Sunday, April 11, 2010

Shipping Container Hospital Building

Architects tamassociati have designed Salam Centre from shipping containers in Soba, Khartoum, Sudan. This uses 90 20 foot containers and 7 40 foot containers. Three 20 foot containers are placed side by side to make two apartments, with bathrooms taking up the rear half of the centre container. The 40 foot containers are used he cafeteria and common areas, with the end walls removed and replaced with glazing.

A steel roof is added over the whole complex along with some bamboo screens to soften the light . The end walls of the cafeteria project out above the sloping ground to provide a more dramatic effect than is usual for such shipping container buildings.

These are not modular building: used containers were delivered to the site and them modified. As a result the architects were not limited by having to design the building for transport. As a result large cuts could be made to open out the space in the apartments and the cafeteria.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Office pod transportable office

OfficePod transportable buildingThe OfficePod looks an appealing design. This is a small prefabricated transportable office, intended to be placed in the backyard of a family home. The building appears to be almost cubical with a 2.1 x 2.1 m floor. The corners have been rounded to make the unit more aesthetically pleasing. However, something based on a 10 foot shipping container 3 x 2.4 x 2.6 (l x w x h) might be more practical.

Most small modular buildings are not aesthetically pleasing. But it should be possible to style a building from standard components which fits in the standard shipping container footprint, but doesn't look like a prison guard house.

The OfficePod has floor to ceiling glass panels and a folding door on the corner. This would be difficult to do using standard modular building components and my not be very practical in places with harsh climate and security needs. Instead panels of stainless steel mesh, as used for security fly screens, could be used. From a distance the mesh has the appearance of a dark tinted window and would give an integrated look, while providing security.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Floating Modular Building

IBA DOCK in the Müggenburger Zollhafen, HamburgThe International Building Exhibition in Hamburg has moved into a new modular floating building: "IBA DOCK" (English Transaltion). The building is made of shipping container sized prefabricated modules. It is not clear if these are actual shipping containers, which would be appropriate, given Hamburg is a major shipping port. The modules are on a a 50 x 26 m concrete pontoon, moored so it can ride over a storm surge. As well as good insulation, the building has a solar powered heat pump to extract heat from the water.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Transportable Data Centre for Broadcaster and Bulldozer Company

Broadcaster Seven Network Limited has proposed merging with the WesTrac machinery company to form Seven Group Holdings Limited. A TV broadcaster might not seem to have much in common with a company which sells and repairs Caterpillar brand bulldozers, but late last year IBM have announced it was building a "Portable Modular Data Center"for WesTrac. This is in two modified shipping containers, with its own generators and could be very useful for a broadcaster.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

IBM Portable Modular Data Center for WA

IBM have announced in "WesTrac Selects IBM's Portable Modular Data Center" that West Australian bulldozer company WesTrac is buying an IBM Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC). This will be made up of two modified shipping containers, with IBM "Rear Door Heat Exchanger", uninterruptible power supply (UPS), batteries, chiller unit and a 400kVA generator.

The IBM Rear Door Heat Exchangers replace the usual perforated metal doors of a standard equipment rack with a water colled unit. The hot air for the back of the equipment is cooled as it leaves the rack. This contrasts with the approach of APC and other vendors, who cool the hot air behind the rack. The IBM approach would increase the complexity of the installation, with pluming full of cold water on a moving door of each equipment rack.

The data centre is claimed to be "portable", but IBM talks of also a concrete slab on which the containers, generator and chiller will be installed. It is not clear how the system could be easily portable if it needs a concrete slab to be laid. A system using screw piles with twistlocks, which attach to the standard ISO container connectors, would seem to make more sense.

One point not made clear is why WesTrack would need such a large portable data centre. All of the data processing for a modern medium sized company would fit in a couple of equipment racks about the size of a filing cabinet. If the equipment is intended to support customers online, then there is no need for the equipment to be portable, or to be located in a remote area, as it could be as easily located anywhere in the world with Internet access. It is difficult to see the need for this much data centre capacity in an isloated location not connected to the Internet.

SYDNEY, Australia - 17 Dec 2009: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that WesTrac Pty Ltd, an industrial machinery supplier headquartered in Perth, has selected IBM to design and implement a Portable Modular Data Center (PMDC) solution to provide the company with a flexible, cost-effective data centre to meet its immediate business needs as well as support future IT growth.

Faced with the need for additional data centre capacity fuelled by a major IT project and unable to secure more space in its own data centre or through traditional co-location with data centre operators in Perth, WesTrac turned to IBM. With tight project deadlines, WesTrac selected IBM's PMDC as the right solution offering a compact, fully functional, high-density and highly protected data centre, housed within two 6.1 metre customised shipping containers. The IBM solution, due for completion in February, will allow WesTrac to avoid the cost associated and time and space required with building a new facility.


"After assessing solutions from other vendors, WesTrac is pleased to select IBM to implement a scalable, flexible and portable data centre facility," said Mark Curtis, Communications Infrastructure Manager, WesTrac.

"This agreement provides us with a complete solution and, most importantly, enables all IT equipment to be easily serviced and maintained from within a closed, physically secure and environmentally tight container. All managed and delivered by IBM, WesTrac will benefit from temporary hosting during transitioning stages, project financing, and ultimately, permanent IT accommodation."

"IBM is delighted to work with WesTrac to design and deliver a PMDC solution to provide them with a quickly delivered, cost-effective and flexible data centre alternative," said David Yip, Site and Facilities Services Business Executive, IBM Australia. "The PMDC offering, part of the IBM Data Center Family of modular solutions, is designed as a flexible option for companies requiring remote or temporary data centre capacity to support their business growth."

WesTrac's PMDC solution will consist of two containers, one purpose built for IT equipment, using IBM Rear Door Heat Exchanger cooling doors for the most efficient cooling solution and overhead cooling and the other for services infrastructure including uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and batteries, chiller unit, cooling fan coils and electrical and mechanical distribution gear and a configured 400kVA engine generator.

Further, IBM will also purpose-build a concrete slab on which the PMDC containers, generator and second chiller unit will be installed. An early warning fire detection system, fire suppression system, fingerprint access system and video surveillance provide the required security for the solution.

The agreement was signed in December 2009.

About WesTrac

WesTrac is one of the largest Caterpillar dealerships in the world, servicing the territories of Western Australia, New South Wales, The Australian Capital Territory and Northern China. Established in 1989, WesTrac® is a wholly owned subsidiary company of Australian Capital Equity, which is owned by Kerry Stokes. WesTrac offers total support for customers at every stage of their Equipment Management Cycle. The comprehensive solution offers a wide choice of equipment options, parts, servicing and maintenance support, that is amongst the best in the industry. ...

