Get inside an individual transport cartridge, comfortably lay your back and choose your destination. You just need to cycle softly and forget the rest to put yourself in movement. If you get bored with television, you have got the option for enjoying a 360º panoramic view above your metropolis, as you are lifted up by a track running through the heart of the city. Welcome to an alternative mean of transport from the future.
In 2008, Google, celebrating its tenth birthday, released a challenge: ten thousand dollars to share with who could create ideas or projects which could help to change the world into a better place and, at the same time, embrace a big amount of people.
This challenge was evidently noticed and, two years later, approximately 150 thousand ideas from 170 countries were sent to the company's headquarter, at California. However, only five were contemplated with the "huge" North-American multinational's check. At the Innovation for Public Transport category, the lucky winner was Schweeb, an idea full of originality.
The name comes from the German term "schweben", which means "float", a verb that says a lot about this project. The basic idea is easy to understand and weird to be seen. Imagine a transport system based on vehicles moved by human force -- specifically from cycling, just like with bicycle. Ok. But the difference is that you'll be cycling along a track, inside a transparent cartridge from where we can see the streets of the city down there. Does it sound breathtaking?
Well, that's Schweeb, a creation from Geoffrey Barnett's mind -- a guy who intends to make people literally skycycle.
With one million dollars from Google's prize, the project has its own prototype and stands as one of the solutions for urban transports of short and middle distances. The target is being "sustainable" and "eco-friendly", two concepts that, despite their cliché applies, are still exigencies.
With no need for fossil fuels, cheap, away from road accidents and even allows a physical exercise. That's how Schweeb intends to convince those who want to get away from inactivity and endless traffic jams.
Geoffrey Barnett was raised on Melbourne surroundings, and since a tender age he has got two passions: bicycle trips and "gadgets-making" inside the shed of his house. After licensing in Arts he went to Japan, working as an English teacher. And it was at a non-stop Tokyo, among 35 million inhabitants and watching the road traffic's delay, that an idea started to float inside his head: and if you could "cycle" over all that asphalt-and-motors chaos through an interlinked tracks system?
The poet says "Man dreams, the work arises", and that's exactly what Barnett did. When he came back to Australia, he stared working on a model that could turn his idea into something practical. After six years, divided between sketches and several prototypes' test, the first Schweeb sample was ready.
On a theory that can visualize the applying of this project on a city, as the traveler uses the Schweeb until his destiny, he can read, write, talk on his cellphone, listen music our even watch television inside the cartridge. He only needs to program his destination place at the vehicle's software and it takes care of everything. The traveler only need to cycle a little bit, and nothing else.
Taking this idea into another level, the user can take this transport whenever he wants and with no waiting rows at one of the stations built to attend this system, without depending on fixed time-tables. Cartridges will be always waiting for another passenger.
Analyzing this promise, would it finally be the end of stress attacks in automobiles and public transports?
... and the work arises
Rotorua's touristic zone, in New Zealand, became the perfect display window to show and experiment Schweeb's technology. Although it is now used only for those who are craving for adventure tourism, the truth is that people's reaction will be important to amend this technology to an urban environment. The prize given by Google will help this ambition.
Schweebs' aerodynamics and mechanisms were conceived in order to maximize its efficiency, eliminating rubbing sources and demanding nothing from cycling on tracks. Thus, as Barnett explains, an average person can easily keep a 20 or 30 km/h speed during a long period of time. As an alternative, electricity can be used to move the cartridge, and nor everything will depend on human effort. Make the users sweat definitely isn't the target here.
The building of the first public transport system with the Schweeb technology will turn into reality, and the place where it will be installed will be announced really soon.
There's only a huge doubt about if this project, as an urban transport, can be really applied on a large scale, at big cities. By now, it's early to answer this question. Despite there are important questions in need for quick and fast answers.
For example, what can be done with a more and more worldly increasing urban population? In 1950 there were 700 million inhabitants (30% of world population); in 2010, there were 3,5 trillion inhabitants (50%); the estimative for 2050 is 6,4 trillion people (70%) living in cities. In other words, how the hyper-crowded citizens of the future will dislocate?
Maybe they will have to Schweeb through the skies of New York, London or Tokyo.