Virtual Roads – Part Two

web-3120321_1920

I was referring to Sat Navs in the previous blog, but virtual roads come to their own in video games and simulations. Firstly, we need to mention racing games.

video-games-1557358_1920Gran Trak 10 in 1974 was confusingly the first arcade game to simulate car racing (there seems to be no Gran Trak 9, 8 and so on). It boasted very low-resolution, black and white graphics. In a mere two years violence became linked to race cars with the game, Death Race in 1976. Evidently the people at Exidy who made the game felt they were giving the public what they wanted and there was a notable jump in sales for the arcade machines.

These games didn’t create an actual world for a player to explore like games do now, they just scrolled in one direction. The first game that could be said to do this was Atari’s Super Bug released in 1976. The game name, “The Driver” might remind today’s players of Guitar Hero, in that the game required you to match the steering wheel and brake actions with the movements on screen. So it’s part, Simon Says and part driving simulator or driving aid?toyota-967011_1280

The first to include a real circuit of track was 1982’s Pole Position created by Atari in the US and Namco elsewhere. The track it used was Fuji Speedway in Japan.

vr-3460451_1920Racing games seemed to be slow lane for about a decade until Super Mario Kart in 1992. Games had now acquired 3D imagery but had probably lost a sense of reality. The big thing about Super Mario Kart that it created a genre of fun character-based race games or “Kart games.”

Vehicle combat games would begin in 1983 with the Spy Hunter series and would spawn some releases as Knight Rider and Starsky and Hutch. In them it was not enough to race, you had to cause significant damage to your opponent.

The Surprising Story of Realistic Traffic

We take for granted that we a driving game will include realistic simulation of how the traffic will act at a certain point or under certain conditions, but there is an interesting origin story of how that came to be.

girl-3959203_1920.jpgIt goes back even before video games to 1946 where the Monte Carlo method which relies on random sampling to create likelihood from which an algorithm can be built up. The Goal is to aid logistics and road planning to avoid bottlenecks. Municipalities wanted to know how fast emergency services could get to certain points, and so on. It was natural for video game developers to digitalize these algorithms so that the cars on a road or track, to have cars around the POV vehicle behave in a realistic manner in response to obstacles and road conditions.

These algorithms are still used by cities and states in 2019. Those planning a road will create computer simulations to predict traffic on roadways, bridges, tunnels, etc. and it then check them in dry, wet or even icy conditions. Perhaps these models will eventually create a map that can tell you the best time of day to make a trip. Who knows?

 

 

Advertisements

Virtual Roads – Part One

web-3120321_1920

Where do we start with virtual roads? Well to define what we mean by the term virtual road, it’s easier to think of as a map. It could be an existing road, or it could be a route one takes to get someplace—like directions. To understand why the fancy term, virtual road, we need to consider the history of roads.

Surprising Origin of Routes & Roads

In England a traveller might observe that some roads meander about from town to city and other roads go directly from place to place without regard to any obstacle. To the citizen of the UK these are known as Saxon roads and Roman roads, because modern roads were either built on top of one or the other.

holidays-1283014_1920Saxons built their roads along the path of least resistance, which generally means a bridge ends up at the best historical place to ford across the river long before the bridge existed. It also means that a lot of the roads in England were built where a cow pushed aside the brush making it easier for humans to pass as well.

Roman roads, on the other hand, are professionally surveyed. They were an important part of the empire, not only for efficient commerce, but because the faster you could move an army the better control you could maintain. So, when Romans encountered stream, they bridged it, when they encountered a mountain, they tunnelled though it. Roman roads are straight, city to city, and they withstand the test of time.

But before anyone bothered to build a road, prehistoric man had rough directions from one civilized spot to another—most of which were built along water sources. Therefore, the earliest formal routes to get places start in about 1160 BC where the trails of seasonal rivers, also used as roads were placed on a map. The oldest road map used in a commuting sense goes back to 235BC. It shows a number of towns along the Black Sea.