From: "WesTrac Selects IBM's Portable Modular Data Center" , Media Release, IBM, 17 Dec 2009

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making the Planet Smarter and Greener

Matthias Kaiserswerth, director of the IBM Zurich Research LabGreetings from NICTA Canberra Research Laboratory where Matthias Kaiserswerth, director of the IBM Zurich Research Lab is speaking on "Innovating to Create a Smarter Planet". The talk did not start well, with severe interference on the public address system. Dr. Kaiserswerth started by pointing out they do not make PCs any more. The still sell large IT systems, but also do software and consulting.He claimed IBM was the world's largest IT research organisation, four Nobel Laureates in the Zurich Labs and labs aorund the world.

Dr. Kaiserswerth argues that smart systems can improve the environment and health. One example was the amount of energy wasted by cars in cities looking for parking spaces. He pointed out that there are about 4 billion mobile phones in the world which could be used for smart applications, but this might need smarter phones with Internet access.

Dr. Kaiserswerth pointed that research on its own is not enough, a business case is also needed. He gave the example of smart sensors on shipping containers. Smart tags could be put on containers, but this would require agreement by all those involved in shipping would need to agree and to share the cost. Dr. Kaiserswerth pointed out IBM worked on Zigbee networking for container to container communication. It occurs to me that this system is also being used for smart meters. So I suggest it might be possible to equip housing modules with a Zigbee device used for tracking the container in transit and then for the smart meter when installed. This could also provide some limited Internet access for the home owner. In a modualr apartment building, the wireless devices in each apartment could communicate with each other to control building services and reduce energy use.

Another example Dr. Kaiserswerth used was the "Spoken Web Project" from IBM's Indian research labs. This would provide information services for people who cannot read text or want to access it via a mobile phone. There have been several attempts at this including the Simputer Indian PDA with voice. However, my preference would be to use advnaced web design, web accessibility standards and advances in text to voice to provide standard web sites which are also avialable via voice.
NICTA Canberra Research Laboratory
Big Picture SeminarSeries
Title: Innovating to Create a Smarter Planet

The world is getting increasingly intelligent, thanks to new technologies, the Internet and the enormous computing power of modern PCs. But a more intelligent world does not happen all by itself. Business enterprises, governments and the scientific community must share the responsibility for ensuring that all this potential can develop and be used in the right way.

At the moment we are still wasting energy, our healthcare systems are not working efficiently enough and the economy is overtaken by one crisis after another. What strategies and solutions are available for dealing with basic challenges such as these? How can a business enterprise use information more systematically and more intelligently?
How can the natural resources of our planet be put to better and more efficient use? With the technologies and solutions available to us today we can do more than we have ever been able to do in the past to link together people, things, processes and systems, and to make the world in general a more intelligent place. That is our vision for a smarter planet.

Since January 2006, Matthias Kaiserswerth has been leading the IBM Research Strategy in Systems Management and Compliance, coordinating the research work across IBM's eight global research laboratories. In July 2006, he was named director of the Zurich Research Lab, which he had lead already once before from 2000-2002.Dr. Kaiserswerth received his MSc and PhD in Computer Science from McGill University in Montreal, Canada and from Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany respectively. He is an honorary professor at Friedrich-Alexander University where he teaches applied computer science.

From imagination to impact
Dr Matthias Kaiserswerth
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009
Seminar begins at 12.30pm.
A light lunch will be served following
the presentation.
NICTA Seminar Room
Ground Floor, 7 London Circuit
Civic, ACT
RSVP Bookings are essential. Please email
by Friday 13 November 2009

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Economic and environmentally sustainability of modular buildings

Brendan Baxter commented on my review of the ANU shipping container apartment building. Brendan questions the economic and environmental sustainability of importing building modules manufactured in China. As he notes, an independent life cycle analysis would be useful. One preliminary analysis from the USA shows modular building reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 5%. Transporting modules from China would increase the CO2 emissions, but not by much, as they are sent by ship, which is relatively efficient.

The Michigan study is for a wooden frame single family dwelling, which is very different from ANU's steel frame 70 apartment block, but some factors are similar. A modular building requires more materials in each module, as they have to be strong enough to be transported. This applies particularly with shipping container modules, which are required to meet railway safety requirements for strength as well as being able to support the weight of five loaded containers on a ship. The result is that a building built from containers is very much stronger than required, with much more steel used than needed for a conventional building. This gives locally made building modules, made for transport by truck, an energy advantage.
A 1,456 ft2 modular home and conventional site built home in Benton Harbor, Michigan are analyzed to examine how the different construction and design methods of two types of housing influence environmental impact over their 50 year life span. The chosen modular home is fabricated by Redman Homes in Topeka, Indiana and transported to the building site. The conventional home is modeled after the modular home in collaboration with Douglas Construction Company. Many assumptions and simplification were made due to data gaps, so results represent preliminary estimates. The total amount of the materials placed in the conventional home is 9% less than the amount of the modular
home because the modular home is framed with larger 2X6 studs and requires additional structural components. The conventional home produces 2.5 times more construction wastes than the modular home. The lesser material consumption of the conventional home is offset by a larger amount of waste generation. The building use phase dominates more than 93% of the life cycle energy consumption and over 95% of the total greenhouse gas emissions for both homes. The total life cycle energy consumption for modular home is 5%
less than the conventional site home. The total global warming potential for the modular home is 5% less than the conventional site built home. The use phase energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission differences are attributed to the expected higher air tightness (0.194 ACH) of the modular home over the conventional home. The conventional home was modeled with 80% lower air tightness (0.35 ACH) than the modular home, which results in 7% more of the natural gas consumption over its service life. The modular home requires additional transportation energy compared to the conventional home for
delivering the fabricated modular home to the site. However, 4~5 days of the modular home’s short fabrication cycle time allows the modular home to significantly reduce the employee’s transportation energy compared to that of the conventional home.

From: Preliminary Life Cycle Analysis of Modular and Conventional Housing in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Doyoon Kim, University of Michigan, 2008
The road transport part of the energy budget for the modules is likely to be higher, where a truck is used. But If transported on land by rail, rather then by road, the energy use would also be low. Also the manufacture of modular buildings benefits from economies of scale. Large shipments of materials to a factory are more efficient than small deliveries to scattered building sites. Of course greater environmental efficiencies could be achieved by using local materials from the site for building, but this is not commonly done in Australia.

Buying imported buildings at the same time as the Government is attempting stimulate the local construction industry is an interesting issue. The building industry has previously not had to face overseas competition, but now has to with modular building. My view is that the government should support the development of an Australian modular building industry which can compete on price and environmental sustainability. Australians should be able to buy locally made modular buildings. Subsidising the building industry is not a viable long term strategy, as subsidies for the car industry have shown. When in Tasmania a few months ago I suggested development of hi-tech wood modular buildings.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Shipping container apartment building looks good

3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesOne of the studio units in the Australian National University Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall was open for inspection, so I went along to have a look. I was expecting something which looked like a stack of containers, but this instead is a modern, elegant and very solid apartment building.

