Gallery: Google Invests in Shweeb’s Pedal-Powered Bike Monorail

 

Shweeb is an innovative form of alternative transportation that places people in plastic tubes so that they can cycle to their destination whilst hung upside down from a rail. It may sound crazy, uncomfortable and tiring, but Google believes that it could transform the way we get around cities — as such, they have invested $1.05 million into the scheme.

As the Shweeb system is ‘user-powered’ it immediately gets sustainability points, but the system has also been praised for its speed. A combination between traveling in tubes à la Futurama and “Sky Cycling,” Shweeb’s bike-powered monorail currently has a 200m cycle track in Rotorua, New Zealand, where is it billed as an “adrenalin-fueled” adventure. There, users are suspended from the track in transparent pods and can ‘cycle’ around the landscape at speeds of up to 45km/h.

Shweeb cycles are equipped with seven gears and, according to the operators, the reclining position is necessary for both comfort and reducing drag. The system has been a big hit with tourists, and Google reckons it could find equal satisfaction from the commuting population of some of the world’s cities.

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40 Comments

  1. Scott Gourley December 27, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Without wind-evaporation of sweat, this looks EXTREMELY hot and sweaty on even a slightly warm, sunny day. Like exercising inside a closed, parked car on the same day. Even stationary bikes in air-conditioned rooms are sweatier than real biking sometimes!

  2. rurouni79 August 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    This looks like fun. It doesn’t look like the savior of American cities. It looks like a fun experience for google employees or extremely large facilities or perhaps a bike park. I would love to go zipping over a field of wildflowers or through the forest at tree level in a bubble bike.

  3. von June 21, 2012 at 6:57 am

    agree with u.this idea really apprichiteable.you have made some interesting points in this article you really know alot on this topic.
    Thanks for posting it.

  4. toddcesere June 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    There may be some downsides to this, but by-and-large it is REALLY surprising (though maybe it shouldn’t be) how the commenters feel that they have suddenly thought of some new problem and that they cannot imagine obvious solutions or entertain doubts about whether they might not know enough information to make their judgements. Just thinking of what seem to me to be obvious possible answers to most of these negative comments:

    - The pods have holes that, I have to guess from commenters WHO HAVE ACTUALLY RIDDEN THE PODS disperse heat very well, and, well, because you can do it with cars. That doesn’t take much thought, and neither does the idea of very small and efficient airconditioning units. But who knows, maybe thinking about it for more than ten seconds will generate even more ideas.

    - Read a few sentences about this pod and you’ll probably notice that slow people and even those who can’t peddle can be pushed by others. One person pushing another will cut their speed in half, but likely you’ll build up another or a fourth, in which case pushing becomes easier and easier.

    - Maybe there will be two or more lanes to ease congestion? Maybe you’ll think of a reason this won’t work in two seconds and then crown yourself a genius who would have thought of a workable way to do this if it existed. Maybe not!

    - Maybe there will be frequent turnaround junctures?

    - The article clearly targets a specific kind of city, they don’t need to build this thing into sprawling Detroit suburbs or through virgin wilderness from nowhere to nowhere. The same logic applies to subways. They work! OMG how is that possible?

    - Seems like maybe the pods can be bigger to accommodate groceries and children?! That must be impossible. Making things bigger is physically impossible.

    - Try riding a bike in Boston. It’s possible, yes. But take it from someone who has seen a car, a bicycle, and red liquid near a driveway; not everyone would like to participate in that sport.

    - Subways are slow, and yet people walk to them to take them. These are probably faster (because subways have stops and waiting and, well, the cars just go slow in some routes). So maybe walking a short distance to one actually does make sense.

    - If the system is successful, and it serves a lot of people (like my ubiquitous subway comparison), it’s not necessarily that expensive per person. It certainly won’t be as expensive as The Big Dig, though I admit it would be unlikely to serve the same amount of people. Still, why not entertain some kind open mind about it. Bike paths have some limitations (especially compared to something that avoids the ground).

