Collapsible, rotating caravan harnesses solar and wind for efficient off-grid living
While shows like the Australian 4x4 Expo and Overland Expo highlight tough, no-nonsense trailers and motorhomes ready to get dirty right now, the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon dedicates some space to futuristic campers and technologies. And this year, the Volkswagen California XXL isn't the only such concept camper wowing the crowds. France's Green Cat Technologies has possibly the most head-turning concept at the show with a caravan that folds out into a roomy living space complete with solar and wind power generation. The sCarabane even rotates 360 degrees at camp, tracking the sun to generate electricity and hot water.
What looks quite like a permanent, off-grid tiny home when all set up at camp is actually a folding caravan that packs neatly into a 25.6-ft-long (7.8-m-long) wheeled box via fold-down, flip-up and swing-out hardware on both sides. One side features a large outdoor deck with retractable awning, while the other side adds two bedrooms to the central living area.
Green Cat says the sCarabane goes from living to driving form in about 30 minutes, with just one person able to do the work on their own. The caravan serves as more proof that the French are masters of this type of structural compaction, as we've previously witnessed with the Beauer 3X.
While its expansion hardware is impressive, what really drives the sCarabane design is the almost-obsessive focus on green technologies that lies at its very core. Perhaps the most extreme example is the electrical rotation system that spins the caravan 360 degrees to optimize sun exposure and keep light and radiation flowing to the the solar panels and water-heating system. The caravan mounts on a circular track and rotates slowly as needed.
We've seen the concept of a sun-tracking, small-living solution before, albeit on a tiny house, not a caravan. Green Cat has built out a more elaborate solar-harvesting system that includes the collapsible, 65-sq ft (6-sq m) parabolic concentrator mirror on the roof, providing a natural means of heating water for supply to the faucets, shower, washing machine and dishwasher inside. There's also a 500-W solar panel array on the roof.
The sCarabane also takes advantage of the natural light and warmth of the sun. The adjustable bubble window at the far end includes a reflective shade that allows the occupants to adjust the level of natural light and heat. Similarly, a large "rose window" on each bedroom roof features a petal-like array of transparent sections that can be manually adjusted to let in the desired amount of light.
In addition to solar power, the sCarabane generates electricity from the wind. A retractable vertical axis wind turbine located in its own storage compartment pops up at camp to make those dreaded campground winds a little more bearable and useful. This means you can actually enjoy the fruits of high winds while sheltering yourself inside and running electrical equipment like the TV. During times when wind is the best option for generating electricity, the rotation system can be used to better align the wind turbine.
Green Cat admits that the sCarabane's ability to be fully self-sufficient will depend upon the location, season, user behavior and current conditions, but the design certainly has a much better chance than the average caravan of keeping its systems running efficiently while off the grid. Green Cat is even working on rainwater collection and water filtration systems so that the caravan could provide its own clean water.
Beyond its robust off-grid innovations package, the sCarabane looks like a comfy, well-equipped caravan that would be a pleasure to spend some time in. The full-length deck lets occupants enjoy the outdoors, offering enough space for an outdoor dining set and a few lounge chairs. The deck also includes a fold-down mini-bar that's connected to the indoor kitchen by way of a large hatch, making it easy to serve and enjoy cocktails and appetizers.
The full-size deck door leads into the kitchen/dining area. Instead of just a single kitchen block, as in many caravans and motorhomes, the sCarabane has blocks on either side of the kitchen floor. The one that connects to the outdoor mini-bar includes a sink, three-burner propane stove, countertop and dishwasher, while the unit on the opposite wall has more countertop, storage, and access to the microwave and large refrigerator. There are drawers and cabinets on both sides.
The six-person dining set to the left of the entry transforms into an extra sleeping area, supplementing the 77.5-sq ft (7.2-sq m) master bedroom and 59-sq ft (5.5-sq m) children's bedroom. The bubble window is located adjacent to the dining area, letting natural light and open views flow into the main living area. A TV and multimedia system mounted on the wall provides indoor entertainment.
The dry bathroom with separate toilet, sink and shower compartments is located on the other side of the kitchen. Here you'll also find the compact washing machine.
The master bedroom has a double bed, integrated shelving and a drop-down desktop, while the simpler kids' room has two single beds. Each bedroom has its own full-size door to the outside.
The sCarabane measures 25.6 x 9.2 x 8.2 ft (7.8 x 2.8 x 2.5 m, L x W x H) when packed up for towing and weighs around 5,500 lb (2,500 kg).
Fillon Technologies began work on the sCarabane concept in 2013, and as of last month, Green Cat Technologies took over its further development with Fillon as a partner. Green Cat is showing the latest iteration this week in Düsseldorf. The caravan appears to be primarily a showcase of technologies and design ideas, but Green Cat does mention that it's looking for partners to both develop the caravan itself and apply sCarabane technologies to other products. Whether or not the sCarabane makes it to market, it does provide an interesting starting point for a conversation about the future of caravan design and sustainable off-grid living.
Take a closer look at the ins and outs of this intriguing concept in our photo gallery.
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Other than that, the caravan has a surprisingly roomy feel---a hard thing to achieve in an inherently cramped application. I like the deck---grass or dirt just wouldn't be the same. But the deck must be stiff enough to walk on, and so cannot be featherlight---it takes up very little space folded up, but it does add weight.
Instead of rotating the whole camper to get light for the solar part, why not just rotate the part the solar panels / mirrors sit on?