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Father-Son Team Has Plan for ‘Hybrid Dinghy Pusher’

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

While the cost of fuel has put a damper on the travel plans of many
Americans, one father-son engineering duo with a passion for RV travel
is combating the problem by conceptualizing an electric-hybrid passenger
vehicle with the ability to improve fuel economy and increase the
acceleration of the motorhome towing it, according to a release from the
University of Alabama published by physorg.com.

Steve Shepard Jr., associate professor of mechanical engineering at The
University of Alabama, and his father, Steve Shepard Sr., a former
faculty member and researcher at Mississippi State University, developed
the idea for a hybrid dinghy pusher after the cost of fuel curtailed
both families’ traveling plans.

In this concept, the dinghy consists of a hybrid SUV towed by the
RV. When driven as a standard automobile, the SUV operates as a fully
functional hybrid vehicle. When towed behind an RV, the SUV switches
into the hybrid dinghy pusher mode, where only the electrical portion of
the hybrid-SUV is utilized.

The hybrid dinghy pusher, known as an HDP, works by going into
generator mode and storing energy when going downhill, and energy
previously stored in the batteries is used to help push the motorhome
uphill. The previously stored electrical energy in the hybrid dinghy
pusher can also be used to help accelerate the motorhome more quickly
from a stop or while just driving down the road.

A conventional hybrid SUV is adapted to utilize its electric system
to recycle energy when being towed. The HDP’s on board motors provide
propulsion during acceleration and act as electric generators during
braking. The assistance provided to the motorhome by the HDP is not
meant to replace the propulsion provided by the motorhome engine; it
simply supplements it to improve acceleration and reduces wear on the RV
engine. Unlike typical towed dinghies, motorhomes towing an HDP would
experience a decrease in fuel consumption and an increase in
acceleration performance.

According to the Shepards, hybrid motorhomes are just now coming
onto the market, and they are expensive. Besides being a less expensive
alternative to a hybrid motorhome, the greatest advantage of this new
concept is that the HDP not only assists the motorhome in transit, but
it also provides the motorhome owners with a hybrid vehicle to drive
after arriving at their destination. Other advantages of implementing
such a system are improved fuel mileage, reduced rate of wear on brake
components and improved mobility for users of RVs and the dinghy.

Working with the University of Alabama’s Office for Technology
Transfer, the Shepards are in the process of securing a development
partner to bring this cutting-edge technology to the market. UA
originally filed a U.S. provisional patent application, which has since
been converted to a full utility patent application.

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