Maps, Past & Future

There are other names worth mentioning in the history of road mapping such as McNally’s Road Map of New York (1904) and Michelin (their first road map was in 1910) but instead I want to concentrate on using tech to imitate the road, rather than just giving a plan of the road.

android-1869510_1920.jpgA moving map display was first introduced in the 1950s using paper chart. The only problem is that they could only navigate one specific road, so if you had to travel somewhere obscure you were out of luck. Using a cell phone as a guide to where you are has some similarities to using a moving map display, except of course you are not confined to one road. With larger devices, such as the iPad, there’s room to change the display and allow for something resembling a Sat-Nav when using Google Maps.

Ah, Google Maps, certainly one of the most used systems to work out where you are. It began in 2004 as a downloadable desktop program by Where 2 Technologies. It began by two brothers, Lars and Jed Rasmussen, and quickly added some of the processes of Keyhole, a program acquired at a similar time. Google Maps as we recognize it today began in February 2005 programmed using Javascript and XML. In 2012 Google announced it had 7,100 employees and freelancers which worked in the mapping process and in 2017 it had a billion users worldwide.

When Google Maps was created though Sat Navs had been going for a least twenty years. A Honda built with the “Electro Gyro-Cator” in 1981. Instead of using satellites it used “inertial” navigation systems, meaning that the information couldn’t be updated, Read Only Memory in other words. Cassettes allowing information to be changed would come along in 1983.

Since computer tapes retailed at $20 (the equivalent of $60 today) it is unlikely that many people paid to get their navigation device updated.

The first system which relied on a satellite came along in 1990 and wouldn’t gain a voice until two years later. It relies on a vector map which each house or street encoded as its geographical co-ordinates. The Navigation Data Standard ensures that all SatNavs use the same system and will be updated as and when needed. There are many ways to store the road database, not just ROM but also a flash memory, a hard disk or a CD.

There are other things that can be done with a virtual road. This is the subject of the next article.

 

 

Cheesy Car Ads

isolated-3670202_1920.jpg

What makes 50s car ads cheesy? It could be that look to a lifestyle we no longer recognize such as men in hats and women in headscarves, or it could be the convoluted way they say things. Some examples can be seen below.

What about “super-sonic sleekness exciting the most spirited imagination”? (The Oldsmobile’s Golden Rocket) or even “the way it looks, handles and makes you feel” (Mustang). Indeed no one seems to advertise a car nowadays on how the car handles, possibly because it is a subjective thing. But it certainly gave the 50’s driver a good reason to part with their dollars.

When in doubt maybe you might describe your car as the “greatest ever” as a ’73 version of the Volvo decided to do. (There’s some strange copy in their advert “the more comfier you are (sic), the safer you and your family are”). It might just be wishful thinking?

car-hop-4398145_1920Some pieces of copy might need you to become more interested in cars than you really are. “The best thing to happen to the 6 cylinder engine” – Chrysler Dodge. Why does it need to be a 6 cylinder engine? Would it be not so good if it was 7 cylinders? The 6 cylinder is apparently set at 30 degrees to produce a “bigger manifold system”. We’re not sure on the science, or really what they are going on about. To save a trip to the dictionary, the word manifold means “many and various” so it has the same meaning as system really.

It seems bizarre that advertisers would ever show cross-sections of cars to the public just to make them sell, but you need to remember that this might just possibly be the only car the driver would buy in their lifetime and it helped them to know it was reliable, even if they didn’t understand all the jargon involved. It was a case of “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” – if a picture of a car’s inside worked before it must surely work again?

You’d worry nowadays if an engine said it had “hurricane power” but that seemed to be all right for the Willys-Overland Jeepster. For those who have not heard of the vehicle a Jeepster only was manufactured for two years as was designed as a cross between a convertible and a SUV. Put like that, it’s no wonder they didn’t catch on.

7g1zht0uxthxtiYou’ve got to love it when advertisers decide to highlight the most mundane items –for instance a Foam-Rubber Seat in a Mercury with the name “Lounge-Rest.” (Leather had yet to become the most obvious material for car seats). Strangely the carburettor has been nicknamed “Econ-O-Miser” because it doesn’t use that much gas, which seemed a common theme in writing copy for these types of advertisement.

A big thing seemed to be the way cars could “go for miles” on just thimblefuls of gas – this was before things like the Lanham Act, so it was much easier to lie at that time. Not that today’s advertisers tell the whole truth.

