Imagine being a farmer in the Rwandan countryside and having to carry heavy produce over long distances to market, or alternatively, paying for a small bike to transport it along dangerous hilly roads and hoping it arrives safely. Across the globe, 3.4 billion people lack access to motorized transport. A third of those people live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Women and children are disproportionately affected, sometimes having to carry loads of 30kg or more for over 10km to roadsides or markets. OX Delivers is hoping to change that with their clean, affordable transport system for emerging markets. Their OX trucks are fully electric and designed to be durable and easy to drive in challenging conditions.
The team at OX Delivers has been working on a purpose-built electric truck for emerging markets, ensuring that people like potato farmers in places like Rwanda are able to get their potatoes to the market. The truck is changing lives by enabling people to increase their incomes. Founder Natalie Dowsett says, “We have so many customers who have told us stories about how they struggled to transport their goods because they had to either carry them themselves or push them on a pushbike, which instantly limits how much you can carry and how far. Having access to motorised transport, which they didn’t previously have, means that they aren’t restricted in the same ways.”
Their first fully functional first ground-up prototype called OX2. The truck is wrapped in the OX brand colors of mustard yellow and white. It’s clear on the side of the truck that they are aiming to drive positive zero-emission impact because it is 100% electric. Engineer Christiana Hamilton says, “It’s an absolutely fantastic project to work on. It’s an amazing vehicle, and the mission itself and what we’re trying to do is really impactful and empowering.” The team also tried to keep things as simple as possible. “If you look at the dashboard, you can see that it’s not made from complex materials or any form of composite or plastic. It’s a basic aluminum frame that is easy and cheap to manufacture, but it was specifically chosen so that it was easy to use and understand as well as having an HMI system, human-machine interface, that is economically effective.”
OX Delivers started as an idea from the inventor of Polly Pocket Sir Torquil Norman. Polly Pocket was a British toy that was bought by Mattel, enabling Sir Torquil to go into more philanthropic ventures. One day he was contemplating why automakers don’t build purpose-built vehicles for such a huge part of the global population. Emerging markets are simply ignored in terms of their transport needs, resulting in not fit-for-purpose vehicles ending up in these markets where they’re not able to be repaired, or they are hugely polluting and very unreliable, which meant three billion people were without access to motorized transport.
From there, he created a not-for-profit called the Global Vehicle Trust, which commissioned Gordon Murray Design to design the first OX prototypes. They had the brief of being low cost, all-terrain, high carrying capacity, easy to repair in market, flat pack so they can be assembled in market, made four prototypes and got to the point of trying to sell this into the automotive industry as a concept, but it was very difficult because it doesn’t matter how cheap you make this vehicle, the end user can’t afford to buy it. It didn’t fit the traditional automotive model. So not being able to sell a vehicle didn’t make it an attractive proposition.
What we very quickly realized, of course, is you can’t sell a full vehicle. But being able to sell space on a vehicle could be revolutionary in these markets where they can’t afford a full vehicle or even to hire a full vehicle. They just need to pay for what they need when they need it, so they pay per kilo, per kilometer. All the information and data that the team gathers from these routes as the trucks are operating informs them to optimize the trucks further, so they can optimize future designs. For example, they know that in certain conditions, they need to apply cooling earlier or do different things so the battery can last longer, or the performance can be improved. Hannah explains, “There’s so much information that we can generate through running the trucks, but also analyze and put into our design going forward. It’s a really unique thing to be able to do because we’re maintaining ownership.”
Right now the company is running a pilot operation in Rwanda. With four depots and 23 trucks, they service the local community with whatever their transport needs are. They’ve moved school furniture, potatoes, sugar cane, animal feed. Rwanda is quite a small country, but driving is tricky because the roads aren’t straight. You’re either driving uphill, downhill, round a corner or a combination of those. You’ll never actually get to a very high speed because the road conditions don’t allow it. It’s such an eclectic mix of road surface. You can go from what we would recognise in the UK as a well-maintained metalled road like a motorway, but very, very quickly, you can go around the corner, broken surface, straight onto a dirt road, lots of dust, loose gravel, potholes, and that can happen in the blink of an eye. They’ve really had to focus on creating a vehicle that can handle that transition without any problems because the suspension on the vehicle has been designed to be strong, robust and reactive to changing road conditions.
Rwanda has two seasons, one that’s dry and one that’s wet. In the wet season, you can be driving on a sunny day, and very, very quickly you’re in torrential downpours, the mud is flowing off the road, you’re in very tricky driving conditions. The vehicle has been designed to handle that as well as, if not better, than some of the vehicles that are commercially available in the country. Bikes can take between one and 200kg of any form of goods, but the truck can carry two tons, so that’s about 10-20 times the amount a bike can carry. In terms of distance, on average, the trucks can travel around 200km per day, but can go up to 400km if there are a lot of customers they need to get to.
