Keeping It I-Real
In late September, the Greenwoods pulled the tarp off the Imagine HumanCar at an exhibition in Chicago of futuristic technology. Its fairing gleamed rich orange under the fluorescent lights of the convention hall. A stack of cards explained how the two permanent-magnet DC motors would torque you up from a dead stop to 35 mph in four to six seconds. The car would sense the effort you were putting in and give you just that much back, so the resistance would be about the same as pulling on a bungee cord.
But the Imagine still wasn't ready to run, so they had also brought the original FM-4 HumanCar, hooked it up to a dynamometer, and invited passersby to hop in and see how much power they could put out. Four brawny med students pushed the needle to 2,000 watts. An economic gloom had fallen over Chicago, and more than one observer seemed to see the HumanCar as a harbinger of the apocalypse, a Mad Max vehicle. "This is what it's come to," they said, shaking their heads.
About 20 yards away, a little auto manufacturer called Toyota also had a booth, where it was flaunting its own personal-mobility device, the i-REAL. The company (as the Japanese engineers told the Greenwoods in halting English, after the boys from Oregon had loosened them up with a game of hacky sack) had been burning millions of dollars of R&D money to develop a kind of sit-down Segway for the able-bodied, with fabulous contours, a moveable wheelbase and a top speed of about 20 mph. The i-REAL is an eccentric bet in the eco-mobility sweepstakes, but it may end up being a very pragmatic one. Essentially it's a bet on Homer Simpson. A bet that, given a choice, our inner "endurance predator"—so long gone from the savanna now that the muscles no longer remember what Job One once was—will take a free ride every time. You might think it would give the human-power tribe pause. You would be wrong.
"It just shows you how far off-base they are with their concept of a net-zero vehicle," says Chuck Greenwood. "It actually gave us confidence. Not only can we compete with Toyota; we're going to show them the way."
Bruce Grierson is the author, most recently, of the book U-Turn.
1) No multi-personal vehicle will ever be practicle, because we all have to travel alone from time to time. Even in a carpool, I have to make it to peddler #2's house alone.
2) People need to cary stuff. Groceries, babies, and work all need real cargo space. No "bike only" design will fit that need unless it has cargo space and the means to carry the extra weight.
3) It must be weather proof. People are not going to use anything if they must freeze, fry, or be soaked to do so.
4) People often want/need to go faster than 30mph. This requires extra power.
5) People are not that coordinated. Note the number of accidents on motorcycles. It needs to be very stable to be safe and easy to maneuver. Otherwise you are leaving more up to human error, and humans already make mistakes when all they have to do is steer.
If you want a human powered vehicle to be practicle for truely mass consumption, it would need to be enclose-able, fast, powered, and able to carry a passive passanger (the baby, grandma, this week's groceries, etc). Obviously, such a vehicle cannot be human powered alone.
More likely, an electric vehicle, with electric drive, augmented for range/recharging by consistant peddling (as well as solar trickle), where peddle-charging is augmented by passangers peddling as well, consistant (in no ways tied to speed which reduces overall work), and able to be plugged in (making it useful even for those without the time or athleticism for consistant charging).
Something like an electric chargable moped. At slower speeds, human powered. At higher, electric. A switch to convert peddling to charging during electric run or to harness extra force (downhill charging).
If carbon is your goal, however, electric only vehicles and renewable sources are your only path. Leave human generation to things where the mass does so much that they do not realize that they are generating electricity (like the dancefloors and turntable doors).
The multi person powered car is kind of silly. The vellomobile doesn't have that problem.
I don't think these sorts of things can replace powered cars for the reasons oakspar mentioned, but they sure as heck can make a dent. Many of us don't need to go long distances or fast on daily commutes. A vehicle like these could fill this niche. It doesn't have to replace your car to be economical and save wear and tear on the powered vehicle and gas. As the article already noted, a huge dent could be taken out of our gas usage if people only used these vehicles once a week, and if people had brains, they'd realize, as the current economy demonstrates, that it's not just the difference from the cost saved from the current price at the gas station, but savings are realized from the lower gas prices that lower demand yeilds.
If these vehicles could carry a medium sized suitcase or a few bags of groceries, I'd say they have all the storage necessary for a commuter vehicle that supplements our normal powered cars.
The only argument I see against these kinds of vehicles is the saftey issue. Last I saw, riding a bike 10 miles has the same mortality rate as driving a car 300 miles. But that's not an unsolvable problem if we were willing to train drivers more rigorously like they do in some European countries and we were willing to take reasonable measures against drunk drivers... like tatooing their wrists so they couldn't buy drinks without a designated driver... or at all. (and yes, given the cost of their abused freedom, I'd say that is very reasonable and not cruel and unusual).
Okay, I get that you're trying to make a point- but...
Are you really going to don all that gear, hop on a stationary bicycle, and start pedaling, while cranking a generator with one hand, and holding a solar-panel umbrella in the other (who needs handlebars, anyway?), just to run a desktop (which, I'm guessing is voice operated) or watch a 32" HD TV?
Not a sermon, just a thought...
The way I see it,one major obstacle to using pedal-powered vehicles for commuting is the sweat factor.Several people in my office commute to work on bikes,and as soon as they get to work,they head for the shower in the gym in the company basement.
Well, for Oakspar:
1) tandems already are practical and usable by one person. Human powered vehicles of 3 or more need some work yet.
2) velomobiles can "carry stuff". Lots of stuff. If you buy $200 worth of groceries, then no, human powered vehicles(HPVs) aren't going to work for you. A HPV can easily carry enough groceries for a couple days. If you own a HPV and use it for shopping, then you adjust your shopping habits and there is no problem.
3) velomobiles are water and weather proof and people ride them all over the world, in the winter time. They also have vents for the summer.
4) while people might want to go faster than 30mph all the time, it's often the case that they can't. In many cities, bicycles are faster from point to point than cars ever will be anymore, regardless of the speed limit. You don't need extra power either. Any rider can manage 30 mph with a velomobile too, it just takes areodynamics, not other power sources.
5) the average person has more than enough coordination to safely manage a velomobile. Stability is not an issue. Three wheels.
HPVs already are practical. They're safe, functional and effective. People don't want them because everything is push button, HPVs require effort. People don't want to expend effort unless they absolutely have to. HPVs don't need any other power than the human pedalling it. People functionally use HPVs for a daily vehicle all over the world. If you want to do it, you'll do it. If you don't want to do it, there are a million excuses not to.
The point is, it's about human powered vehicles, like the title of the article says. If you want to talk about electric, that is an entirely different set of criteria. The HPV solution is here and it's been here for over 100 years. The problem is between people's ears not the design of teh "bike".
I would love to know how I can get my hands such a wonderful bicycle. I ride my bicycle to work (6.7 miles) about three times a week in the summer months. During uncooperative weather, I ride my motorcycle or car (both cost me one grand).
With the bicycle my fastest trip was 25 minutes. My bike costs just under 300 dollars, the motorvehicles cost at most 1,000.
Can I get this wonderful bicycle anywhere for the price I bought my car and motorcycle for? The asking prices are absolutely ridiculous.
This looks cool - as a novelty only.
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I think this article needs some fact-checking.
How exactly does burning 72-120 pounds of gasoline (which weighs ~ 6 lbs/gal) release 220 pounds of carbon?