 

Cars in Time

business-3081427_1920

If you’re trying to be accurate or simplify tracking when things happen in relationship to each other one of the best techniques is to build a timeline. For example Henry Ford was born in 1863, so they would stick in other events that happened in the 19th Century possibly and continue into the 20th and 21st Centuries.

The problem is that you only can see which events happened when. If the goal is to give a clear context then you need an element of scale. In our Henry Ford example, it would be good practice to work out an event we can relate to that establishes when 1863 actually occurred. For instance, WWII’s Pearl Harbor in 1941 was halfway between when Henry Ford was born and 2019 – it gives a better idea to how long ago 1863 was.

A generation is a cohort of people who were born roughly the same time and whose upbringing was shaped by large events and the resulting cultural responses to them. Each generation lasts about 30 years. So another way to think of a timeline is by the number of generations that have passed between events.

Cars needed to have red flags in front of them in 1896 which was four generations ago (doesn’t seem as long as near as that!) or halfway between Sputnik falling to Earth and The Bridge Over The River Kwai winning an Oscar in 1958 and now.

The first car which didn’t need a crank to start was patented in the US in 1903 which was slightly less than four generations ago or halfway between President John F Kennedy being sworn in, the release of 101 Dalmatians in cinemas and The Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961 and 2019.

The introduction of the assembly line began the Ford Motor Company in 1913. This is about 3 and a half generations ago, or half way between the Vietnam protests, and the debut of Batman and the release of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine in 1966 and 2019.

The first automatic transmission of gears was in 1939 by General Motors. This is just over 2 and a half generations ago, or half way between Pink Floyd’s The Wall concert, the film releases of Alien and Life of Brian in 1979 and 2019.

Electric fuel injection began in 1966 (note that the half way points for Henry Ford being born, cars needing to have red flags in front of them and a car which didn’t need a crank being patented has already happened at this point, and this is the half-way point for the assembly line). This is slightly more than 1 and a half generations ago or half-way between Bill Clinton being made president, the release of Jurassic Park and the first launch of Endeavour in 1993 and 2019.

The first mass produced Hybrid car, the Toyota Prius was launched in 1997 (note that all the half-way points above have now happened.). This is slightly less than one generation ago or half-way between Barrack Obama becoming president and the premier of Breaking Bad in 2008 and 2019.

You should now have a clearer idea of when events happened! Or quite possibly you are even more confused. It might be worth reading the article again, just to see if it makes any more sense the second time! Just a thought. Or Check out this timeline online.

 

The Down & Dirty on Car Washes

car-wash-2749824_1920.jpg

The first semi-automatic car wash which used a series of pulleys was introduced in Detroit in 1914. It did require manual brushing of the vehicle though.

car-wash-1408492_1920.jpgThe first big car washing franchise was Dan Hanna’s Rub-a-Dub. Starting in Oregon, Hanna Enterprises (as it became known) in 1955 it soon had 31 car washes all other America. In the 1960s the idea of soft friction washing, roller on demand conveyor belt (also known as a tunnel) and wrap around brush was introduced. It was not until the 1970s that you they introduced the automatic wheel cleaner and polish ‘n’ wax. By 1988, Hanna Enterprises grew to 80,000 car washes in 56 countries, the second biggest franchiser of the time, after McDonald’s of course. It now trades as Colman Hanna Carwash Systems and still owns a number of patents and trademarks linked to the car wash. So if you’ve used a car wash, you’ve probably used a system created by Hanna Enterprises.

Mobile car washes are a more recent invention using plastic water tanks and pressure washers. A number of car users prefer this type of car wash to the automatic type as they believe it damages the paintwork, etc. Just because they don’t use machines doesn’t mean that this type of service can’t deal with a huge number of customers, some of them even operate a fleet cleaning service.

With an average price per basic wash of $15 it’s likely that most of the profit comes from upgraded services. 20% of car businesses charge more than $18 per customer, which doesn’t sound too unreasonable though it is not clear what the maximum amount is. If a car wash is getting enough passing trade it should be receiving at least $1,500 per month.

