If you were gonna ask me what Google’s next investment would be, in a million years I wouldn’t have answered a human-powered monorail transportation system. But via Google’s Project 10^100, the search engine giant announced on Friday that it’s given $1 million to Shweeb, which makes a transportation system based on pedal-powered pods that zoom around a monorail track about 20 feet above the ground.
If that sounds like a crazy but kinda cool concept, that’s because it is. The original prototype was built as a ride in an amusement park in New Zealand, where pod pedalers race each other on a side-by-side track for a fee of $35. Google is funding the company to help it test the system as public transportation in an urban setting. Shweeb hasn’t announced the location of the planned first transit system (please make it in the Bay Area), but says on its website it will disclose the location shortly.
Here’s some characteristics of the Shweeb that likely attracted Google: It requires practically no energy other than human pedaling so it’s a fossil-fuel-free transportation, and it’s really efficient, requiring “less energy to cover a given distance than any other vehicle on earth,” according to the company. The pedaled pods are also based on recumbent bikes (the bikes where you sit back and relax), which I could imagine Google’s young outdoor enthusiast types identified with.
Some of the obvious drawbacks of the system are that it would likely be a NIMBY and regulation nightmare getting it built 20 feet off the ground in certain urban areas. On the company’s website, it paints a picture of Shweeb pods outside every second story window, where commuters hop out to a platform and pedal to work. I can picture that happening in a scene from “Inception,” but not in reality.
These types of “out-there” transportation — including the Segway — naturally have a massive barrier to getting people to embrace the technology. Commuting to work is painful enough without turning to an unproven technology.
Probably the best thing that Google could do for Shweeb would be to offer Google’s sprawling headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. as a location for one of their transportation systems. Google employees would love it and likely give valuable feedback.
About a year ago, Google launched its Project 10 ^ 100, which called on inventors and creative types to submit ideas that would help the world. Google received 150,000 submissions, and on Friday — a year later — announced it would hand out $10 million to five ideas. The Shweeb won the award via the “drive innovation in public transportation” section.
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