Is the Future Modular?


Who would like to see more modular vehicles and gear in Traveller?

So, in my mind the future is a lot more modular. At least, modular for the foreseeable future. It seems to me a lot of vehicles, especially in the civilian sector and certain non-military sectors are going to be a lot more modular. Right now we are starting to see the application of modular vehicles in the military sector with the German Boxer APC.

It seems to me that a lot of folks would want vehicles where you can effectively snap on parts and snap them off. A 10-ton ATV might have various modules which attach to the back like a kind of "backpack." Such modules might have enhanced sensors, extended power banks, extended life support, simple cargo, a couple of manipulators, a fusion power plant for extended operations, or a ton of other stuff. Modules could be detached for shipping with little or not hassle. Roofs, sides, rear, and in some cases the front of a an ATV might be setup for attachment modules. Modules might use universal or adapter mounts so modules could be developed, manufactured and sold by various interests for a wide variety of ATVs made by different manufacturers.

Even small electric ground cars might have little modular add-ons for cargo, a robot, or whatever. A lot of those in-between military and civilian vehicles might have various turrets that pop on and off. Certainly, on various vehicles modular power plants might be a thing, where a power plant can effectively be replaced in an hours or so at the right facility by simply disconnecting a few things and then sliding the old one out. A new or like rebuilt one could be slid in and connected up.

Using a previous version of Traveller by another publisher which provided a detailed vehicle design system, I was designing a number of large rather flat "trucks" which could haul a single large shipping container. The truck was robotic and could link up to others like it to form some sort of overland train, breaking up when it neared the destination of the train to make deliveries. I set it up so various control and habitation modules could be added and locked in, so you could have a human driver. There were cockpits with sleepers, extended sleepers, and even full length habitats. Liquid, refrigerated and other modules could be set on the flat upper deck of these vehicles to make them special use.

Another project I did involved modular base units based off of standard shipping containers. A grav handler could setup a base by stacking and locking various modules from full-size, half-size, third-sized and even quarter-size shipping container habitat modules, including power plant units, fresh water supply, elevators, and individual apartments were available.

Recently, I created a company in the Spinward Marches which builds temporary modular space stations by connecting various tubes and modular units together, for custom orders. Whole operations could be moved to another system without residents packing up and moving everything they own. They just meet their module at the new location already attached to the new station. Need to add a new employee and their family? Just add another module.

The 50-ton modular cutter is a great example of modular at work, along with the Element-class cruisers. Why not more?

So, yeah, who else thinks the future and maybe the far future is modular?


Banded Mongoose
I think this is, with some clarifications, very reasonable. I can see a future in which vehicle and ship manufactories use modularization to build custom vehicles and ships to order, and while the buyer would be able to modify it relatively easily, they probably wouldn't unless they later discovered they had made a less-than-optimal choice. (Swapping out module haphazardly, while possible, is likely to become expensive - likely more so than would be consistent with a solvent business. Changing your vehicle/ship on a frequent basis sounds more like something a government entity would do - an entity which doesn't need to worry about return on investment.)

One advantage of using a modularly-constructed ship, even if you don't plan on changing the loadout frequently, would be dealing with battle damage. Should such damage be concentrated in one module, it may be cheaper (and will almost certainly be far quicker) to remove and replace the damaged module than in would be to carry out repairs in the traditional dry-dock manner.

Using shipping container construction is something that is already out there in the real world - for a large number of potential ideas, I recommend looking up TenFold Engineering's YouTube channel. Combine some of their concepts with Traveller's power sources and computer availability, and you could have dozens of modules which can be adapted in hundreds of ways to fulfil any number of uses. They can also be stacked and linked various way - if they're designed to be stackable seven high at our tech level, then by TL12, they should be able to be stacked dozens high. And with grav technology, the self-deploying possibilities become even more incredible.

As a top-of-the-head concept, how's this: a standard shipping container which uses grav, fusion, and computer technology to self-deploy to any suitably flat, stable ground and, once it gets in place, expands out to a four-apartment block. They can stack themselves with other such units, up to twenty-four units high if the ground is stable enough (easily provided with basic construction techniques, as long as the ground can stand up to the pressures involved or can be appropriately prepared), and can be linked horizontally in pretty much any configuration you have the area available. Stack them in a block, say eight by ten by twenty-four, and you'd have a nearly instant housing arcology of seven thousand six hundred eighty apartments which could have been shipped to the sight in about eight thousand displacement tons (allowing a little extra space for construction equipment/vehicles - primarily, bulldozer- and backhoe-style vehicles and some fabricator/processing equipment to allow for converting local materials into something more suitable, such as dirt into cement). Other modules can be added, allowing infrastructure to be quickly emplaced (power generation, manufacturing space, office or other public space...).