Looking to Start a Mobile Operation?auto-519826_1920.jpg

As with anyone starting a business you need traffic, (pun intended) which you might derive from social media. However, conventional wisdom is to generate your leads offline as well. This starts with the golden trifecta of business—location, location, location! Find somewhere which is easy to get to, especially if it is near a supermarket or freeway. There also needs enough room for you to operate, there’s no point if you can only get two or three cars on site. As with any other business look to see what the competition are doing-can you undercut them? Or maybe you should look to offering a premium service instead? It sounds obvious but still many businesses go bust in the first six months.

Here is a glossary of terms:

A car wash service which wishes to clean the inside and the outside of a vehicle with at least one automatic system is technically known as a detail shop.

A full service is a garage that both repairs, clean cars, inspects the vehicle, etc.

Exterior only is a car wash that only cleans the outside, usually an automatic system one step at a time.

Self-service is similar but it isn’t done by a machine.

 

 

Standing Up in Cars

segway-738400_1920

If you’re riding in a car you’re probably sitting down. But if you have ridden in a bus a number of times it’s likely you’ve stood up. And if you drove a Segway or an e-scooter you definitely stood up to operate it, there’s no other way to make it work.

So why is there no standing up in cars? It’s such a simple idea, yet you’ve probably never thought about it before. Cars are full of people sitting down, that’s just how it is.

There is some logic in the sitting down car, evidently. Cars came from horse drawn carriages and when passengers rode in them, they sat. Having said that, one style of coach used as a taxi, called a hack, did require the coachman to stand while holding the reigns and looking over the roof of the passenger apartment, but most styles of coach did have a place for the driver to sit.

The Toyota FV2 is one vehicle which hoped to fix this discrepancy. It’s described as a Segway on steroids and surprisingly it’s supposed to have the power to read minds. It slightly resembles a land-yacht, except it works by motor, not sail.

The problem here is that was introduced in 2015 and many people still haven’t heard of it. The marketing theme is making cars “fun to drive” but seems more likely to make cars far too exhausting to drive. The inventors did say they were looking at tech that will be discovered in 5 to 10 years’ time, which is the way of concept cars, but it still seems the need for this type of vehicle has yet to arrive, and maybe will never fully arrive.

The other revolutionary principle of the Toyota FV2 is that it removes the driver from having to use a steering wheel, clutch or brake. Everything is done by body movements itself. But as said before, we don’t really like to drive this way, or so it seems.

Then there is the Honda Wander Stand, which resembles a saltshaker which you have to drive around. Was Hando just trying to reinvent the mobility scooter, no, they did that with the Honda Wander Walker already. Where the Wander walker would allow a person with limited mobility to navigate among pedestrians, the Wander Stand allows for safety among other cars…in theory.

The futuristic Sole is for short distance commuting. Its selling point is that driving in a car is sedentary; why not raise the passenger up so they travel more “normally?” It’s also ideal when there is a lack of parking space and areas for turning, though it does give off the appearance of being top-heavy.

Although there are some suggestions that using such vehicles solve congestion, the main effect would seem to be that no one goes out because they get exhausted standing up in a vehicle for long periods of time. It’s all right for short periods of time, spending hours there might prove trickily for the average driver. Imagine getting stuck in traffic in one of these.

If you have a back injury, then sitting for a long period might be an issue. If you have genuine interest in a vehicle that lets you stand up, you might investigate acquiring one of these concept vehicles. But be warned, concept cars serve as a platform to test out radical ideas. Most of the ideas don’t make it to market and rarely does the concept car get adopted as a whole. The difficulty with concepts is that they never seem to spread across the whole market.

The Car Collapse

graph-3078540_1920

Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett

For this blog we are going back in time ten years. So picture it in your mind — Lost and ER are on the on TV. Barack Obama had just become president and Sarah Palin began her comeback. The Internet of Things, Alexa and Siri’s parents was born. And on your car radio Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis or I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas are playing. And the car business took a strange turn that no-one could have predicted.

The economic events of the period between 2008 and 2010 are best known for the mortgages and stock market crashes but they were also detrimental to a number of car businesses.

In a bad economy people look to save dollars and while it was harder than ever to get a loan if you did need to buy a new car, you were looking for a deal. America made large, expensive, vehicles with bad fuel economy. A crash then combined with an energy crisis to drive sales of vehicles like as SUVs and pick-up trucks to rock bottom. It got so bad in the United States that Chrysler and General Motors needed to be rescued by the government.

