High-Tech Road Rules

Since engineer and outdoors enthusiast Steve Roberts began beta-testing "technomadness" (high-technology + nomadism) as a new "lifestyle prototype" in the mid-80s, the idea has caught on with many attracted to the idea of living on the open road while telecommuting to work. When Roberts (who coined the term technomadness) began the trend, computers and other personal tech was very cumbersome. By the time he was done with his second generation bike and cart, laden with multiple PCs, radios, GPS and solar panels, it weighed nearly 600 lbs.! Today's technomads can carry more firepower than the Winnebiko in a space the size of a modest backpack.

At the time Roberts first embarked on his mission, the most common reaction was: "Why on Earth would you want to take a computer with you?" Now that we can all see the advantages of computing from the road, the question many now ask themselves is "What the hell am I doing sitting in this office pushing pixels around inside of four ugly walls?" Although it's hard to say how many people are actually taking the big leap and hitting the open road, there are at least fifty Web sites linked from Roberts' site microship that document the travels of other technomadic converts. While those that have followed don't necessarily have Roberts' level of gadget lust, they don't have to. These days, a cell phone, a wireless laptop, a GPS unit and a portable solar power generator are all you need to create a go-anywhere office and global media center. Throw in a digital video camera, a portable short-wave radio and a few Lilliputian peripherals (e.g. a printer and scanner), and you can do just about anything you can in a brick and mortar office.

At the heart of the technomadness lifestyle, according to Roberts -- and what makes it different from corporate road warriorhood -- is the desire for an open-ended journey, for truly living on the road. While Roberts has lived this dream, travelling some 11,000 miles on his bikes, writing a book, publishing a newsletter and running his company Nomadic Research Labs from the seat of his bike, he's spent even more time in his lab, constantly dreaming up and building new technomadic gadgets and vehicles.

His latest venture, called the Microship Project, is a pair of single-occupant trimaran boats equipped with solar-powered Linux servers, streaming video webcams, multiple ways of sending and receiving email and accessing the Web through side-band short-wave radio, cell and satellite phone. The ships will even have full digital video editing facilities! The pair of boats also has the usual collection of navigation aids, GPS, power management and controls for the peddle/sail/solar/battery-powered drive, and extendable landing gears. The Microship is expected to launch for a test run in Alaska this summer, with both the boats going on an extended trip through North American waterways within the year.

For those inspired to follow the way of the technomad, Robert's home page offers great resources and links, as well as schematics of his projects and helpful advice on the technomad lifestyle. So cash in those options and say good riddance to the dreaded cube farm! All you need is a desire to be free - and a few high-tech goodies, many of which you probably already have.

-- Nate Heasley