In terms of power, electric vehicles on the whole have actually better power application than a petrol or diesel engine because of the way an electric motor works. You can very quickly get a lot of power down to the wheels. But it’s also very controllable, and you don’t have to worry about being in the right gear. The vehicle works that out and applies power where the driver needs it. John Booth, one of the senior prototype technicians for OX Delivers, says, “We’ve always got a good backup of power, so when we’re fully loaded going up hills, we can use lots and lots of power. We’ve also got very, very good control systems that allow us to creep along when the road surfaces are very loose and control how we put that power down on the ground, which means that we expect that we can take this vehicle to 95% of our customers, who live in places where the driving conditions are tricky and trying, which is going to include broken mud tracks.”
Electric vehicles are also inherently cheaper to maintain. A lot of that comes down to the part count and the amount of complexity within those parts. So, if you think about it, a diesel engine is all mechanical. There are lots of things that can fail physically and go wrong. However, for an EV, those are so limited in terms of how many you have. There’s a lot less to physically go wrong, like a diesel engine has a lot more mechanical failure, over a battery, which has a lot less likely to go into any form of failure than a diesel vehicle as well.
The team at OX Delivers believes that Africa shouldn’t be trailing behind the developing world in green initiatives but is primed to lead the drive to green initiatives. Electric vehicles are absolutely the way forward as there’s an abundance of renewable energy sources in the country. They’re a lot cleaner as well. John says, “The country is beautiful. I spent two months living out there last year and I cannot really describe in words anything that would do it justice. Everywhere you go is idyllic. The scenery is majestic. Its jungle, its hills, its wildlife. It’s just phenomenal. I would heartily recommend anyone to go there on holiday and just spend a couple of days driving around. You’d never grow tired of looking out the window.”
“We chose Rwanda as the place to start our pilot operation and to learn,” says Natalie. “It’s government is very open to innovation and it just felt like a really great place to start, a really great place to learn. On top of that, it has a really challenging terrain. It has a very difficult rainy season, so where better than to learn and start then somewhere that would be particularly difficult to move goods?”
Natalie says, “During my last trip to Rwanda, I met a banana trader in one of the rural markets. She would have to travel to another rural market to buy her stock, and then to get home because it was too far for her to walk with her stock – she would have to hitch a ride on a passing bus or a passing cement lorry. She would have to wait at the side of the road for up to three days. She has to stay with her stock so it doesn’t get stolen, and it’s pretty unsafe. She’s also not earning any income because her market stall is empty. Now she uses our service, she doesn’t have to sleep by the side of the road, which is, of course, a lot safer. But also she’s been able to increase her income because she’s not taking the time out to travel to the rural market. She’s also able to diversify her stock as she’s not limited by how much she could carry on a passing truck or bus, or by which market she goes to. She’s been able to diversify and increase her income whilst also staying safe and sleeping at home.”
The team at OX Delivers is constantly improving the design of their trucks using feedback from the team in Rwanda. They use Onshape, PTC’s cloud-native product development platform, as it delivers a more agile and collaborative experience with CAD. Not only are they delivering a sustainable vehicle, but they’re also delivering economic sustainability by making it affordable and accessible to the people on the ground in these emerging economies. They refer to it as “Uber for potatoes”, and for other crops as well. The truck’s body simply bolts on and off using sheet material, so if a branch or tree causes damage, they simply have to uninstall the old panel and bolt on a new one. It's kind of a flat pack approach to delivery trucks. Getting the design right is key.
Onshape is the first and only cloud-native product development platform that has pro-grade CAD and next generation PDM product data management. We power companies to use an agile design process, which is where every company wants to be today, or many companies that we have talked to. They want to be more agile and lower costs, so Onshape delivers that. It's super important, especially to startup companies, they don't want the cost of servers and special hardware. They don't want the hassle of installing software and maintaining it to ensure everyone is on the same version. And who is “everyone” anyway? In a team like that you're bringing specialists on and off the team all the time. They don't want the hassle of locking files and worrying about where the latest version of data is.
It's easy to navigate and easy to manage changes through PDM. And we've got extremely powerful CAD. The engineers at OX Delivers all have different capabilities. Not all of them were confident with CAD, but Onshape was easy to work with for the whole team, whether they knew a lot about CAD, knew a lot about PDM or knew nothing about either, so they were able to get up to speed. Onshape has also enabled them to use real-time collaboration, so multiple people from OX Delivers can not only look at but work on the same design simultaneously. Whether it's internal people, external people, whatever stakeholder you have – for instance, at OX, Onshape allowed Christiana and her team to work a lot faster because they weren't constrained to locking files using checkout processes. Believe it or not, with old generation legacy-file-based CAD and PDM, you have to lock files and check them out. That means while one person's working on it, other people cannot be – that's a problem. With Onshape, everyone can work at the same time. They can split things easily, but still be able to see everything in the context of what each other is doing without shutting anybody out from contributing.
Huge thanks to Jon, and to Natalie, Kristiana and John for showing us around the OX Delivers facility, and for letting us take a short ride in an OX Truck.
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This is an 18 Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design, editing and recording by Clarissa Maycock. And music by Rowan Bishop.