Monday, December 04, 2006

Bicycle RV part the third: Winnebiko & Behemoth

Bicycle RV part the third: Winnebiko & BEHEMOTH

BEHEMOTH is right! This guy must have legs of iron! Still this a pedal powered home after the Dragon's cold and geeky heart. At the time Behemoth (“Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine… Only Too Heavy”) was Unix powered $1.2 million USD mobile computer, which now resides in the Computer History Museum.

A skunkworks-like microculture developed around the project, attracting programmers and machinists, hams and cyclists, human-powered vehicle gurus and chip designers. I recall one night a few weeks before launch… the stereo jamming, the windowless lab a sea of fluorescent-lit clutter, the SPARC beeping every few minutes with incoming mail as I worked to nail down the logistics of the tour. Michael Perry was writing FORTH code to drive the audio crossbar, Steve Sergeant was chasing a noise problem, Steve desJardins was working on the landing gear 4-bar linkage, and Zonker Harris was squinting into a dense matrix of Lemo connector pins with a soldering iron in his hand. Over at the Rockwell milling machine named Cecil (Cecil be da Mill), David Berkstresser was standing in a sea of aluminum chips, conjuring a piece of structural artwork for the bike’s trailer hitch. I heard the mill spin down, then David hollered, “Hey! Does it ever make you feel funny that so many people are working so hard to get you out of town?”Somewhere in the background, I vaguely sensed that things were getting a little out of control. The bike had become a technological tour-de-force more than a practical Grand Turing Machine; my recreational reading had become trade journals and databooks instead of maps and bicycle-adventure yarns. Along the way, the ethic driving the design had subtly changed from, “What do I need to solve the problem?” to “Hey, this thing is cool… how can I integrate it into the bike?” The resulting system was so seductive that I pushed thoughts of gravity into the background and pressed on… eventually rolling out of the lab on a 580-pound bicycle (400 pounds of bike and trailer plus 180 pounds of gear).

All of this, eventually lead to the formulation of : The Roberts Law of Applied Mobile Gizmology: If you take an infinite number of very light things and put them together, they become infinitely heavy.

I do believe Steven Roberts is my new hero. BEHEMOTH was the third and final iteration of his bicycle/rolling home/ mobile computer experiments which ran from 1983 to 1991, and logged 17,000 miles. Then he traded in the lycra shorts for a marlinspike, and began experimenting with floating computing centers!

His latest project is Nomadness, a 36' trimaran, currently being outfitted and doing trial runs in puget Sound. you can check out the Nomadness blog here, as well.

Damn! I'm all agog with inspiration.

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