All of this would be highly scalable, since the standard shipping container is four displacement tons. This would allow even a Type-A tramp to carry thirty-five colonists (twenty in low berths, fifteen in the staterooms with everyone - crew and colonists - in double occupancy), fifteen modular self-deploying units, and twenty-one displacement tons of other cargo (construction vehicles, starting materials, consumables and other supplies, allowing for a very small-scale colonizing effort. Put the freighter under a contract (say, a one-year effort) and you have the basis for a private colonization company (call it fifteen round trips carrying colonists and their set-up materials, and then the balance of the year carrying additional supplies to the colony and, just maybe, starting to bring early cargo back). The end result would be a colony of about five or six hundred souls, a solid settlement in place, and some beginning agricultural, prospecting/mining, and manufacturing projects in progress. Just imagine how quickly that could scale up if you used a more appropriately size freighter (or a small fleet of them - say, a dozen) backed by a corporation or government.


Emperor Mongoose
Yes and no, and real life versus gaming systems.

Even then, there's a range from none to partial to complete, Legolike.

One reason you don't modularize something is to idiot proof it, or perhaps it's perfect in it's creator(s)' eyes.

For vehicles, it tends to be more payload centric, but tends to retain the core structure and mechanics, to hybrid customization to mass scale production.

Modularization could also be more internal rearrangement, you have a shell, and you can move around things within.

There's also the software approach, in that you need to unlock programmes that allow the vehicle to perform certain functions.


Cosmic Mongoose
I really like this line of thinking. I recently did a re-design of the 50 ton modular cutter that has an accordion-style spine rather than a fixed length one, working it like a tug, where smaller cargoes allow for faster performance. It got me thinking about how other smallcraft could be designed in a similar fashion.

The modular ATV idea is so clever and obvious it’s a little embarrassing not have been using something like that for years ☺️

Also breakaway / pod hull spacecraft.

In universe, seems like the Vilani penchant for standards and traditions would almost dictate a modular approach to just about anything.

I for one welcome our modularity-based overlords lol.


Banded Mongoose
It makes for great adventure ideas! You can now have characters creating custom made "hot rod" vehicles, racing against other teams on either legitimate tracks or in illegal street races. Smuggling becomes easier with "break off and buy" large components. Those mechanic skills become a whole lot cooler and engineers can make a spaceship from a space junkyard.


Traveller The New Era had a modular ship, and the ship I made for the T5 playtest, was the Quarantine Cutter, and extended Type S, was from there also. I have a tendency to look at ships in Solis as pretty modular, a sphere crew compartment, central truss to lash cargo and fuel tanks to, and the engineering section aft. I kinda think to break things up a bit though, so stuff could be more interesting.


Banded Mongoose
I have been thinking about this also but in terms of the modular turrets. You don't need to put a weapon system in the turret instead you can use enhanced sensors or a beefed up communications system. I guess if the turret is big enough you can put anything in it.


Emperor Mongoose
Technically, turrets are modular.

They may violate the laws of physics to place everything within fourteen cubic metres that they are stated to be able to do so, but other than that, you can squeeze in four tertiary armament weapon systems in there, plus one (human) operator and his workstation.


Some objects have multiple ways they can be modular. Turrets can be modular in the sense that small ready-made turrets or weapon mounts might be swapped on some vehicles, or the contents of turrets could be swapped. More popular designs might have a wide variety of turrets available. On ground, atmospheric, or wet navy vehicles there might be multiple turret options or even turrets which have like extra sensors instead of weapons for some vehicles, allowing a user to re-purpose or change capabilities quickly. What ends up being practical depends on a few things.

Considerations for modular:
  • Is storing modules end up tying up money in storage costs and unused modules worth it for the owner of a modular system?
  • Is the modular system unnecessarily heavier just for the sake of modular capability? Certainly some snap-on/snap-off kinds of modules would require mounts which might add weight to the design and/or reduce available volume for other components.
  • Is modular capability needed? A family ground car may not need a bunch of snap-on/snap-off options, but a research vehicle for some university might. Unless the modular design is mass produced it is impractical to have a modular design and never take advantage of the modular options.
  • Is it more economical to buy a slightly more expensive modular thing and swap modules, or is it going to be more economical to buy two non-modular things?
Think of a bobcat tractor which can switch things mounted on it. It can be a back hoe, a bulldozer, a forklift, and more just by switching the tools on it. Is it worth taking the time to switch tools and have a bobcat, or is it more efficient to have two or more purpose built tractors without modular options? Does storing attachments when not in use just take up too much space or end up costing more in the long run?

A lot of modular stuff is going to be modular to offer upgrades, while other modular stuff is going to be modular to be versatile, and still other stuff is going to be modular so certain parts can be replaced easily.

Practicality in the end is going to determine when modular options are going to be used and when they aren't.


Emperor Mongoose
Modularity and commonality are related.

Two examples to be wary of are the Littoral Combat Ship and the Lightning Too Bee.