Competition Details

"Pneumatic Caterpillar"

by Robert Corser
Co-authors: Andrew Rider

The Pneumatic Caterpillar is an emergency shelter concept that combines a lightweight hinged A-frame armature with low-pressure pneumatic bladders used for deployment and as a thermally responsive skin. Unlike a fully pneumatic structure, the caterpillar employs an integral framework both to stiffen and anchor the structure, and to structurally support the floor off the ground. When packed, the framework forms a protective clamshell containing the pneumatic bladders, blankets, and other emergency supplies. When opened, the clamshell forms a stable A-frame with curved sides that combine wall and roof in a single surface but without the height limitations of a straight-sided A-frame. The enclosure bladders are inflatable by compressed gas cylinder in extreme emergencies, or by hand pump in less extreme circumstances. The layer of air in the enclosure provides a level of thermal insulation far greater than a traditional single-wall tent. A key concept of the Pneumatic Caterpillar is the thermal adjustability of the enclosure that contains multiple sub-bladders capable of selective inflation to maximize solar shading or solar gain depending upon local climatic conditions. Developed by Nikolaus Laing, this concept involves inner bladder surfaces of differing opacity that can be opened or closed to adjust the penetration of sunlight. In the pneumatic caterpillar, this adjustment is made simply by choosing one or the other of the two inflation valves offered. Each valve selectively inflates one side or the other of the inner bladders, thus deploying the shading surface one way to warm the bladder, or the other to reflect heat away. Also central to the Pneumatic Caterpillar concept is the long-term flexibility of the structure for post-emergency uses. Thanks to its robust A-frame backbone, it can be adapted to various in-situ wall configurations as an armature capable of supporting other layers of roofing material if desired.