There was a time when shipping containers were just used for cargo, but these days, they're used for everything from housing to restaurants and urban farms. While these steel boxes have proven to be extremely versatile, they're also very expensive to move and require some heavy lifting. Excalibur Shelters is making this a bit cheaper and simpler with SL-Tainer, a self-lifting container that does away with the need for a crane to get it on and off the back of a truck.

One of the things that makes shipping containers so versatile is their sturdiness thanks to their steel construction. Unfortunately, they weigh in at a couple of tons even when empty. Moving one from point A to point B means hiring a crane, a crew, and a licensed operator to pick it up, put it on a flat bed, then take it off again at the other end. The SL-Tainer is designed to cut out the middleman with a container that can lift itself to be loaded and unloaded from a truck – even when fully loaded.

The principle behind the SL-Tainer is like something out of Thunderbirds. It looks very similar to a standard 20-ft (6.1-m) or 40-ft (12.2-m) container, except that the corners contain built-in hydraulic jacks that can lift the SL-Tainer to a height of 1.6 m (5.2 ft) and provide a clearance width of 3.1 m (10.2 ft), which is enough to reverse a flatbed trailer underneath, and then lower the container.

The power source is an included external two-speed hydraulic "power pack" with a 9 kW motor that generates up to 3,000 psi. The whole system is operated by a wired or wireless remote control unit. Excalibur says that SL-Tainer loads or unloads in 15 minutes, uses 120 ml (4 oz) of fuel, and has a self-leveling system accurate to within 20 mm.

According to Excalibur, the system has a number of advantages over conventional containers. The most obvious one being eliminating the need for a crane, which removes considerable expense. The other is that, unlike other self-lifting systems, the SL-Tainer is an integral part of the container rather than an add-on, which requires additional expense and effort.

The company claims that loading or unloading the container costs only CAD1.50 (US$1.20) a time. In addition, there's no need for a licensed operator, the loss of time and revenue is greatly reduced, and the container is self-leveling, which eliminates the vexing problem with using a container as a temporary office.

The company sees the SL-Tainer as having a number of applications. It can deliver cargo in rural or other areas where cranes either aren't available, are too expensive, or not practical, such as in heavily built up areas or in places without enough overhead clearance. It could also be used to carry any sort of cargo that a standard container could handle, but with its small footprint and speed of unload it could also be used for temporary offices, kitchens, lavatories, showers, medical units, ticket booths, or accommodations, among others.

The SL-Tainer can be seen undergoing a fuel efficiency test in the video below.

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