

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Ken is a freelance writer and editor who resides in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, Ken has more than 25 years of editorial and communications experience.

Kulan electric farm vehicle

(Poly-lab.net)

Researchers in Germany want to commercialise an award-winning prototype of a small, electric-powered agricultural vehicle that, like the common ant, is capable of carrying much more than its own body weight.

Nicknamed the Kulan, the futuristic four-wheeled vehicle weighs about 660lbs – a quarter the weight of a small pickup truck. Yet the svelte, ATV-like vehicle can carry up to a tonne of cargo, says Marcus Knobloch, network manager for Poly-lab.net, a consortium of 14 German research, design and production companies and two research organisations, and the Kulan’s developer.

“Our aim is to show what agriculture might look like in 20 years,” Knobloch says of the Kulan, whose namesake is a donkey-like animal native to Asia, also known as the Asian wild ass.

“We decided to call our vehicle the Kulan because like the animal for which it’s named, it can carry large loads and is reliable,” he explains. “It’s not a car and not a tractor. It’s something in between – a little helper that can transport things a farmer needs on a small or medium-size farm, such as animal feed or harvested fruit. And since there is no noise or exhaust fumes, the Kulan doesn’t disturb farm animals.”

The Kulan is powered by a pair of 2kW electric motors, one in each rear-wheel hub. The motors receive power from 16 lithium-ion batteries, producing 48 volts total, located beneath the vehicle’s cargo platform; the batteries are rechargeable via any 220-volt electrical outlet. Because the vehicle is relatively light, it can travel up to 185 miles or operate for six hours, depending on variables such as cargo weight and temperature. Top speed? About 31mph.

Kulan electric farm vehicle

The Kulan tractor can reach a top speed of 31mph. (Poly-lab.net)

The vehicle’s frame is made out of steel tubes, and the body is fashioned from 1mm-thick steel. The Kulan also makes use of fibre-reinforced plastics to reduce weight. The cargo platform is an aluminium and foam-core “sandwich” with a liner made from reinforced polyurethane, Knobloch says.

There is no transmission; the push of a button puts the Kulan either in forward drive or in reverse, he says.

Poly-lab.net operates under the auspices of the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Framing Technology, a leading German research and development organisation that focuses on production technology for the automobile and mechanical engineering sectors. Its work on the tractor prompted judges to name the Kulan one of 100 winners in an agricultural-innovation contest sponsored recently by Deutsche Bank.

The vehicle will be exhibited at the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hannover from 25 September to 2 October.

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