The outside finish and balcony panels had not yet been applied to the building, so the framework of containers was apparent. The joins between the container are being covered to make them appear to be solid columns and beams. The ends of the containers are being filled with coloured glass panels. There is an open welded steel fire stair at one end of the building and a concrete service core at the other end. This sounds very utilisation, but looks much better in reality.

The apartment for inspection was on the ground floor. The first impression, like the building is of solidity: the door is double glazed frosted glass and appears very solid. Next to the door is the access panel to the riser for plumbing (a section has been cut out of the top and bottom of each container to provide easy access for the plumbing). Inside the front door is a small vestibule. There is then the bathroom on the left and a hallway. The bathroom is small but makes good use of the space with a reasonably sized shower. There is then a small kitchen on the left. The kitchen has a single small sink and a very small two plate stove-top in the bench. There is limited cupboard space but a a full size refrigerator. A better option might be to install a smaller bar fridge and put a microwave oven in the space freed up above this. The kitchen is more than adequate with good quality but robust finish.

Next to the kitchen is very small hanging space which might fit one coat and one pair of trousers. While students might not be expected to dress up for the office each day, this seems inadequate (there are coat hooks next to the front door as well). coat hanger is a generous student desk. Perhaps the desk could be smaller to make room for more clothes (with some sort of fold up extension on the desk). Students will be increasingly using online study materials, with less need of desktop space for books.

Next to the desk is a built in bed. The bed looks out on the balcony and with the coloured glass panel installed under the balcony railing will provide a view with privacy. There are large drawers built under the bed and open shelves above, providing most of the storage for the apartment. The wall shelves might have looked better with doors on them., but this would have made the space look smaller.

The bed is fixed and takes up a lot of floor space. It would be tempting to have some sort of folding or sofa bed, but in reality these tend to be left open in everyday use and the mechanisms tend to break. However, perhaps there could be a simple fold down panel to extend the student desk over the bed and some bolsters at the back to make the bed more comfortable to sit on.

A flat screen TV is mounted on an arm on the wall opposite the bed. This can be swung out so the TV can be seen from the bed, kitchen or balcony. This intrudes into the limited space between the bed and wall, making an already narrow space look narrower. I would have preferred the flat screen mounted at the desk, so it could be used as a computer screen with a laptop as well as a TV. However, this would then require lying the other way in bed to see the TV (not that watching TV in bed is a good idea anyway). There may be some other creative solutions to this, such as a small TV attached to the wall above the bed, or a LED/LCD projection unit on the ceiling projecting onto the wall or onto the blind over the window.

At the far end of the apartment is a small balcony. No doubt that these will soon become filled with bicycles and other items, as is common with student accommodation, but it looks a comfortable space to relax and will help shade the apartment from the afternoon sun. In other situations, the coloured glass panels on the balcony might be replaced with perforated metal panels. These would be more robust and could be shaped to allow precise control of the sunlight (admitting it in winter and blocking it in summer) and vision (providing a view for the occupants and privacy).

Quicksmart Homes have made the most of the limitations of the ISO standard forty foot shipping container modules. The apartments still look a little narrow, but livable and stylish. This should do much to dispel the idea that modular buildings are low status, temporary and flimsy constructions.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shipping container apartment open for inspection in Canberra

3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesOne of the studio units in the Australian National University's new shipping container apartment building is open for inspection by staff, students and members of the ANU community on weekdays between 12-1.30pm. It is at the corner of Dickson and Daley Roads, Acton. This will be known as the Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall and is made from ISO standard forty foot shipping container modules fitted out in China and stacked to form a building. The modules are from Quicksmart Homes

Artist Impression of Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANUThe building is in some ways a realisation of the concept of Le Corbusier, with his Unité d'Habitation. This was intended to be a modular steel frame building, with each apartment a slotted in module, but post-war material restrictions resulted in it being constructed on-site from concrete. With the provision of communal facilities in the building, the Laurus Wing also has some of the social aspects of the Unite d'habitation.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shipping Container Apartment Building in Canberra

Containerised apartment module ready to be lifted into position at ANUThe Australian National University is building Australia's first shipping container apartment building. This ANU Modular Student Accommodation is being constructed at ANU's Canberra campus. This will be known as the Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall and is due to open in 2010. The modules are from Quicksmart Homes.

The building is being made from 75 ISO standard forty foot shipping container modules (in the jargon this is 150 TFUs). These are being stacked five high to make 70 self contained apartments.

The construction is processing at a rapid pace, with modules arriving by truck and being lifted into place by a crane. On the day I took some photos there was only one container on the top level of the building, but by the following day another four apartments had been added.

3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesThe building has a simple design, with a concrete stairwell at one end and a rectangular stack of containers next to this. The modules come in two basic designs, each using a forty foot container. One design is fitted with a kitchen and bathroom. This is used on its own to make a "Single Studio" apartment. To this can be added a second container with two bedrooms.

Each container has a balcony at each end. These appear to have multiple functions. The balconies provide extra space and shade the apartment from the sun. The balconies also appear to be the method of access to the apartments. In addition, by having the windows and doors recessed inside the balcony, this protects them during transport.

Artist Impression of Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesAll the containers are painted a light grey, off-white. The sides are standard ribbed steel (these sides will be hidden in the building). The artists impressions of the building shows coloured panels on the balcony railings, but these panels appear to have yet to be fitted (perhaps to protect them form damage in shipping). If built as per the rendering, the building will look much better than the best known shipping container housing, which is the Dutch Keetwonen project.

The apartments appear to be well appointed. One inclusion which I don't think is needed, is a wall mounted flat screen TV. A better option would be to offer the student a desktop unit which could function as a TV and as their computer monitor.

Prefabricated offices being built at ANUThe ANU is also constructing some offices using more conventional prefabrication techniques. Compared to the shipping container apartments, which show flare and daring, the prefabricated buildings look very dull and detract from the image of the campus.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Datapod Shipping Container Sized Modular Data Center Components

Datapod containerized data center moduleCanberra based company Datapod, are offering a system of shipping container sized modules for quickly assembling a data center. This differs from the IBM and Sun Micro systems containerised data centres and has advantages over them. By allowing new, more efficient data centres to be built quickly, this technology could help reduce computer energy use.

Two significant differences in the Datapod system are that it does not use a custom cooling system, nor standard shipping containers. Datapod use APC's hot aisle technology, (as used by Canberra Data Center)with two rows of back to back racks in a module. This allows for the easy installation of equipment, with readily available components. Local technicians will be familiar with this system and be able to support and expand it.

