Clean Transport

Published on October 7th, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan


Google Investing in Human-Powered Monorail [VIDEO]

October 7th, 2010 by  

Human-powered transport is up my alley. And I have to say that I’m a Google fan. So, when I found out about Google investing in human-powered monorail a couple days ago, my back straightened up, my eyes widened, and my heart started beating faster.

Google has reportedly invested $1 million in a New Zealand company that has invented a super-cool, human-powered monorail system — basically, recumbent bicycles in little plastic bubbles on high rails (at least that’s what they look like to me).

We know that Google is interested in advancing renewable energy such as solar and wind energy, and there’s even speculation of it opening up an electric utility arm at some point in the future, but it also seems to realize that there is a future in creative, effective human-powered systems as well — I guess human energy could be considered renewable energy.

Shweeb is what this human-powered monorail system is called, coming from the German word “schweben” which means to “float” or “suspend” — (yes, New Zealand company, but German inventor). The inventor, Geoff Barnett, says he came up with the idea for this baby living and teaching about transportation in Tokyo:

When I lived in Tokyo I cycled through the city to work and on the weekends rode up the mountains around the city. Tokyo, with its frequent and punctual trains, capsule hotels, high population densities, and vending machines, opened my mind to new possibilities. I came up with the idea of a bicycle monorail network while teaching a class in which the topic for discussion was transport solutions. The idea of riding above the traffic jams on multi-level rails seemed to me the only possible way that Tokyo’s millions of residents could move around the city quickly and safely. It had the added advantages of being environmentally friendly and offering an aerobic workout.

To me this was a project that I could, if I put my mind to it, make happen.

Looks like a great idea. And apparently Google thought so as well.

The photos above are from a sort of theme park in Rotorua, New Zealand, but Shweeb monorails have a lot of potential for use elsewhere, especially when you take into consideration the fact that people can go up to 45 kilometers (about 28 miles) per hour in them.

Google’s investment will allow for the installation of the first public Shweeb monorail system, but the location is apparently still a secret… (crossing my fingers for my current city — Wrocław, Poland… unlikely).

via Crisp Green

Photos & Video via Shweeb

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • Pieter

    I think something like this allready exists… it’s called a bicycle!
    this is neat and cool and whatever but practical value is close to zero.

    • @Pieter: yeah, i’m a big proponent of bicycling for transportation purposes. however, i see ways in which this can be a better option — over obstacles, in steep places, where people need or want more protection from cars… we’ll see.

  • Chris

    It looks interesting, but not practical at all in a big city or elsewhere. There seems to be too much structure, supporting the suspended single occupant vehicle. As the person inside is in a recumbent position, it seems to be a space-wasting system. Plus, if one peddler goes slow, it will slow everyone else down who wants more speed. If there’s no way to go around someone, it seems like a frivolous means to create efficient transportation. However it looks pretty cool.

  • MG

    … and so when several hundred people need to get where they’re going, but the person in front of them is out for a sunday stroll or is a 70-year old pedaling at 5 mph… I guess everyone just stacks up behind and has to wait?

    • the company says there would be two lanes (if i remember that correctly)… one for slower riders and another for faster ones. also, it’s important to note that this is not generally aimed at very long-distance trips…

    • If you would have watch their videos they state that… When one person is travelling slow at the front, another can approach from behind and push them adding more mass thus giving more momentum than a single schweeb and helping to speed up the slow person infront.

  • What about Solar?

    This is so cool! You could even take it further….Solar Powered or Battery Powered. Even Fuel Cells! Imagine how much fun it would be to go across town without all the traffic. Imagine how good of shape you can get it. This is the closest thing to flying without the risk of crashing! I could see this taking the place of driving and reclaiming lands that roads have taken up! I hope this takes off! hey Google! Are you hiring?

    • Sven

      If you think this is cool, look up skytran. That is the closest thing to teleportation as there is.

    • Screw that, you could harness some of the energy generated by the pedalling and put it back into the power grid.

  • Jim

    seriously this is one terrible idea. With kids and bubble gum, no way. where is one to put any carry on items ? I would be tired just after one half hour. Sorry ! Beside who would want to clean these pods after dirty diapers are left behind. It might be ok for some teens, but forget the rest of us.

    • @Jim: i think there are a lot of possible applications of this. some may have to deal with such issues, but others not

    • it would be easy to attach storage and even a extra bay for an infant. More weight = more momentum…

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  • Taylor Buehler

    This sounds like a really cool idea! My uncle works for Google, so it’d be great if this all took off!

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