The HumanCar is being launched on April 22rd 2008 (Earthday) in South Menlo Park, Ca. This bi-directional human power interface harnesses all the large muscle groups of up to 4 people allowing users to easily cruise at speeds of up to 20 mph (45 mph with power assist). The machine offers a viable (preferable) alternative to the car in a wide range of scenarios.
A prototype vehicle (aka The Trouble Maker) can be seen on YouTube here. This vehicle has been taken up to 80 mph on downhills. As well as cooperative power drive, coordinated leaning from the front is required to steer the vehicle. There are currently 4 pre-production prototypes of The Imagine, the next generation of HumanCar. This includes features such as: a exoskeletal safety cage and chassis that has been tested at up to 100 mph on salt flats; duel electric motors and variable human power input. It will also carry regular vehicle extras like a radio a trunk and wi-fi. It will retail at $15,000.
The HumanCar started life as a flash of inspiration in the mind of Charles Samuel Greenwood, an engineer and drag racer in the late sixties. The project has been passed down a generation to Charles’ son Chuck. Chuck has been making the most of the Silicon Valley’s explosion of clean-tech resources. He is a member of the Green Technology Alliance and part of the Green Alley Project, which is taking over defunct car dealerships in South Melno and turning them into green-tech showrooms (including for the Tesla and Zap cars). His passion has made the HumanCar a reality and he clearly believes the machine has more to offer then simple transportation; test drivers regularly come back with their friends the following day, desperate for another ride. By all accounts the act of moving the vehicle together is a powerfully unifying and life affirming activity.
We have highlighted the multiple benefits of human powered transport before. The ubiquity of cheap energy from trapped sunlight, captured by prehistoric plants and now distilled into gas, has retarded the evolution of human powered transportation devices. Our mass dependence on this cheap energy has profoundly changed the landscapes in which we live (urban sprawl, congested cities and out of town shopping malls) as well as the landscapes of our bodies. Rising gas prices (and the threat of peak oil), environmental damage (including global warming), new urbanism and health concerns now present a real opportunity to go back to the drawing board to explore new ways of getting around using human power.
The bicycle remains a triumph of human ingenuity and a supremely efficient way of moving from a to b. However, there are drawbacks for the cyclist, you are alone and vulnerable on your bike and when it rains… you get wet! The HumanCar changes all that by offering communal pulling power and a roof. In the future we may return to walkable communities in which we can shop, work and live without the need for machine transportation. Until this time the HumanCar offers a great solution, allowing us to travel on existing road infrastructure without emitting green house gasses and with a range of personal benefits, from exercising the heart to putting an enormous smile on your face. Something tells me that even if we construct walkable eco-communities we will keep the HumanCars not for efficiency… just because they are fun.