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Google recently announced the winners of their 10^100 contest.  One of the winners is a company called Shweeb Monorail Technology:

Idea: Drive innovation in public transport
Project fundedShweeb is a concept for short to medium distance, urban personal transport, using human-powered vehicles on a monorail. We are providing $1 million to fund research and development to test Shweeb’s technology for an urban setting.

Shweeb has developed a human-powered transport system that allows users to propel a pod hanging from a monorail by pedaling, similar to a recumbent bicycle.  This video shows the concept better than I could describe it:

My first reaction is that these pods look like a lot of fun. My second reaction is that they are an entirely impractical option for an urban transport system.

The most puzzling part of the Shweeb concept is that it’s just not clear to me how these pods are an improvement over simply riding plain-old bicycles.

Here are a few ways these pods may be an improvement over bicycles:

  • they provide some level of shelter from the elements
  • they provide some level of safety from cars

Here are a few ways that bicycles are still a better option:

  • they are not limited by the speed of the pod directly in front of you
  • they are not limited by a fixed guideway
  • they are substantially less costly

I also thought this FAQ on the Shweeb web site was interesting:

But what if someone refuses to pedal or goes really slowly?

Impact-cushioning buffers at each end of the pods allow faster pods to run into slower pods and form a Shweeb ‘peloton’. This increases aerodynamic efficiency and, unlike a bicycle peloton, the power produced by those behind can contribute to the overall power of the group, thereby increasing speed and efficiency and removing the need to overtake.  Should the rider in front refuse to pedal, the extra effort required by the rider(s) behind is minimal due to the low rolling resistance and single aero-pressure point of the peloton.

I can imagine it wouldn’t go over very well if the person behind you decided you were going too slowly and started pushing you faster than you wanted to go.

I can see a lot of applications for this technology for recreation and novelty, but the potential for this to become a realistic mode of urban transport is limited.  To quote The Transportationist, “…this is a miss.”

What do you think readers?  Is this a realistic mode of urban transport?  Does this provide any real benefit over just riding a bicycle?

3 comments to Shweeb

  • Ren

    I’m surprised this was a winner. In addition to impracticality, it looks incredibly claustrophic and rider height would be a detriment.

  • I posted this to Facebook and got some amusing responses:
    1. All the infrastructure (and operational flexibility) of an elevated rail line, and all the capacity of a sidewalk!
    2. What about skirts?
    3. The pods will stink.

    BTW, great to see an engineer’s perspective on bike facilities. We planning types have spent too long making fun of you (often useful) nerds.

  • @Payton – I’m glad you enjoy the blog.

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