    In conclusion, a million bucks will run a small company for about a year. For Google this is chump change. Even if it’s an outside bet, it’s worth giving the designers some benefit of a doubt and maybe reading more or asking questions instead of declaring imminent failure and money wasted. Have some ounce of faith in other people’s intelligence and intentions.

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  6. hummingbird2u February 4, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Cool idea! But check out the first photo. It pictures hairy guy legs and feet and a pretty girl face! So trans gender is openly included in our future warm climate public transportation pods! Very PC.

  7. lazyreader December 29, 2010 at 8:22 am

    I admit it may look fun, but that’s all it will be. It’ll be good for parks and big tourist attractions like maybe Disney World. But we’re not going to build these things through Yellowstone Park, maybe a State Park! But no one will pay to turn it into a transit system. It’s personal rapid transit which has been widely discredited over the years. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJckdzrDSs0

  8. kap10.kirk November 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    @rspliner – This good idea should not be burdened with ADA compliance or shackled with the costs of providing a solution that meets the needs of every single person on the planet. Not every mode of transportation is available to every member of the population (blind people and quadriplegics cannot drive). If this idea takes cars off the road and frees up lanes and bus/train seats for others, then even those that cannot use it directly will benefit indirectly.

    Regarding work attire and dresses, most people do not wear dresses while riding bikes/motorcycles/scooters. So don’t wear them in the Schweeb. I know many people who ride bikes/motorcycles to work, then change clothes (and even shower) when they get there.

    This is an alternative mode of transportation that complements existing options. It’s not a full replacement for cars, buses, subways, etc.

  9. speshalkay October 27, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Hmmmm…. I would give it a go! How do you turn it round when you realise you have left your bag at home?

  10. Ringwraith6 October 26, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Looks like *fun*…but it just doesn’t seem like practical public transportation. Besides the climate control issues (and god forbid a person needs to wear a dress) having *individual* pods could get real ugly. Besides the obvious hygiene issues (thinking Seinfeld B.O. car ep as a worst, but possible, case) , what if you’re someone who pedals at 40 mph and you’re stuck behind someone who only pedals at 10 mph? And what do you do with a pod once you get to your destination? Nope…don’t see it getting past being purely recreational…

  11. mgh3kusa October 18, 2010 at 6:34 am

    bike paths are on the ground in congested areas that is not easy, it provides for people behind to push weak or tired along, it could have electical assist if desired, it looks good, safer than a bike trail that is enclosed. consider fallen biker ahead of you going 15 mph around the corner. result crash most likely. I am working on a possible transport system also and this looks good to me, not great but possible. Set up some at zoos and other parks quickly to let people test them for them selves.

  12. sc0tt October 18, 2010 at 1:21 am

    That thing would be hot as fuck inside.

  13. dirt35 October 15, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Less versatile than a bike path at many many many times the cost, this is not a realistic option for commuters.

  14. Google Funded Geotherma... October 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    [...] these days – the online search giant just invested in both an offshore wind highway and a human powered monorail system. Today a project funded by Google announced the discovery of massive geothermal vents under West [...]

  15. Google Has Developed a ... October 10, 2010 at 11:35 am

    [...] Google is on a roll these days when it comes to transportation alternatives. Announcing their investment in the Schweeb just over a week ago, news just broke that the famed company has secretly been developing an autonomous, self-driving car. Still in its early stages, the car project has already set out a small fleet of vehicles across California roads that utilize an artificial-intelligence software able to sense anything near the car and make equivalent decisions made normally by a human driver. While the thought of mass-production in the coming months is a bit premature, this revolutionary idea could give way to incredible environmental and experiential benefits. Engineers behind Google’s project say that the technology could both double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely, comfortable and efficiently while closer together; but also allow for cars to be built lighter, in turn reducing carbon costs and fuel consumption. [...]

  16. wilfforrow October 10, 2010 at 11:16 am

    I agree with rspilner – this could (and should) be made accessible to anyone. There are several ways it could be done :-

    1) Dual cabins (already on the way).
    2) Electric motors (low power electric bicycles are now proven and the same technology would be a perfect match to the low power requirements of the Shweeb system).
    3) Pairing up with another user taking the same route (who could get a financial incentive for pushing).

