In response to global demand for innovations in public transportation, Google has pledged $1 million to a New Zealand company with an elevated opinion of urban commuting.
Two years ago, the search engine giant, Google Inc., made headlines by announcing Project 10^100: a global call for ideas that would change the world by helping as many people as possible. Over 150,000 ideas were submitted, and "drive innovation in public transportation" was voted one of the five winning concepts.
In response, Google searched high and low for a company that had the most forward looking vision for the transportation industry, as well as the expertise to bring their futuristic ideas to life.
What they found was Shweeb: a space-age transportation device that combines the unique properties of monorail with recumbent cycle technologies. (Because we wondered too: Shweeb [ ʃwíb ] n.: derivation from the German “schweben” [ ʃvɛbən ] v., meaning to “float” or “suspend”).
What would it be like to commute in the Shweeb?
It’s two interlocking overhead monorail race circuits from which hang highly efficient pedal-powered pods. You lie back in a recumbent position for maximum comfort and minimum aerodynamic drag. The hard wheels on the smooth track reduce rolling resistance, so you can click through the seven gears and get up to your top speed with very little effort.
And before you claim that this system discriminates against those with (ahem) exercise-challenged; the design does include accommodations for people who might pedal a little slower than the commuter behind them (the two pods connect to form a tandem), as well as uphill portions of track that might create problems for the less in-shape among us (an electric-powered escalator kicks in and lift riders to the top of an incline).
Currently, the Shweeb only exists as a type of theme-park attraction in Rotorua, New Zealand, but it has the potential to propel people toward their destination at speeds of up to 45 kilometers (about 28 mph) per hour.
With a booster shot of Google's money, the creator of Shweeb are quickly working to unveil the first human-powered monorail system for public use, although they're keeping the location a secret for now.
Google's investment in Shweeb is hardly the company's first foray into cleantech. Google's research into solar power technologies, hydroelectric-powered data centers and a series of major investments in wind energy have established the tech giant as a major player in the renewable energy sector -- so much so, that earlier this year the company's energy arm, Google Energy, even won federal approval to buy and sell electricity as a regulated utility.
Check out more pics of Shweeb - the world's first human-powered monorail!