For the US government to step in and help a business goes against the grain of what America stands for in the eyes of many of her citizens. Survival of the fittest is the core of any free market and it guarantees the best price for goods. However, the thinking at the time is that if a giant part of the economy, such as the automotive industry, failed too many jobs lost would send the economy into a death spiral. There was no other way to keep the economy stable and allow people to keep buying.

Pre-crash, in 2005, GM’s factories were performing at 85% of capacity. This may not seem much but it was a pattern to be found in other businesses too. So the term too big to fail started getting tossed around. Of course what “too big to fail” means is “too big to let fail.” The idea goes all the way back to 1984 and Stewart McKinney, though its true source probably predates that. Even in 1984 the term was controversial.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll said only 36% of the public supported the bailout. What people may not realise is that there was in fact two bailouts to the car industry, the second mainly going to General Motors and Chrysler. Part of GM’s bail out included an odd sort of bankruptcy that allowed them to default on certain loans. They were allowed to zero out stock that didn’t belong to the government or union members. It was not a good deal for most Americans.

automotive-74070_1920The lasting memory in the minds of “Big Auto” was how only really excelling at selling gas guzzlers had left them vulnerable. After all, this was the second time that a large scale economic crash had knocked out the auto industry. The first time was in the 1980s. When the economy got going again this time it found the American automaker throwing everything it had behind convincing its fans to buy hybrids and electric cars.

While the move to EVs and hybrids made fuel economic cars, suddenly needing to retool factories and develop new designs raised the price of all American vehicles. Then there’s the uncertainty of whether electric and hybrid cars will even stay popular.

Given that the economy is not stable long term we’ll most likely see another test of the American auto industries ability to remain viable. Given that they haven’t made cars more affordable they’ve only dealt with half the challenge of selling cars during a down turn. In fact, it’s not an original solution its just copying Asian car makers into an obvious decision.

So has the American auto industry learned anything from needing a bail-out? You decide.

 

The American Story of Car Business (Part 1): Dodge

old-car-1245734_1920

When you look at the auto industry as it exists right now, it’s easy to get confused when talking about cars because there are so many brands, makes, and models. It’s like joining a movie halfway through. Many of the household names we associate with automobiles have a fascinating origin story and a fairly logical evolution. Knowing a little trivia about these names can help you wow you’re your friends and co-workers on trivia night, but more importantly it can really clear up your own understanding of cars.

As part of our effort to entertain and inform the on-line generation about the integral part the auto industry has played in the development of modern America, The Kicker Blog is pleased to spin off a series looking into the story behind names like Oldsmobile, Dodge, Nash, GM, Chrysler, Ford, Mercury, Saturn, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Benz, Audi, Opel, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, etc.

If there’s a theme to the auto industry it’s that successful car companies swallow up less dominant car companies. This accounts for several of our mystery names, but it doesn’t explain why those names continue to this day. Sometimes the reason lies in the fact that an innovative designer or quality auto maker might not be the most successful business person. Like the auto industry as a whole, often the backseat role a particular brand plays now belies the crucial role it played in American history.

We kick off our series with a deep dive into Dodge.

dodge-graham-truck-111249_1920

Dodge

Compared to other names, some folks consider Dodge an “also-ran” in the story of the American motor industry, but that’s not the real story. Unlike many of the names we’ll cover, Dodge is still a major player who has remained a fairly constant brand.

Dodge began in 1900 with the Dodge Brothers, Horace and John. While many automakers started as wagon or bike makers, instead the Dodge brothers began as a parts supplier for Detroit’s growing number of car manufacturers. That was until they made their own car–the Model 30.

It could be a coincidence that the Model 30 bore a strong resemblance to the Model T, but it wasn’t. The Model T Ford dominated this part of car history and unlike modern times, in those days you didn’t improvement your existing design each year just to beat your competitors to it. In short, Ford wasn’t eager to fix what wasn’t broken. So the opportunity was there for the Doge brothers to beat Ford at his own game.

Although both cars used chromium steel, the Model T has a wooden framing underneath and the Model 30 didn’t, improving the suspension immensely. The Model 30 also had 35 horsepower, compared to the Model T’s 20.

