Tech trials births an extraordinary truck

ZAI truck designer at Fringilla Lodge in Chisamba. PICTURE: DOREEN NAWA

IT ALL started as an experiment. A challenge is given. ZaiLab’s industrial design team was given an unusual challenge: design a working truck worthy of a big-budget sci-fi film in just 300 days.

Success or failure, the team was determined at their workshop in Cape Town, South Africa to design a truck like never before.
The challenge is now a reality. The Zai truck is now on its wheels heading to Antarctica from Cape to Cairo through to the Mediterranean.
Zai truck is the first ever all-terrain, all-purpose, mobile laboratory, studio, mobile office (or home) party truck.
Designed by a South African based Software company Zailab, it took a year to covert an ordinary military Man KAT 6×6 truck chassis into a Zai truck.
This truck started its journey from Cape Town on September 18, 2017 passing through the Namib Desert in Namibia through to Botswana.
On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, the Zai truck entered Zambia through Livingstone’s Victoria Falls border.
“There is joy on the journey. I find it amazing that every time we stop, we have conversations, including with the police. I love how the Zai truck brings us together. From Cape Town, we have had people coming to us and we have had great conversations,” says crew member Dominique Vandenhoudt.
The Zai truck’s interior is just as forward-thinking as its exterior. Its central driver’s seat commands a touchscreen dashboard fed by a range of sensors and video cameras.
Mr Vandenhoudt says their journey is under one of the projects undertaken by Zailab called Voices of Humanity.
‘It’s an expedition that starts from Cape to Cairo, on our way, we stop at certain points in each country and town, we stop and get to our small studio set up. We have a set of 10 questions and we ask people to answer them, the questions are personal like, what is love? The beauty about this undertaking is that each time we ask these questions, we get different answers,” Mr Vandenhoudt says.
By December 2017, the Zai truck is scheduled to reach Alexandria in Egypt, then Europe through the Mediterranean to Greece and later America until Antarctica.
“It started from a dream by the Zailab chief executive officer and founder Nour Addine Ayyoub to reward conversations. He values people’s thought. We need to find out that on the continent. It is the first time we are undertaking this project,” Mr Vandenhoudt says.
A security guard at Chisamba’s Fringilla Lodge says, “I had the privilege of seeing the Zai Truck and standing as the cockpit opened up. Very cool Starwars looking vehicle. Children around this place love it. We took some pictures and I posted them on Facebook,” he recalls.
Designing and building a truck more fit for an orbit than earth might seem an odd choice for such an organisation.
Taking a truck like this to Antarctica for New Year’s might seem odder still.
But Zailab, determined to snap the status quo, regards traditional marketing with a significant amount of distrust.
So, both to showcase the skill of its designers and to start a few conversations, the company bought a truck from the military and started transmuting it into a vehicle any starfleet captain would be proud of.
The plan is to tour the world with it, and in so doing, highlight places that deserve the world’s attention.
Zai truck designer and crew member Roelf Mulder says the truck started out life as a MAN KAT, a practically indestructible 6×6 developed for those times when you need to deliver a 10-ton payload to, say, the Base Camp of Everest (or a science base in Antarctica).
It’s on this respectable base that Zailab’s industrial design team should be proud of themselves for conquering the challenge.
“The truck is an all-terrain. It has what looks like a rock-solid framework that holds up a frontage with the sort of modular aerodynamics and segmented aesthetic that one expects to find on a battle machine.
A hexagonal aperture at the rear, glowing red, carries the promise of an afterburner.
The Zai truck is a twelve seater. Two passenger seats are positioned to either side, and three are found immediately behind; one of these seats, higher than the others, gives its passenger a panoramic view courtesy of a turret that pivots out from the roof.
Expanding the deal is a collection of tech upgrades: solar panels, software-controlled driver features, a laser set-up and a sound system with a punch like on the rear right in its studio. That’s the Zai truck for you.
The challenge conquered successfully.

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