    Incentives such as fare structures should be used to reward good behaviour, and discourage less good behaviour. If you’re fit and able to pedal, you should pay a premium which could subsidise those who aren’t. It’s the perfect application for market forces.

  17. rspilner October 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

    You still have not answered my question. How does someone ride this who does not have legs, or one leg, or one arm, or no arms. Or, what if they are too old or young to work the pedals? You can\’t make a comprehensive transportation system that excludes a significant part of the population. Bicycling is only a part of the surface transportation system which includes options for people who can\’t ride. When you put the bike in a tube on a rail built just for bikes, it becomes what should be a comprehensive system that instead excludes.

  18. WilfForrow October 10, 2010 at 7:43 am

    This idea is NOT crazy. They have answered every single negative comment – read the FULL description under http://shweeb.com/index.php?m=transport.

    You want crazy – look at the ‘Elevator into Space’ idea – they asked Arthur C Clarke when it would be built and he said ’50 years after people stop laughing’. Well some people have stopped laughing and are investing. And Google has stopped laughing about Shweeb, and Google doesn’t take 50 years to do anything. If you want to bet against Google I’ll take your money!

    15mph TRUE AVERAGE SPEED in London would beat every mode of transport except helicopter. Average car speeds are 7 to 10 mph, buses and tubes only go on FIXED routes, at FIXED times, so waiting time, changes, escalators, etc drags the TRUE AVERAGE way down. Who would go at 5mph if you can do a guaranteed 15mph straight to your destination with NO STOPS, NO CHANGES and NO DELAYS?

    I just hope that this idea can scale up to handle higher speeds and longer journeys (which means incorporating powered drives and better safety controls).

    It’s time to stop laughing.

  19. wewalkincircles October 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I’d really like people to read the tech specs of this, as I’m a huge beleiver in this technoogy. I’ll quickly outline people’s main concerns:
    Heat: pods are well ventilated, with sun reflecting tops.

    Effort/sweating. On the website, they point out that a man walking at 5km/h uses about 100W of power, whie cycling on the schweeb at 20km/h only uses 33W. This is achieved thanks to the low resistance design, particularly the aerodynamic pod.

    Slow people: Pods are designed so that when a pod approached another, they form a sort of train, whereby only the first train must overcome drag, and so the pedalling efforts of all trains combine to make all of those pods increase speed. Even if they weren’t pedalling it wouldn’t be much effort.

    In terms of hills, they would install solar powered chain lifts that woul only activate if they detected the pod was sowing down on the hill.

    I’m hoping Auckland gets to use this technology very soon, I will sure be an early adopter. NZ is very proud of the Shweeb so hopefully our local govt has the sense/resources to build a working one in the near future.

  20. rugbygeek October 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    @pharacon actually its pretty comfy in 90 degree heat. I was in rotorua in their summer, and the windflow kept you extremely comfy. 12 mph (about 25kph ) is easilymaintained with a minimum of effort. I got it up to around 40kph and barely started sweating. Also if you read the techspecs, you do ‘hit’ their pod. There are bumper buffers that translate that hit into forward motion. And there is minimal effort to move them along.

    Perhaps your insistance on your car is best! Course, while the freeway is backed up… again; the schweeb will be moving a bit faster. Though i highly doubt we will see suburban implementation, unless they allowed higher speeds to get to the city, then had a system to ratchet it back

  21. wewalkincircles October 5, 2010 at 1:07 am

    I encourage naysayers of the shweeb to read the technical and design details on the official website. They’ve thought of everything, and it seems like a near flawless system of mass transportation.

  22. Pharacon October 4, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    In a word.. stupid.

    Like anyone will get up get dressed and then shweeb their way to work. I bet that little pod gets crazy hot in the summer. I would like to see it installed in Houston or LA when it gets CRAZY hot. If you took that to work you would be all sweaty and nasty by the time you got to work.

