As I indicated in my last post, I have been really busy lately. I subscribe to quite a few magazines and I usually read the articles that interest me as the issues arrive. Lately though, my magazines have been just been stacking up on the corner of my desk. Well, just last weekend I finally got around to reading an interesting article in the January issue of Wired titled The Race to Build the 100mpg Car. Some of the information in the article about teams vying for the Automotive X prize may not be as timely now as it was 6 months ago, but it is still a pretty interesting read. One particular quote from the article jumped out at me. S. M. Shahed is a Honeywell corporate fellow and a past president of the International Society of Automotive Engineers who also serves as an adviser to the AXP. In explaining the expectation for the winning entry (to be safe, comfortable, mass-producible, etc.) he said, “We do not want toys.” The writer of the article elaborates saying, “in other words, a one-off, carbon-fiber-ensconced motorized recumbent bicycle isn’t going to cut it.” Ok fine, I agree, but what about a comfortable mass-producible pedal powered velomobile with electric assist? That seems like a pretty good transportation solution to me.
Before I go on, let me say that I fully realize that not everyone is going to ride a bike for transportation no matter how high fuel prices go. The biggest reason that I like to ride to work has to do with the fact that I just love to ride, period. With a busy schedule, commuting is basically free riding time, so I take advantage of it when I can. That love of riding may not be a consideration for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that human power should be discounted entirely as a viable transportation solution for a pretty large segment of the population. Lets face it; human power is very efficient. If someone builds a light enough enclosed vehicle with some cargo carrying capacity, I don’t see why a portion of the power cannot come from the person inside. Electric bikes are gaining in popularity in parts of the world, so I don’t see why velomobiles with an electric motor assist can’t do the same. Another statement from the article that favors human power is worth pointing out; “AXP organizers decided that teams would have to account for upstream carbon emissions as well as those from the vehicle itself.” Since electricity, the production of hydrogen, or most other potential power sources you can think of generate pollution at some point along the way, this distinction should give a real advantage to a vehicle that is partially powered by its driver. I don’t know if any of the X prize teams are using the driver to generate even a small portion of the vehicle’s power, but it seems like something that could provide an edge when the efficiency per unit of fuel input is calculated.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will probably recognize the aerodynamic velomobile pictured here. Greg Kolodziejzyk built it with speed in mind, but I can certainly imagine it a little bigger with lights, a cargo area, and an electric motor. With those changes, it probably wouldn’t look all that different from the all-electric Aptera car that is currently entered in the X prize competition. If the Aptera team could just consider adding some pedals to that thing, it could be the perfect urban car. Makes sense to me; any thoughts?