Kotonki: Agricultural Vehicle Built For Customization

Agriculture on any scale involves many tasks that require lifting, hauling, pushing, and pulling. On many modern farms, these tasks are often done using an array of specialized (and expensive) equipment. This puts many small-scale farmers, especially those in developing countries, under significant financial pressure. These challenges led a South African engineering firm to develop the Kotonki, a low-cost hydraulically powered utility vehicle that can be customized for a wide variety of use cases. Video after the break.

The name Kotonki is derived from the Setswana phrase for a donkey kart. It is in essence a self-propelled hydraulic power pack, capable of hauling 1 ton of anything that can fit on its load bed. It comes in front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive versions, with each wheel individually driven by a hydraulic motor. The simple welded steel frame articulates around a double pivot, which allows it to keep all 4 wheels on the ground over any terrain. At a max speed of 10 km/h it won’t win any races, but neither would most other agricultural vehicles. The Kotonki is built mostly using off-the-shelf components and is powered by a common 12HP Honda engine. In the world of DRM agricultural equipment, this makes for simple repairs, low running costs, and easy customization for the task at hand. This can include mounting log splitters, water pumps, lifting beds, or anything else that can be driven by its hydraulic and rotary PTOs (Power Take-Off).

It’s always interesting to see certain design elements keep repeating themselves in different parts of the world, like the Light Electric Utility Vehicle, the single-cylinder “Tuo La Ji” vehicles of rural China, and the hydraulic “Power Cube” and vehicles of Global Village Construction Set.

23 thoughts on “Kotonki: Agricultural Vehicle Built For Customization

  1. Dateline 1960: China. The Great Leap to Starvation copies the walking tractor with a diesel engine 50 years after sales in the US and Japan and well, everywhere. But finally something new, 4WD hydraulics and of all things, a Model T Ford frame! It is a great choice for uneven terrain. I can see trouble a-comin over the driver position and a stuck valve.

    1. Everyone should be aware of what a RollOver Protection Structure is or what to do if a one is not present. As example, golf carts do not have ROPS, the roof support is not sturdy enough to protect riders in case of a rollover. Seat belts on golf carts are not present for that reason, it is safer to be ejected from the golf cart than risk being crushed while strapped in. Another thing is the ROPS is not a hand hold, if there is any chance of rolling over the ROPS is likely to crush whatever between it and hard surfaces.

      That aside, the world needs more innovative ideas like this, open for iteration and improvement.

  2. no way. your soil readings on your own equipment on your own land are the intellectual property of john deere. no way you can water that without a multi million dollar contract. talk to bill gates.

  3. Wondering how many mechanics that know how to fix a hydraulic system there would be in areas where it’s meant to be used. Are these common on farm equipment outside of the US?

    1. Very easy. Easier than electrics IMO. I built a 10 tonne hydraulic wood splitter out of scrap components from my local scap yard (I’m friends with the owners) and only had to pay for the 3 way valve and the welding materials.

    2. Any heavy-equipment mechanic should be proficient with hydraulics. Think of any construction vehicle and you should be thinking of hydraulic hoses for the bucket, back hoe, etc.

  4. I do not know, but, I think it would be more farmer friendly and safer if it used a diesel engine, not the 13 HP Honda. I decided to go diesel with my build, though I am sitting towards the rear with some space in front of me on a platform over the pivot. It is just too dangerous to be right at the front unprotected, especially doing tree work and driving through bushes and such, imho. Plus, I am adding a winch and you really need some kind of protection from that.

    > Wondering how many mechanics that know how to fix a hydraulic system

    It has been a steep learning curve on the hydraulics, since I am not an engineer, but, there is a big difference between knowing how to fix a system vs. how to design and build a machine. I have worked on Bobcats, log splitters, chippers, class 7/8 trucks, but, designing my own wood processor, figuring out the minimum size needed for a W flange beam, and welding it is a whole other animal.

    I think if they showed how to make a hydraulic hose and offered the equipment to do it “dirt cheap” that would go a long ways to making it serviceable for farmers.

    1. That sounds like a good way to expose developing countries to the horrors of high pressure hydraulic oil injuries. That crimper used to make the hydraulic hoses better be well maintained and reliable even if it is simple and cheap. I’ve seen what happens to hoses when they’re not.

      1. Yes, I know the hydraulic fittings section better then some NAPA store employees, though I am going to start making my own hoses in house, just because. Being in the Atlanta GA area we tend to have a fair bit of hydraulic hose (lots of trucking, heavy machinery, construction, and farming) and tractor stores. I stock rolls of steel tubing for my small projects with hydraulic (aka brake and fuel line) fittings.

        After reading on hackaday about the importance of proper crimping, I finally decided to bite the bullet to repair a neighbor’s truck and buy a hydraulic crimper for terminals and wires, the thing has been great. I eliminated his sporadic going dead issues (that the car places could not fix) just by properly crimping new Chinese brass/cooper terminals on all his wires. It is not meant for it, but, I used the hydraulic crimper to crimp 1/4″ stop and ferrules for a skidding cable and the crimps have held up fine pulling 1,000# logs and have not even moved.

        Not sure how many NAPA type stores exist in the locale where this tractor is suppose to operate, but, I think having the hydraulic system will be a big boon to farmers and will probably end up being a lot safer then using PTO or wheel driven accessories.

        I really like the vertical mid section pivot of the frame, I had never considered that. I am restoring a couple of Snapper RER mowers and I like the idea of the twisting tube to keep the front wheels on the ground, though I decided not to go with that style, BUT, that vertical pivot looks like the ticket for crossing river beds or driving over big logs.

        Thanks you for the reply.

  5. Not that fond of the driver sitting right at the front exposed like that.
    But this does remind me of something like those two-wheeled walk-behind tractors that are still popular in poorer and rural Asian countries.

      1. I believe they are fairly common in the south of France also.

        I did happen upon one for sale near me last week, but it didn’t seem to be capable of trailer attatchment or do much more than tilling. Some older snowblowers seem to be based on these with an auger on the PTO or something.

  6. By the time all is said and done, my guess is that the knock-offs that people will build out of available materials/parts/engines will have a simple fore and aft motor with mechanical drives – or skip the rear-drive entirely – rather than the hydraulic systems shown here. The company does offer a 2WD already. The flexing chassis will likely what passes along.

  7. I’m a bit of a fan of things like farm doodlebugs and Africar type vehicles… I don’t see “it” for this though, seems like added complexity.

    My instincts would take me in the direction of a beefed up Tuk-Tuk type build going towards a Karrier Cob or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scammell_Scarab type contrivance. But first I’d want to look into junk availability in given areas. No sense building the perfect farming machine that needs a Dodge Viper back axle.

  8. 35 years ago, when the place I come from was not as developed as it is now, we used a single-axle tractor for everything, something like this:


    In addition to a lot of tools for mowing, ploughing etc. my grandfather had built a cart you could attach to it that had an articulating joint. Reminds me a lot of this concept here, except without all the hydraulics. We children would often take it for a ride around town. I’ve still seen such single-axle tractors being used in various places in the world over the last ten years.

    1. The type you picture are everywhere in Asia and connected to all manner of tools and transport as well as powering many kinds of machines and pumps with the pulley. They are also very affordable. One of them can do enough work to be used by a small co-op of small farmers. Just search “walk behind tractor” in alibaba.

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