Instead of using standard welded side steel shipping containers, lightweight insulated removable panel are used for the walls of the Datapod modules. This allows for the sides to be opened up for access. This does limit the shipping and placement options for the system compared to those from other vendors, but this should not be a problem in real systems.

In theory, the IBM and Sun shipping container data centres could be stacked with other cargo and transported on the deck of a container ship. They could also be installed outdoors, relying on the weatherproof container to provide protection. Such systems are favoured for use by the military in harsh conditions.

However, it is unlikely a container full of millions of dollars of computer equipment is going to receive rough handling during transport, or be operated outdoors. Even the military are likely to transport the containers within a ship, such as the new Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), not on the deck.

It is very unlikely that a company or government agency is going to simply dump data center containers in their car park and wire them up. Instead a building will be built to house the equipment. The building need be little more than a shed, to protect the equipment from the elelements and provide physical security. Standard modualrised bulding components can be errect such a building quickly and cheapely.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Self contained data center modules

Simon Rohrich from Elliptical Mobile Solutions sent me a message to say they released a self contained data center module in April, which is much as I described in my blog. Their Relocatable Adaptive Suspension Equipment Rack (R.A.S.E.R.) is a ruggedised 42U cabinet which can be moved with equipment in place. Cabinets can be used outdoors and be added side by side as required. From looking at the diagram of the unit, it appears to be a sealed rack mount cabinet with an air conditioner mounted on the side. This could prove useful for the mining industry, as well as military applications.

For more general business and government use, they have smaller cabinets which still allow the equipment to be moved but are not designed to be operated outdoors. Some of these, such as the Campus Self-Propelled Electronic Adaptable Rack (C-S.P.E.A.R.), have there own electric motor for moving the equipment. But a standard electric pallet truck would be more practical.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Google battery backed shipping container server

According to "Google uncloaks once-secret server" (Stephen Shankland, CNET, 1 April 2009) google uses a 12 Volt battery to back up each of its servers. The servers have two disk drives and two CPUs in a 3.5 inch high unit and then puts 1,160of them in a shipping container. What is not clear is if Google actually puts these in industry standard racks, or in some lower cost mounts.

The batteries used seem to be gel sealed lead acid units. Presumably these are designed to last the life of the server and not be replaced individually.

The Google server looks logically designed. My only slight worry is that the unit pictured looks like a DIY prototype, not a finished product which tens of thousands of are made. The article is dated 1 April and Google have previously produced April fools day jokes. But there seem to be other independent postings reporting on the design as well, from a data centre efficiency summit.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Data Centre in a Military Shipping Container

Sun, IBM and HP now offer data centres packaged in an ISO shipping container. This has advantages for large computing requirements, but the same technique could be applied on a smaller scale, using small containers. A container 1.3 m long, could hold a computer system with 8 processors and 192 TB of storage, costing about $1M. This would be enough computer capacity for a reasonable size company or government agency. A very large data centre could be built by stacking such containers in a low cost warehouse building.

As well as being available for smaller applications, smaller containers would also allow for easier transport, particularly by air and in small trucks. One suitable size container is the US military Joint Modular Intermodal Container (JMIC). The standard JMIC has dimensions of about 1.3 x 1.1 x 1 m. This could hold two standard 19 inch racks, each 16 units high, with space around the racks for cooling, power supplies, shock mounting and cables.

As an example one container could hold 2 Sun SPARC Enterprise T5440 Servers, with 8 UltraSPARC T2 Plus processors, plus 4 Sun Fire X4540 Servers with 192 TB of storage on 192 disks and 8 rack units of networking and peripherals. The unit would weigh about 900 kg, which is within the JMIC maximum gross weight. It would cost about $1M and require about 6 Kw of power. One such containerised computer would be sufficient for running a business or government agency.

The Gershon Report on Australian Government ICT identified 10,484 m2 of capacty in large government data centres in Canberra. This represents approximately 100,000 rack units, which would require 3,500 JMIC containers. For high density applications, the containers could be stacked six high using a fork lift truck in the pallet racks of a low cost industrial warehouse. One building 100 x 100 m (15 m high) could hold the computing requirements for all the major government agencies in Canberra. However, for operational reasons the equipment would likely be placed in several smaller buildings.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Biennale of Sydney in a Shipping Container

The best visual arts at the Biennale of Sydney 2008 I have seen is the Biennale Hub in Customs House Square at Circular Quay. This consists of four shipping containers which are used as an information kiosk, cafe and site for the DJs for Harbour parties. The containers have been painted safety yellow, with black graphics. Two smaller ten foot containers are used for storage, while all sides have been cut out of a twenty foot unit to form a marque. It is not clear if the installation was intended to be art, or was intended to be purely functional, but it has turned out to be far superior to any of the other art I saw at the Biennale.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

University Accommodation from Shipping Containers

TempoHousing two bedroom two container homeAccording to an ABC News report " ANU considers shipping in accommodation", the ANU is considering student accommodation made from converted shipping containers. The best known shipping container housing is the Dutch Keetwonen project. But there are a other Modular Low Cost Housing options, which can produce a very liveable building quickly, without using shipping containers.
... The university is considering the idea to help address Canberra's student accommodation crisis.

The containers have balconies with room for a kitchen, bathroom and double bed.

ANU Student Association president Jamila Rizvi says the containers are cheap to build and only take about two months to put together.

She says they will appeal to students.

"They are probably on the outside not as attractive as what we've got at the moment but certainly on the inside they are twice as good as anything being offered at the ANU at the moment," she said. ...

From: ANU considers shipping in accommodation, By Penny McLintock, ABC News, 14 August 2008
See also:
  1. Audio: Extended interview: Jamila Rizvi speaks with 666 presenter Ross Solly
  2. eHome: Modular Low Cost Housing
  3. Did the shipping container change the world?
  4. More on Shipping Containers

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tactical containers for strategic miltiary logistics

In "Sustainment from the Deep Sea" (US Navy Institute Magazine, July 2008 Vol. 34/7/1,265 ) Lieutenant Colonel James C. Bates advocates "tactical containers" for military strategic sea lift. Eight of these smaller containers would fit in one ISO standard 20 foot container.

The US military is already developing "Joint Modular Intermodal Containers" (JMIC) which are part of the Joint Modular Intermodal Distribution System (JMIDS):

JMIDS JMIC Features - Container
Outside dimensions – 51.75”L X 43.75”W X 43”H
Stacking Height – 40.75”
Inside dimension – 48.75”L X 40.75”W X 33.18”H Collapsed Height – 15.18”
Collapsed Stacking Height – 13.56”
Tare Weight – 317 - 329 lbs
Cover weight – 36.75 lbs
Two removable side panels (26.5 lb ea)
Assemble w/o tools
Collapsed and secured w/o banding
3000 lb max gross weight ...