This was truly the hay day for Dodge as they were in second place to Ford between 1916 and up to the early 1920’s. 150 Dodge vehicles were used in the Mexico border war in 1916.

dodge-charger-1858599_1920

Unfortunately the Dodge brothers would not live to see how their brand would develop, they both died in 1920, John from pneumonia, Horace from liver damage.Because there was no relative the company went to an investment bank.

One theme you’ll notice in the car industry is that auto-manufacturing is a unique animal and it’s easy to lose your shirt trying to do it. Although the bank branched out the business to also make trucks it seems that the bank wasn’t taking enough risks. Ultimately the Dodge moved from the second biggest car company to the seventh biggest company; they needed an investor who was wise in the ways of the auto market.

The investor finally arrived in 1939, when Chrysler came to the helm. What Chrysler wasn’t interested in was competing with itself, so they began to look into more profitable areas like sedans and tanker trucks. All in all, Chrysler allowed Dodge to flourish.

The billboards and magazine adverts touted a new golden age for Dodge. The 53 Dodge was marketed as steadier, more level, and softer. It seemed no one cared about the price, or nothing could be done about the price. So it was better to concentrate on making the ride smoother. Chrysler poured money into marketed the all-American Dodge, suggesting thronging crowds visit it’s showrooms. Nowadays you won’t find an exclusively Dodge “showroom” but given the amount of money spent on advertising they must have been popular back then.

Dodge still make vehicles today and seem to be still proud of their Michigan roots. Having said that, Italian Car maker now owns Chrysler and with it, Dodge, having acquired it in 2014, but that’s Chrysler’s story for another day.

The Future of Cars – Steel Or Silicon? (Part 1)

Steel or Silicon

Donald Trump seems to think the future of car production in this country is all about controlling the price of steel and aluminium, but it might come down to silicon instead. This first article will cover what’s happening in the US. Part 2 will go into the changes in Asia and elsewhere.

How long has computer technology been linked to cars? Amazingly, an automated navigation device was first placed in a car in the 1930s, but it mainly consisted of a map on a roll. As you journeyed along the road, you could adjust the dial and travel along the map. Presumably if you traveled the other way along the road, you could adjust the dial the other way. (The real problem was if you went on a road that wasn’t important enough to have one of these maps.)

The first SatNav as we would understand it happened in 1985 with the Etak Navigator. Like most tech at the time the drive was stored on a cassette tape. It still didn’t give you directions; it showed you what the road should be like according to the records. The city of LA could only be stored in four cassettes. The first SatNav with a voice to guide you was created by Mazda in 1990.

Surprisingly, a radios wasn’t even stock in most cars during the 1960 but it didn’t take long to go from radio to 8-track, to cassette. The first Compact Disc device installed in a car was the CD-X in 1984. We can’t find a record of which manufacturer first to install a mobile download system, but it was sometime around the beginnings of 2010.

look-out-of-the-window-2121134_1920We are so used to opening our windows electronically that we rarely think of it as technology at all. The power window seems to go back all the way to 1947 to the Cadillac Fleetwood. However the system was not (still is not) fool-proof. Power windows have produced injuries and even fatalities when obstacles got caught up in the window.

The early concern was that a power window wouldn’t go down if a car became submerged, thereby preventing occupants from being able to equalize pressure and open the door. But think about trying to crank down a manual window while your car sinks slowly into the murky darkness and water pours in on you…truth be told you are best off to keep a device nearby that can smash your window out.

The US government is trying to make these windows safer with items like a lockout switch but safety campaigners warn that injuries can still occur. See the Wikipedia article on Power Windows. As regards automatic sunroofs, well there are so many different types that they deserve an article on their own.

Of course self-driving (AVs) might seem an obvious thing to talk about next, but at this time they’re only for display purposes. The Aptiv for instance although operating in Las Vegas has a real human behind the wheel and the same thing with the Chevy Bolt.

place-name-sign-1647341_1920

Power assisted steering comes from 1951 from a Chrysler model, this however used hydraulics. The first electrical power steering was created for the Porsche 911 in 1963. The great advantage for electrics over hydraulics in the lack of wires making it much more efficient and less likely to overheat.

