Bicycle Bubble/Monorail Transportation System—Crazy or Genius (or Both)?

By Jennifer Welsh | September 28, 2010 12:54 pm

Shweeb-in-actionA human-powered monorail system called Shweeb won $1 million from Google’s 10^100 innovations contest.

The company that manufactured the Shweeb is one of five to be awarded a total of $10 million from the competition. They will use the money to develop the Shweeb for use as a city commuter transport option.

The Shweeb efficiently uses human power from a rider sitting in the recumbent seat, pedaling the bubble-shaped pod through the air. This vision for public transportation is a little out there, but the Shweeb has some promise, says Gearlog:

Like all truly forward thinking ideas, Shweeb seems completely nuts at first glance. As a tech blogger I’d love nothing more than to mock Google and it’s choice of Shweeb with its poor-man’s take on the Jetsons opening sequence. But the more you read about it, the more Shweeb’s innovative take urban transport makes a whole lot of sense.

The pod gives you your own personal space (literally a personal bubble) while traveling and allows you to choose where you need to stop – without adhering to a timetable, like a subway or bus. The company will soon announce where the first public Shweeb will be built, and it could soon start cropping up in adventure destinations or cities near you, says PopSci:

Shweeb may not be practical for everyone or every city, but for some cities it might make both environmental and fiduciary sense. Compact cities like San Francisco or Boston could have Shweeb lines instead of open-air bus tours, or massive parks like Manhattan’s Central Park could avoid clogging up bike lanes with tourists by sticking them up in the air on a monorail.

The pods at the test track, which also doubles as a $30 adventure ride at Agroventures Park in Rotorua, New Zealand, can travel faster than Lance Armstrong in a bike race, but in use as urban transportation the Shweeb would be limited to around 16mph. The company’s website even claims that the Shweeb is easier than walking:

On firm, flat ground, a 70kg man requires about 100 watts to walk at 5km/h. The power required to move a Shweeb along a rail at 20km/h is only 33 watts. We rest our case!

And even if you get stuck behind a slow-poke, the pods can hook up to each other, and using the combined power of two go faster than either one alone. The website even claims that the pedaling is so leisurely that you can catch up on your email, phone calls, or texting and not even break a sweat.

If you’ve gotten this far in the post, you probably have a bunch of other questions or objections about how there’s no way this thing could work. Shweeb has anticipated many of these (or at least fielded them before) and put some useful info on their FAQ page.

Related content:
Discoblog: Bizarre New Treadmill-Bike Lets Gym Rats See the Outside World
Discover Magazine: Reviews: The Incredibly Strong See-Through Bicycle
Cosmic Variance: Get L.A. Moving
Cosmic Variance: An Easier Way to Get Around

Image: Shweeb

  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    Wow, sweet

  • mjt

    As long as it can handle the slow pokes and the inevitably obnoxious speedsters, sounds like it would be pretty cool. What about the lazies who don’t pedal at all and expect the ones behind to do all the work? Maybe a quick release that would drop the pod off the rail? Who cleans them? What about grafitti?

  • denishamarie

    i think this will b great 2 use it looks really cool

  • Stacey

    So, you can train pods together…how do you then stop a train of pods? How does one person get in/out of a pod that is in the middle of a train of pods? What happens to the empty pod when someone gets out? How many pod lines are needed to provide a reasonable connected service? Very innovative, but a very strange concept that I have trouble seeeing come to fruition.

  • Jennifer Welsh

    Hey all, thanks for reading and commenting,

    There is a fair bit of information available at the Shweeb website, under the FAQ section, (link: http://shweeb.com/index.php?m=faq), which might answer the majority of your lingering questions, but I agree there are some logistical things that they are probably working on that we don’t have information about.

    That’s what this money is for, to help them work out these kinks and enable them to sell this as a “personal trains-portation” system. From what I’ve seen from the company and their system in my research, I have confidence they can solve the majority of these issues you’ve all mentioned. It seems pretty innovative and well thought-out.

    Oh, and Stacey, from what I’ve seen, the “trains” of pods aren’t actually connected to each other, so individuals can leave or join the train as necessary.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com happy

    That’s what this money is for, to help them work out these kinks and enable them to sell this as a “personal trains-portation” system. From what I’ve seen from the company and their system in my research, I have confidence they can solve the majority of these issues you’ve all mentioned. It seems pretty innovative and well thought-out.

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