    Also what do you do with someone who is slow? Slam your dorkpod against theirs and push them faster? If I wanted I will take a bike, or better yet I will stick with my car.

  23. rugbygeek October 4, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I think I see the problem. How many of the major posters have actually taken a ride on this contraption? I have, and as a man of substance (read: fat) I can say that this ride, hills and all was extremely easy to get up to the speed of 45km. The gearage involved ensured that. I’m. Thinking this monorail system would be great in an acti e community, like denver. And i could easily see this being upscaled to multi user like a bus, to improve speed. With a conductor to handle. Entry and edit of stops. This was hastily typed on a phone from my own schwinn. Forgive the typos and franker but i’d gladly trade the schwinn for a schweeb

  24. JonathanM October 4, 2010 at 11:50 am

    @mr. right:
    “A tunnel? That’s a great idea except for the possibility of mechanical failure of the device, how do you get someone out of there?”

    Umm, you’re on a bicycle. Pedal your way out. The only “failure” would be that tail wind assistance.

  25. rik October 4, 2010 at 10:39 am

    My use of the term tunnel is perhaps misleading. It could be underground but elevated would likely be less expensive to build. I call it a “tunnel” only in reference to a “wind tunnel,” the device for creating an artificial airflow. In combining that device with the device of a control access pathway for bicycles– that is, essentially a “freeway” for bikes– it is conceivable that the average speeds could be greatly increased and/or levels of exertion greatly reduced. Unlike the monorail concept, this infrastructure device would include at least two lanes that would allow passing, giving the individual user the same kind of freedom of provided by automobiles. But the overall energy required to move the air would be much, much less than that used to fuel move the autos. Extremely quick commute times in urban areas would be the main attraction. Instead of bikes being almost as fast as by car, bikes would be quite a bit quicker. The “mass” of commuters that could be moved this way could in theory be greater than the mass that are moved by a single lane of freeway for the obvious reason that bikes take up so much less space.

  26. mr.right October 4, 2010 at 6:31 am

    A tunnel? That’s a great idea except for the possibility of mechanical failure of the device, how do you get someone out of there? Imagine the ensuing traffic jam (along will the panic attacks associated with being trapped underground).

  27. kap10.kirk October 4, 2010 at 1:15 am

    For a concept of a powered version of this, check out http://www.unimodal.com. This concept has been around for a decade or more, but I don’t think they’ve actually built it anywhere.

  28. rabbesandelin October 4, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Another pie in the sky concept. What problem, exactly, does this solve? That it sometimes rains on bicyclists? As a mass transit system it is totally worthless.

  29. Marinette September 30, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    If one of Google\\\’s criteria really was \\\’To drive innovation in public transport…\\\” then they might have consulted with someone knowledgeable in public transport before giving $1M to this amusement park ride. This doesn\\\’t come close to being \\\”public\\\” since anyone unfit to ride a bike could not use it. That is a very large portion of the population. How does a person in a wheelchair use this \\\”public\\\” transport? How about the parent with a child in a stroller and bag of groceries? What happens when the rider becomes exhausted or dehydrated (it must get very hot in there) or otherwise becomes incapacitated? Did anyone run calculations on what all those stanchions would cost? Did they consider the resistance from most communities to the visual pollution of the stanchions and tracks? Such a shame, what a waste.

  30. rspilner September 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Pretty sure this wouldn’t be ADA compliant which makes it a non-starter as a “PRT” system that would require funding streams tied to ADA compliance. Will Sterling is right–just ride your bike.

  31. will sterling September 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I ride my bike to work every day, and love it. By contrast, sweating inside an plastic capsule on a hot day doesn’t sound like much fun to me. You don’t need to be on a monorail to go 45kph, that’s a fairly normal speed for a road race.