So “The Donald’s” efforts to promote jobs in the legacy American Auto Industry with heavy metal will have some impact on frame-and-body but there’s already a lot more going on inside the automotive brain, which could be a better source of jobs.

 

The Amphibious Vehicle

300px-DT-30P1_Vityaz_1

James Bond movies aside, the amphibious vehicle has never really caught on. You might associate an amphibious vehicle with a car, but bikes and buses can also be amphibious. Most are developed and used by the militaries of the world. Let’s take a closer look at some Russian, German and American amphibious vehicles.

From the former Soviet Union comes the Vityaz, a the multi-unit ATV and not truly amphibious because it doesn’t really float. It is, however, capable of carrying a monster payload (over 5 tons) through snow or swamp. The Vityaz resembles two carriages from a train with caterpillar tracks. While it’s predecessors go all the way back the the 1960’s the current model has been in production since 1982.

280px-VW_Kuebelwagen_1The German car-maker Volkswagen brings us two offerings: the Schwimmwagen and Kübelwagen. The Schwimmwagen is a squat 4×4 and the Kübelwagen resembles the bottom half of a VW Beetle. Bothe descend from the civilian version of the humble VW Beatle, but the Kübelwagen came first. The Kübelwagen became the Axis version of the allies jeep, sort of an all-terrain swift transport and tow platform. Unfortunately, the bottom design didn’t lend itself to swimming, with lead to the later developed Schwimagen. Over 15,000 Schwimwagens were produced between 1941 and 1944, making it the largest number of amphibious vehicles ever produced.

280px-VW_Schwimmwagen_1The Americans meanwhile developed the DUKW, which is where the story really twists.

The DUKW Story

It isn’t that clear what the DUKW stands for, the official line is that the initialism concerns “Designed in 1942” and “Utility” but the K and the W don’t stand for much at all. It may just be thought of as a code name but if that’s so why come up with code name which resembles what they are?

The DUKW, from this point forward ‘Duck’ was developed by top military and naval pioneers and quickly rejected by the main forces. When several Coast Guards got into difficulty off the coast of Princetown in Massachusetts a Duck vehicle happened to be giving a demo. The vehicle had no difficulty in rescuing the stranded Guardsmen. Later the Duck would show its usefulness by crossing the English Channel as well as manoeuvring on French soil but firstly the initial vehicle was re-engineered by the Yellow Coach & Truck Company.

300px-DUKW.image2.armyTwo thousand such vehicles were used by Great Britain during the WWII as well as 500 being used by Australian forces. Just over 75 years ago they were used in D-Day When the war ended they were used both in the Borneo and the Malayan campaign. These old vehicles seemed remarkably hard wearing, given that many had to undergo the rigor of the tide. The last Duck to be used in the military was in 2012.

There were plans to make Ducks bigger, to turn them into Superducks or “Drakes”. Developments were especially made in what was then the Soviet Union, including the addition of a ramp to the back of the vehicle, which would seem more like common sense than a physical difference.

How Floating Cars Help Regular Cars

As you might guess, there are many factors at play in creating amphibious vehicles that can be used in normal vehicles. Water in the engine is always a bad thing and the developments during the war and beyond were vital to keeping modern cars running smoothly. Then there is the difficulty of what happens when a car not exactly built for it has to drive through water.

The official recommendation is always to avoid driving your car through water deeper than a few inches but even car makers know it’s going to happen. Any water on the road, ford or puddle, may affect your brakes. After going through the water you are advised to check that your brakes work.

A ford is a place you cross a river where no bridge has been built. You should, at least, find a depth gage which marks the current depth of the water. Without a depth gage you’re advised not to try.

The Ultimate Demise of the DUKW

The final resting place in history for the “Duck Boat” has been tourism. Places like Seattle, Washington and Branson Missouri have employed them to take visitors around to see the sights from the unique views available to a vehicle that can go on land and water.

However, these tours have been plagued by tragic accidents, when taken out in adverse weather conditions or when poorly maintained. It will become increasingly more difficult to find an operational DUKW, but that doesn’t mean the world has given up on civilian Amphibious Vehicles.

Quite a few UTV’s are in production with limited amphibious ability, due in no small part, to their ability to help sport hunters and outdoor enthusiasts reach destinations that are otherwise nearly unattainable.