The Dorkpod project repurposes electric wheelchairs into 'vertical' electric vehicles

© Tinkersmiths Makerspace

On the lighter side of electric mobility, this open source personal transport system is a DIY-er's delight.

So you're interested in getting some clean transportation into your life, but an electric car is too big of a commitment, and riding an e-bike is too much physical effort? Maybe what you need is a personal electric vehicle that will transport you to your destination while you just stand there. Oh, you say that the Walkcar looks a bit unsafe, and you'd rather build your own anyway?

In that case, a good place to start is the Dorkpod, a project from Tinkersmiths Makerspace in Charlottesville, VA. This open source "vertical electric transport" system will be available as a set of DIY plans, a kit, or a finished model if the Kickstarter campaign hits its rather modest goal of $3000 in crowdfunding next month. While the Dorkpod isn't exactly for speedy travel or long distances, it does have the advantage of being built by repurposing an existing platform - a front-wheel-drive electric wheelchair - and using the chair's electric drive and battery components instead of manufacturing new ones.

According to the Tinkersmiths' Dorkpod website, electric wheelchairs already employ a proven high torque drivetrain and control system (and onboard batteries), and can be found used for "in the $250 range," whereas a similar new drivetrain would cost somewhere near $800 if built from new parts, so they offer a "phenomenal value proposition."

The plans and kit being offered for the Dorkpod calls for an upright 'cage' made from 3/4" finished grade plywood, which is designed to be cut on a CNC milling machine (but which could be cut with other tools, at a loss of some precision). The plans, which will be available to backers at the $25 level, will allow anyone with access to a makerspace or modern wood shop the ability to 'print' their own pieces, and for those who want the kit (minus the wheelchair), they will be available at the $350 level (unpainted) and $650 level (painted), or with custom branding at higher backer levels.

The electric wheelchair base and the batteries, because the user will most likely source them locally (unless and until a drivetrain with new components is offered), will vary in terms of performance, range, and useful lifespan. The website recommends finding a chair with batteries that still hold a charge, otherwise plan on adding the cost of two new batteries, which can run about $125 each. The body of the vehicle itself, being made from plywood, lends itself easily to customization and modification, and the team is said to be working on some 'expansion packages' with micro-controller based accessories that will be released in January.

Although the version shown here looks more like a, well, a Dorkpod, the same principle and structure could be used to build all sorts of other models for different applications, such as to haul stuff while walking, or to dispense food or beverages, or as a rolling DJ booth, or to promote a business or service. And as a plus, this little EV could be charged with a small solar electric array, which would then make it into an eye-catching zero-carbon transport option.

Find out more at Dorkpod and Kickstarter.

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