But as Bates points out the JMIC is designed to be collapsible and so will be less able to be stacked and less weatherproof. Essentially the JMIC is intended to be transported inside something else, such as an ISO container or an aircraft, not left outside on its own. His solution is to make a sturdier, bigger, weatherproof box about 96 x 60 x 48 inches.

Garrett Container Systems, Inc. offer JMICs:

Part# 7516510
NSN: 8145-01-551-5311
(Aluminum finish)
NSN: 8145-01-564-5795 (Tan color)
NSN: 8145-01-564-5802 (Green color)

Joint Modular Intermodal Container (JMIC) is the near future solution to the standardization of shipping containers functional for all branches of the US Military

JMIC is manufactured in four styles for mission-based shipping requirements.

  • JMIC
  • JMIC Light
  • JMIC Rack
  • JMIC Double ...
While pointing out the benefits of using commercial standards for military transporting of containerised goods, Bates fails to mention that there are civilian standards for small containers. These are designed to fit in ISO containers, trucks and aircraft. In selecting a size for a small military container, it would be a good idea to first look at these standards.

If the JMIC is widely adopted by the military, it might be sensible to take up Bates idea, but in a smaller form: a non collapsible, weatherproof, stack able version of the JMIC. Such a Tactical JMIC (TJMIC) container would have the advantage of being compatible with the handling systems of the JMIDS. The TJMIC could be carried in a truck, ship or aircraft as easily as a JMIC, but would weigh more and could not be collapsed for transport empty.

The TJMIC would be simpler and therefore much cheaper to make than JMIC and could be considered semi-disposable, as is the case for many ISO containers in military use. The cost of shipping back empty containers, even when they can be collapsed, is not worth the effort in may situations. Instead the containers could be used as building blocks for fortifications, when filled with sand, and for storage either indoors or outdoors. In addition very large buildings could be built by stacking TJMICs. This would be useful for the construction of semi-permanent bases, where the containers the supplies and equipment were delivered in would be used to build the base. This would exploit the techniques developed for "shipping container architecture".

There is a detailed thesis on "The joint modular intermodal container : is this the future of naval logistics?" by Mark Johnson, at MIT. He discusses the benefits of various containerisation systems and compatibility with ISO. He concludes such systems do offer benefits, but will require inter-branch compatibility. That is it is not so much achieving compatibility with commercial systems which is the problem, but between the US Army, Navy and Air Force.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Palletized Computer Data Warehouse

In 2003 I suggested to the Chinese government they could build a palletized data warehouse. This had started out as a joke. But given that major computer vendors have come out with containerized data centers, it might be time to revive the idea.

Palletized Data Warehouse (PDW)

The PDW would combine the space saving features of rack mounting computers and low cost of industrial pallet equipment. Rack mounted equipment would be fixed to standard ISO pallets. These pallets would then be stacked in a warehouse, using a fork lift truck.

Webbing straps, as used in deployable military command centres would be used to fix the equipment to pallets. This would allow standard racks to be used and provide some flexibility, to allow for vibration during transport.

The modules would be assembled and tested, before being shipped to the site and plugged in. The modules would be sized to be compatible with standard industrial pallet handling equipment for ease of transport. Small vans could be used for transport, along with aircraft. The pallets could be loaded into standard ISO shipping containers for long distance transport. Individual pallets could be moved by one person with a simple hand cart and fit through a standard door and into a passenger lift.

A low cost industrial pallet rack warehouse could be used as a data centre. Equipment modules would be tested at ground level, then stacked 15m high into standard pallet racks, using fork lift trucks. Lighting and air conditioning would be hung from the ceiling, with cabling snaking down the racks, using standard industrial fittings. There would be no expensive false floor, or office quality fittings, just a sealed concrete floor. Heavy air and power conditioning equipment would be pallet mounted at ground level for fast installation and maintenance.

Staff would wear overalls and hard hats, and be trained to use safety harnesses when servicing the elevated equipment. The open design would allow for easy re-cabling and service. For any major service work, a module would be removed from the pallet rack using a fork lift truck and returned to the ground level maintenance area.

The temperature in the building would be allowed to fluctuate more than in a traditional data centre, to reduce air conditioning costs. The open design of the building would allow good air circulation for cooling. In may locations the ambient temperature would be sufficient to cool the building most of the year, with just fans needed, not air conditioning, nor complex fluid based cooling systems.

The palletized data warehouse would use much less floor space than a conventional data center and be quick to build using standardized prefabricated warehouse building modules. The data center could be finished on the outside to blend in with office buildings, or with inexpensive steel cladding in an industrial park. It would also be easier to service and take less space than an ISO containerized data center.

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Data centre in a shipping container from Sun, IBM and HP

