Elgan: Here comes the digital nomad dream vehicle

Escape in style with the 'Mother of All Mobile Gadgets'

The economy is in full-blown meltdown. Home values are dropping. Businesses are closing. Layoffs are coming. Maybe it's time to escape from civilization and wait out the crash.

As digital mobile technology frees us to work from anywhere, most of us don't take advantage of that freedom in part because we're chained to our homes. But what if you could break that last chain? What if your home was as mobile as your work?

No, I'm not talking about old-and-busted RV living. Who wants to drive a boxy, clunky trailer-park mobile home and live in a boring campground facility? I'm talking about the new hotness: A vehicle that lets you travel, live and work just about anywhere. I'm talking about true digital nomad living.

A German company called Unicat makes a range of what they call expedition vehicles that take both ruggedness and luxury to new, high-tech extremes.

At first glance, Unicat vehicles might seem like fancy RVs. But the lifestyle they enable is the opposite of the RV lifestyle.

RVs are all about dependence on infrastructure (campgrounds, electrical hookups and so on), gas stations, good roads and laundromats. Unicats, on the other hand, free you from all of this. They go almost anywhere -- roads or no roads. They carry your luxuries and provide the power to run them.

The company calls Unicat vehicles "land yachts" because they're designed to sustain luxury living without access to civilization -- like a yacht must do on long trips across the ocean. Avi Meyers, the owner of the North American authorized Unicat dealer, which happens to be in Silicon Valley's Palo Alto, has personally crossed the Sahara in one.

For the survivalists among you, one blogger called the Unicat a "panic room on wheels." When the going gets tough, the digital get going -- into the wild.

Bulletproof living

First, the bad news. Unicat vehicles are expensive. They cost far more than an average home. Prices range from $500,000 to $1 million each after you're done customizing and outfitting.

Now the good news. Unicat vehicles are simply amazing.

A typical model comes with both a gas-powered electrical generator and solar panels on the roof, so you don't need to plug in to run your company. A satellite connection can provide you with Internet connectivity, phone service and satellite TV for the big-screen TVs that most people install.

The driver's seat has three GPS units and a mount for your laptop, plus an iPod dock.

The Unicat expedition vehicles
The Unicat EX70-HD expedition vehicle can travel through the desert and other rugged terrain. (Photos courtesy of UNICATAmericas Inc.)

Inside, Unicats typically have all the amenities of a suburban home: microwave, toaster, espresso machine, refrigerator and freezer, stove, dishwasher, washer-dryer, air conditioning, big-screen HD TV with satellite, queen-size bed and more. The 260-gallon water tank means hot showers and plenty of water for the clothes washer and the dishwasher. Another option is onboard desalinization, so you can convert seawater to freshwater. Everybody wants to live on the beach.

They're designed with elegant minimalism and durability. The floors are made from teak, which looks upscale and resists both wear and rot. Specially designed drawers keep all your china and silverware secure as you drive over boulders up steep mountainsides.

Unicat offers a wide range of models and will fully customize them however you like. Each model focuses on different trade-offs between power, ruggedness, luxury and flexibility. The most popular model for the U.S. is the Amerigo, which is available in either 4x4 or 6x6 configurations (four-wheel drive or six-wheel drive) and in four body sizes.

One popular model has a 480hp engine and 16-speed ZF gearbox. It has two 120-gallon gas tanks, which means you can drive more than 2,000 miles between fill ups. WIth that amount of fuel, you can drive 1,000 miles into the wilderness, live there for three months and still have enough fuel for the drive back.

The "office" of the Unicat EX70-HD.

One Unicat model is based on a German military vehicle and is literally bulletproof, which is great for that family vacation to Somalia or Mexico City.

Some models can drive up a 45-degree incline, through 4-feet of deep water and can handle most of the terrain that, say, a Hummer can handle.

Unicat recommends that each vehicle be outfitted with the motor equivalent of a "life raft" or emergency escape pod. They have special optional mounts for motorcycles in the front or back. One model has a drop-down platform that brings a four-wheel ATV from being totally stashed away to street level. My favorite option mounts an entire Smart Car about 5 feet off the ground. A retractable ramp lets you drive it right off the rack.

Unicat EX70-HD's living room
The Unicat EX70-HD's living room, bedroom, kitchen and dining room.

The Unicat is no RV. It's an entirely new category that combines home with car, and enables the hard-core digital nomad lifestyle unlike anything else.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. He blogs about the technology needs, desires and successes of mobile warriors in his Computerworld blog, The World Is My Office. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog, The Raw Feed.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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