  32. archidude September 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    jcoop, are you really comparing encapsulated bikes hanging from rails to the conquest of the new world and space respectively? I’ve got this awesome new invention for you, it’s geared and pedaled like the suspended rail cycles you adore so much but it has wheels and the ability to steer, also it doesn’t need a plastic capsule around it so you can enjoy being out in the fresh air. Not everyone who disagrees with idiotic ideas is in league with the forces of darkness, some of us just prefer to live in the real world.

  33. jcoop September 30, 2010 at 3:47 am

    If ArchiDude and Jay_Adams lived in 1492 he would say Columbus was wasting a good ship for his own suidide. And if they lived in the 60′s would say what about space flight? The internet? Do you own bp shares? Coal stocks?
    I love this idea… If I can find a way to buy shares… I will. I’d work for them tomorrow. The concept is great, a couple years of innovation would allow you to not have to pedal, then watch TV, and get a massage, get a washed seat or buy your own attachable seat, park your bicycle outside your closest station. If the stations where next to the subway, schools, and shopping centers would you still walk 4 km to get where you are going? It is not going to be the savour of the earth but it could get a lot of cars off the road, get people through rough neighbourhoods safely, and free up over priced parking downtown.

  34. CocoJim September 29, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    I agree with ArchiDude and Rik. Forget hanging bicycles from a rail. The tunnel idea proposed by Rik makes much more sense as long as the tail wind is not too strong. The tunnel system would need a safe entry and exit strategy along with proper bicycle storage areas. Imagine how far along a system like this would be for the U.S. if that trillion dollars had not been wasted on Wall Street bailouts.

  35. swinefactory September 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Learn how to spell… ‘peddle’ is to sell, ‘pedal’ is to propel with your feet using cranks.

  36. Rik September 28, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    This idea is based upon a failure recognize of the primary constraint to bike transport is air resistance. If we are going to invest in an alternate infrastructure to get bikes out of motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic, we should optimize the benefits for the large cost by going far enough to build a system that vastly reduces air resistance.
    How?
    By putting the bikeway into a “tunnel”– a wind tunnel that provides– at least at rush hours when the number of riders is very high– a strong tail wind. (Of course the paths in opposite directions are separated– i.e. the bikeway is an elongated loop. Hope some bright folks at Google at least give some thought to this concept. Rik

  37. Jay_Adams September 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    i agree with archidude, except you aren’t looking at someones crack because of the reclined position obviously.

    it took google 1 million to fail at redeisnigning the perfect transportation, a bicycle.

    you can buy one at walmart for $100.

    stick to the web google, and let people that have a clue and a tiny bit of forsight spend money to find better transportation.

    seriuosly this is nothing more than a sad joke that can’t be taken seriously. if this is the future we are indeed in trouble.

    schweeb does seem to be a quite fitting name though, i’ll give them that.

  38. ArchiDude September 27, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Oh yeah! Sign me up, I can see it now and can’t wait ’til the day I get to walk a couple km to the nearest station only to get into an enclosed capsule recently vacated by some sweating out of shape person who took it around the city on a hot day. Then begins the trip to work where I’m immediately stuck in a bike jam (which I can’t escape since I’m on a track suspended over buildings and roads) staring into the oh so deep butt crevice of the person in front for an hour. Then since the nearest bike station is another 2 km from where I work it’s another lovely stroll from there. come to think of it people already have a very efficient system of locomotion built in with no sweaty plastic bubbles needed. That’s one hell of an investment in the future right there. Was there really no cause more worthy than a bubble bike monorail?

  39. ncrowevolvo September 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    I love the concept. The next step is literally open architecture such that one could have pedal powered and/or electric powered pods, that can be driven on streets short distances to the monorail “station”, then easily mount on the rail and be carried, without pedaling, by the rail (either a system integral to the pod, but powered by the rail, or entirely integral to the rail). Computer control would require each pod to choose a destination and the pod would be delivered to that station, and discharged from the rail back to the road….

  40. wbrooke September 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I love the aerodynamics aspect, but as a commuting system this would be frustrating to use since you would always be stuck behind slower riders, or stuck in front of someone wanting to pass. You could only go 45 km/hr if everyone on the track was physically able to go that speed.

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