Sun Blackbox: data center in a shipping containerSun, IBM and now HP offer a data centre in a shipping container. But these are mostly marketing gimmicks. The companies offer to install rack mounted servers, disk drives and cooling in a standard steel 40 foot ISO shipping container. The idea is that this makes it easy for a company to add computing power: just take deliver of the shipping container and plug it in. But apart from the military, who are used to containerized equipment, it is not easy to integrate a truck sized box of electronics into your organization.
HP POD datacenter in a shipping container
  1. HP Performance-Optimized Datacenter (Pod)
  2. IBM Portable Modular Data Center
  3. Sun Blackbox
The computer maker can configure the hardware, connect all the cables, close the doors and ship the box to the customer. The customer then just needs to open the doors, plug the box in and switch it on. But in reality, it is not quite this simple:
  1. Cooling: Densely packed rack mounted equipment is difficult to keep cool. Placing it in a cramped metal box will make this worse. Rack mounted equipment is usually designed to draw cool in air from the front and exhaust hot air out the back. This assumes there is a isle at the front and back for the air to circulate; a false floor underneath for the cool air to be delivered and space above the cabinets to carry the hot air away. An ISO shipping container is too small to do this in and most of the designs use only one isle down the middle with racks up against the side of the container. Photos of the Sun system show what appear to be very large cooling air ducts coming out of the front, which have to be ducted somewhere. Other units show doors in non standard places and lots of cables coming out of holes in the containers.
  2. Maintenance: The isle at the front and back of racks not only allows air to circualte, it also also provides space for maintenance workers to exchange equipment and run cables (there are a lot of cables in a data center). The width of an ISO container only allows for one narrow isle, making maintenance difficult.
  3. Delivery: Rack mounted cabinets are designed to fit in the back of a small truck or plane. There are trucks with special suspension designed to carry sensitive computer equipment. Only a few specialist cargo aircraft are large enough to carry an ISO container, so the boxes would have to long distances by sea, road or rail. The sea, road and rail transport systems designed to handle ISO shipping containers are not intended for delicate equipment and do not protect containers from the elements. The data center would need to be very well sealed for transport to prevent water damage and be sturdy enough top prevent damage from vibration, knocks and being tilted. The containers need to have enough room in them for staff to install and maintain the equipment, so about one third to one half of each container is empty, resulting in increased shipping costs.
  4. HP POD datacenter showing cable connections to the shipping containerInstallation: Rack mounted cabinets are designed to fit trough a space about the size and shape of a standing person, so they can be pushed through a normal doorway and into a passenger lift, using a simple handcart. The equipment is therefore compatible with office buildings. In contrast shipping containers require a very large fork lift truck to move them and will not fit in an ordinary office building. They would need a specially designed warehouse-like building or annex to a building. ISO shipping containers are designed to be weatherproof, but setting up a datacenter outdoors would require all of the conduits to be carefully sealed and make maintenance very difficult, as containments would enter every time a door was opened. There have been many modular building systems based on ISO containers which have failed due to leaks. Having a container crammed with sensitive electrical equipment in a leaky steel box would be disastrous. Also the average corporation does not want to have something which looks like a container wharf or an electricity substation, next to their office building. The plan for a major data center in Canberra is in jeopardy due to opposition to the collocated power station. A containerized data center is likely to draw planning objections.
  5. Safety: Data center equipment is designed to be maintained with the power switched on. Staff need to be able to replace one computer in a rack, while the rest of the equipment keeps working. Working in a cramped metal box will be far less safe than a traditional data center. There will be less room for the staff to work and the walls will form one sealed electrically conductive box. Noise from the equipment is likely to be higher than in a normal room. As the box is designed to be sealed, it will need to have vents added to allow for fire fighting. If inert gas firefighting is used, it will be deadlier than in a conventional room and there will be fewer escape exits. Staff may have less than a minute to escape before being killed by the fire suppression system.
Alternative: Pallet Mounted Computers

An alternative o the shipping container data center, I suggested some time ago, is a pallet data warehouse. With this the computers would be mounted on standard shipping pallets. The pallets would be simply placed on the floor. For very high density installations they could be stacked in a warehouse-like building using small fork lift trucks. Pallets are designed to fit in small trucks and aircraft . Smaller ISO pallets are designed to fit through a doorway and in a passenger lift. ISO pallets are designed to fit in ISO shipping containers and so these could be used for transport, with additional protective packing around the pallets. If needed, a shipping container data center could be build by wiring up the palletized equipment in a container.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Relocatable Buildings for Affordable housing

Relocatable Building from OutdoordirectThere are now many options for Modular Low Cost Housing available, . One recent Australian one I noticed are Relocatable Buildings from Outdoor Direct. These are made from shipping container sized modules. They have homes built with between one and four TFEs. An innovation with this system is to add a roof over the modules. This has several advantages:
  1. Rain proofing: modular building have a tendency to leak at the joins. Adding a roof over all the modules removes the need for the joins between them to be water proof.
  2. Extra space: The roof can span a space between the modules creating a useful outdoor living space. This can double the usable size of the building. It can also counter the cramped effect of the narrow shipping container sized modules.
  3. Visual unity: Modular buildings can end up looking like a pile of boxes instead of a home. The one roof over the units visually joins them together. With a pitched roof, this can make the structure look like a traditional building, or a flat roof for a modern effect.
These might be used for ingenious classrooms and housing.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Specifciations for a flexible computer classroom

Here is another attempt to design a multipurpose computer equipped classroom for a flexible learning center. The idea is to get away from the idea that a school or university needs separate "computer rooms", lecture rooms, tutorial rooms and the like. The teaching can be part online, tutorial and group work in the one room. However, if the room is to be equipped with computers, the furniture cannot be moved and a design with fixed furniture accommodating different activities is required.

Software for Teaching

Course Management Software

Moodle and Sakai appear to be the leading contenders for open source (free) course management software. I have used Moodle for teaching a course to local government staff in their training room and at the ANU to public servants. It uses minimal server resources and requires only a web browser on the classroom computers (no special software). The ACS uses Moodle for teaching postgraduate IT students online and I used the same installation to set up a Green Special Interest Group.

Sakai is newer than Moodle and may have better features. The ANU uses Sakai for its "collaborative workspace". But I have not used it to prepare a course and there may be less support available as it is newer.

There are non-open source CMS, such as Web CT/Blackboard, which are usable. ANU uses Web CT extensively, but I don't think it as good as Moodle.

The Integrated Content Environment (ICE) is free open source software designed to allow you to create course notes. It takes word processing documents and turns them into well formatted printed notes, PDF documents and web pages. I found it a bit too complicated for my purposes, but for those producing a lot of course notes, it is worth looking at. There are some similar non-open source products.

Custom Collaborative Software

The ANU uses custom developed collaborative software for the software engineering students. This was written by the students. It provides an online document store, so the students can work on group projects, tracks who is working on what and allows them to report the time they put in. This uses free open source software such as Subversion, which is also used by ICE and allows complex documents to be prepared by teams of students. Microsoft's sharepoint provides some similar capabilities.


Following the announcement of the
Federal Government's intervention, I speculated on the design of prefabricated modular classrooms in aboriginal communities. The idea was that shipping container sized modules could be built in a factory, with all the power, cabling and computer technology already installed. This could then be shipped to the community and a building of local materials constructed around it, using local labor, with whatever materials and design suit the local environment. That way the community would get a high tech facility, but not one which looked like a de-mountable toilet.

Modular classrooms could be fitted out for low energy use, as well as with rugged computer technology. Doing all the cabling and plumbing for this in a factory would greatly simplify construction and building the technology into the building, would protect it from the environment, theft and vandalism.

The UTAS Architecture school designs buildings from wood, and might be able to design classrooms.


More intimidatly, I was looking at the design of computer equipped classrooms for running the sort of courses I have been teaching. These courses combine short lectures, tutorials and workshops. Some of the time the teacher (or a student) is presenting from the front of the room, using a large screen, sometimes the students are doing exercises individually on a computer and sometimes working in groups. I have also had the class do online, in-class examinations.

In the conventional university, TAFE or school, these different styles of learning are done in separate purpose built rooms. However, using the studio-based teaching which Dr Kathy Lynch at the University of the Sunshine Coast has worked on, they are all done in the one place, Bauhaus studio style. I have some understanding of this approach, having participated in this style teaching with the students of the new Bauhaus.

After I started looking at this style of room design, I found the ANU Computer Science department was looking to refurbish one of its computer labs. So I looked to see if this sort of flexible design could be used. Here are some draft requirements, prepared based on my looking at flexible learning centers:


ANU want to remodel one existing computer lab of approximately 80 square metres, or two smaller rooms, into a flexible learning room accommodating 40 students, a teacher and teacher's assistant. Each student and teacher requires a computer workstation and approximately .5 square metres of desk space. Ideally all students should be able to see their own computer screen, the teacher and wall mounted electronic screens at the same time. As well as working individually, there should be provision for three students to work around one computer workstation. It is also desirable, but not essential, if they can work in larger groups (up to nine), sharing a larger desktop and screen. Ideally the different student work arrangements should be possible without moving desks (to allow the furniture to be robust) and by swiveling or sliding electronic screens (so they are easy to adjust but hard to break or steal).

After considering various designs, talking to researchers and designers, it is suggested to have the students sit at long benches running down the room in rows, much as the existing computer lab design. However, the benches would be curved to provide a nook for each student to sit in. For small group work, the students would sit around the projections between the nooks. For large group work the students would move the the middle of the room, sitting along one of the benches, using it like a board room table. The front end of the benches would provide the teacher workstations, near the electronic screen. The benches would be joined to the wall at the back to carry the cabling (or have one pole from the ceiling to carry cabling and allow walk space around the back). There might be smaller electronic screens along the sides and back of the room, for those students who have difficulty seeing the front and to be used for group work.


After some calculations and a look around, it can be assumed each student needs a space with a depth of 750 mm and width of about 600 mm to accommodate a computer keyboard, mouse, flat panel screen and processor. In addition they need about 600 mm width total to the sides for paperwork. There should also be a way three students can sit around a desk, sharing one computer. If there was also a way to accommodate larger groups that would be good.

There is no need for drawers, lockers or other student storage. Ideally the desk tops should be flat and unencumbered, apart from the computer. Similarly under the desks should be open.


All students should be able to see one spot where a presenter can stand and a large wall mounted screen at the same time. The instructor needs a computer workstation and deskspace. Rooms at UQ Library neatly provide this by putting a rounded end on one of the student benches, slightly elevated, with an equipment cupboard underneath. Perhaps there could be one of these on the end of each bench, with one being the primary presentation point and the other a backup, or for an assistant.

There should be enough room at the front of the room for the presenter to walk and operate a manual, or electronic interactive, white board. There should also be enough room for a half dozen students to stand for a group presentation. There should be provision for an old fashioned optical overhead projector. Some, or all, walls might have floor to ceiling cupboards built in which house the cabling, screens and other equipment, as well as providing storage space and allowing easy access to the cabling and equipment.


The jelly bean or spiral designs seem to offer the right size desk in an efficient way. These curved desks also look suitably "hi-tech" for a computer facility; they even feature on a space station in a low budget children's sci-fi Disney movie. ;-)

Individual desks are not required, as they are likely to be fixed in place by cabling and so not easily moved. However, the design process could put a number of these curved desks together to make sure there was enough space for each student and then trace around the outside and have a bench made that shape. The desks have an 1200 x 900 mm envelope and might be made by recycling the existing desks.

From calculations, and trial and error, with the jellybean desk shapes, a curve between 600 mm to sit in and 900 mm to sit around, seems suitable. The curves need only be about 300 mm deep. A comprise might be a uniform 750 mm diameter curve, 300 mm deep.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Datacenter in a shipping container

Sun Project Blackbox prototype virtualized datacenter in a shipping containerSun Microsystems have designed a prototype earthquake proof data center to be delivered in a standard 20 foot shipping container. Their claim that this is the world's first virtualized datacenter built into a shipping container is hard to credit as the military have been putting computers in transportable buildings for year. But this might be the first attempt to produce a commercial off the shelf product.

Inside the Sun Black box containerized data center showing  cooling system and control panelOne innovation Sun claims is that the system uses water cooling instead of air conditioning. However, the opened door of the container shows ten very large fans. It is not clear how heat is transferred to the outside. Normally an air conditioner would be used so that just three small pipes are needed to be passed through the wall of the data canter, for coolant and condensed water.

ISO Twistlock connectorIt should be noted that while shipping containers are designed to be robust enough to survive transshipping, they are not necessarily suitable for use as permanent freestanding buildings. Something like the Sun Blackbox would normally be built into a building with a roof over it and walls surrounding it. There are numerous systems for incorporating containers into buildings which could be used. Standard ISO shipping containers have 3 "twistlock" connectors on each of their eight corners. There are an assortment of devices designed to connect multiple containers together using the twistlock connectors , to attach a containerized the building to its foundations and to add a roof.

For a secure freestanding structure, it might be better to use one of the modular concrete buildings designed for railway trackside electrical equipment. One of these from Garard was displayed at the Australian Rail Conference Exhibition 2007. These buildings are about the size of a shipping container made from one continuous piece of reinforced concrete. They have the advantage of having been designed to meet government security standards. The buildings can be made on site, or delivered on a truck (or train) pre-wired with the equipment installed. Because they are made of one piece of concrete, they are very secure and less likely to leak. It may also be possible to design one which would fit a shipping container inside. In that case the concrete building could be built on site or delivered empty, and then the shipping container full of computers simply slid inside.

It should be noted that shipping container data centers will not necessarily be a good use of space. The containers are narrow and will only have room for two rows of rack mounted cabinets, with a walkway between. There will only be access to the front of the cabinet, with no access to the back, making maintenance difficult. In most cases it will be better to use a larger room which can provide better access. If space is at a premium and a large data center is needed, then a pallet warehouse could be used (I suggested this to the Chinese government in 2003).

Also before investing in a new data center, an organization should conduct an inventory of its current data and processing requirements. In most cases it will be found that more efficient use of applications can be used to reduce the data and processing requirements, so that a smaller data center can be used, reducing the cost, space and energy use. Use of efficient XML based data storage and Web 2 applications can greatly reduce the needs of the organization for storage and processing.

Instead of virtualizing inefficient PC desktop applications, they can be replaced with properly engineered efficient applications designed to run remotely over a data link. This could reduce the processing requirements between ten and one hundred times. As an example, an organization which would have needed one of Sun's shipping container data centers, could instead downsize to one rack mount computer, the size of a four drawer filing cabinet. Apart from being one hundredth the size and use one hundredth the power, this would cost about one hundredth as much to buy.

Outsourcing the data storage or processing to a location with more space and power can also be considered, but not necessarily as far away as Iceland. The Canberra Technology City (CTC) is a proposed large data center for government and company use in Canberra, with its own power station.

Of course, alongside the shipping container data center will be needed a shipping container cafe, for the workers. ;-)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Australian Rail Conference Exhibition 2007

Last week, in between computer conferences, I attended AusRAIL PLUS 2007, the
Australian Rail Conference Exhibition. This is held in conjunction with a conference, which costs money. But like many such events, the exhibition is open to anyone from business for free. There were a number of computer and telecommunications exhibits to justify my attendance, but it was really just an excuse to look at train stuff. ;-)

Some items of interest:

Thales Australia are expanding out from Defence equipment into transport, particularly rail systems. As an example they are supplying the Communications and Surveillance Subsystem (CSS) and to perform the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) System Integration (SI) for the Sydney Suburban Passenger Vehicle Public Private Partnership (PPP) Project (ie: computers and telecommunications for Sydney trains).

Ultimate Australia Transportation Equipment Pty Ltd Sleeper Seat with designer Gary Ullmannhave designed an aircraft style reclining seat for long distance trains . The SLP-1 Sleeper Seat (prototype) is 60 kg (production mass 50kg), has a single seat width of 600 mm (double 1200mm), with a pitch of 1800 mm.They hope to sell this for the Cairns Tilt Train. The seat has the same entertainment system LCD video display as fitted to the tilt train retracting into one arm of the seat. I suggested to Gary Ullmann, the designer, that they replace this with a larger 10 inch LCD display and keyboard, as used on the Airbus A380. This could then be used as a computer for business, as well as entertainment. Unfortunately Ultimate do not seem to have an Australian web site, but you can get an idea from their China one.

China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry (Group) Corporation were one of several companies from China with cumbersome names selling locomotives and other railway products. They each seemed to have some form of high speed passenger train on offer as well as freight locomotives. I was unable to get their web site to work in English.

Garard were offering monolithic concrete shelters for equipment. These are buildings about the size of a shipping container made from one continuous piece of reinforced concrete. They are used to hold electrical equipment for railways, but could make very secure computer rooms. The buildings can be made on site, or delivered on a truck (or train) pre-wired with the equipment installed. Because they are made of one piece of concrete, they are very secure and less likely to leak.

Open Access displayed their Wireless Announcer. This is the wireless Emergency Warning and Intercommunication (EWIS) Alert system installed in the Sydney CBD for the APEC meeting. Unit with antennas, digital radio, amplifier, loudspeakers and battery backup are mounted on poles around the city to warn in an emergency. Some units also have alphanumeric displays.

CRC for Rail Innovation, is an industry academic research collaboration. They are looking at:
  1. Economic Social and Environmental Sustainability
  2. Operations and Safety
  3. Engineering and Safety­
  4. Education and Training

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Shipping Container Cafe

I am not sure how serious this is as a product, but for the 52nd International Art Exhibition in Venice architect Adam Kalkin designed a fold out cafe in a shipping container, (called the "push button house") Folded this looks like a rusty old container, but at the press of a button the sides fold down to make a cafe, complete with seats, tables and even lamps.

See also:

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Hybrid Truck for Mobile Command Center

Hino Hybrid TruckHino, Toyota's truck subsidiary, are now selling a Hybrid medium size truck. These are large enough to carry a containerized shelter for a Mobile Command Center, as used by the police, fire and other emergency services. Use of a hybrid vehicle has been noted saving having to install a separate generator in the truck to power lights, computers and air conditioning.

The Hino Hybrid truck has a 23kW generator and 273 volt 6.5Ah battery. This would be enough for a small containerized shelter the size of a 20 foot ISO shipping container. These can be expandable.

Metropolitan Ambulance Service mobile command and                      communications vehicleAn example of an Australian mobile command center on a truck the size of the Hino Hybrid is the Victorian Metropolitan Ambulance Service mobile command and communications vehicle. The Fire & Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia Incident Control Vehicle is based on a smaller bus chassis.

Mobile Command Center of the US Joint Force Headquarters National Capital RegionA large range of commercial vehicles are used for mobile command centers, from ones based on SUVs, up to articulated semitrailers. As an example the Mobile Command Center (MCC), of the US Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region (JFHQ-NCR) is on a 41 foot semi-trailer.

The same technology is used for mobile classrooms, PR displays and outside broadcast units.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Foundations for Modular Buildings

Simualtion of the Halley VI British Antarctic baseModules for the Halley VI British Antarctic base are under construction in Cape Town. This consists of large steel frame units on telescopic legs. The whole base can be adjusted for moving ice. Perhaps something on a smaller scale could be used for domestic modular buildings.

bathroom pod for the Halley VI British Antarctic basePart of the interior of the base is being built using pre-finished bathroom, bedroom and plant room "pods" which are then inserted into the steel frame. The pods are about the size of ISO shipping containers for ease of transport.

The pods are made by Servacomm Redhall Ltd in the UK, who normally make modular public buildings, including for schools.

ISO Twistlock connectorStandard ISO shipping containers have 3 "twistlock" connectors on each of their eight corners. There are an assortment of devices designed to connect multiple containers together using the twistlock connectors together. These could be used to attach a containerized the building to its foundations.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Web and ODF documents in PDF?

IEC PugGetting acceptance for new document formats from users is difficult. If someone gets a file with an ODF or some other extension they have never heard of it will be a worry for them. But if they get a PDF file that is okay.

Perhaps PDF can be used as Trojan horse (in a nice way) for this. Some versions of PDF (such as PDF/UA) have provision for embedding data files. This could be used to include a Open Document Format (ODF) or web document and its associated formatting and images inside the PDF document.

The office suite could be modified to package an editable version of documents in a PDF file (and an equivalent addon provided for Microsoft Office). OO already creates PDF versions of documents, so to this could be added an option to include a copy of the original source document. The person receiving the document would see the PDF rendering by default, but would have the option to work on the original editable file and be offered a link to download a copy of OO, or a conversion tool for Microsoft Office, if needed.

Most of the space taken up by word processing documents is in the images, not the text. It should be possible to share the images between the PDF rendering and the ODF document. As a result adding the ODF document to the PDF may not make the document much bigger.

ODF is better than not having a standard format for office documents, but is not perfect. My preference would be to use XHTML 2 for word processing documents, so they could be directly rendered by web browsers. Word Processing programs are rapidly becoming just a way to create not very good web content and it would be better if they created well formatted web format documents directly.

Compatibility with existing products is a legitimate concern when setting a standard. As an example this was a major consideration in the standard for shipping containers, with discussion of what adaptors would be needed.

Standards based on something which has been shown to work are better standards. But this does result in some quirks, as an example shipping containers are stronger than they need to be (increasing costs) due to the need to meet some old European railway standards. The cords for some computers are rated to withstand high temperatures as the standard they are made to was designed for electric kettles. Putting office documents inside PDF files would be a bit like
a computer cable you could use to boil water, but at least it would work.

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