HumanCar aims for a healthy planet with healthy drivers
By Darren Quick
March 1, 2010
At first glance it might look a bit like an elongated pedal car for kids, but its designers are convinced the HumanCar Imagine PS is a serious player in the search for cleaner, greener ways to get around. The vehicle converts the rowing motion of the driver and any passengers into rotational thrust to charge a battery and power the vehicle in conjunction with an electric motor. So not only is it healthy for the planet – it is healthy for the occupants too. And as an added bonus the vehicle can also be used store energy and act as a backup power generator to provide electricity to the home.
HistoryThe HumanCar is the brainchild of Chief Scientist/Engineer Charles Samuel Greenwood P.E., who first hit upon the idea for a human powered car some 40 years ago. Sitting in a traffic jam in Silicon Valley in 1968 Greenwood noticed the many overweight commuters sitting in their cars breathing in noxious exhaust fumes. He was inspired to create a modest modification to vehicles that would reduce the need for conventional fuel, while at the same time providing exercise.
Searching for a full-body workout Greenwood eschewed a bicycle-type mechanism in favor of the rowing-like mechanism and developed the forerunner to the Impulse PS, the FM-4 (Fully Manual – 4 people). This was a research “skeleton” car that was built to test the concept of a human powered vehicle and the lessons it provided eventually led to the development of the Impulse PS (Power Station).
NEVThe innovative vehicle is dubbed an NEV because it falls into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) classification for low speed vehicles. So although the HumanCar is capable of reaching speeds of around 62 mph (100 km/h) it is limited to 25 mph (around 40 km/h) to comply with the classification.
The car includes seating for four, with rowing handlebars for each passenger. It can be powered by one, two, three or four people, the battery-powered electric motor, or any combination of human and electric power. The battery can also be charged via a standard electrical outlet if you feel you’ve had your quota of exercise for the day.
To make the most out of the power generated the vehicle also incorporates a regenerative braking system and an advanced power system to enhance overall efficiency. Because steering using the rowing handles would be too difficult to control the vehicle is steered by "Body Steering" (read leaning into turns). According to Chuck Greenwood, HumanCar Inc. CEO and son of Charles Greenwood, this is apparently much more intuitive (not to mention more fun) than using a conventional steering wheel.
The vehicle’s custom CPU operates off trigger buttons on the center brake handle to engage functions such as regenerative power, power up and cruise control. Other available features include a human/machine interface (HMI) touch-screen display with GPS and biometric data logging, iPod integrated sound systems, and Bluetooth compatible on-board computing/communications devices. The vehicle is especially suited to generate the power required to operate these devices. An all-weather foldout ragtop roof is also available for commuting in the rain.
Team BuildingWith much of the interest in the HumanCar focusing on the environmental and physical health advantages of the car, it’s easy to overlook one of the side benefits – the social aspect. According to its developers the car engenders feelings of teamwork and social bonding amongst the occupants. After all, there’s nothing like working together to forge some team spirit. And although that’s no doubt true when trips in the HumanCar are still a novelty, I can’t help imagining arguments emanating from the back seats on family outings with one sibling blaming another for not pulling their weight – but maybe that’s just my family.
Universal AppealKey to the HumanCar concept is the chassis itself, which has been designed to adapt as technology evolves. The universal design of the chassis means it can use many different power systems and batteries, controls and motors and all these components can be upgraded without needing to replace the entire vehicle.
In the near future the company also plans to integrate proximity braking systems and multi-stage airbags into production units. And as features such as park assist and crash control become more "off the shelf" they will also be integrated.
Versions that employ “more traditional operator inputs” are also in development.
Electricity GenerationThe HumanCar isn’t just a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle either. It can also function as an exercise-based human electric power station, or in vehicle-to-grid (V2G) mode to feed electricity back into the grid. A report on CNN showed four people rowing for a couple of minutes generated enough electricity to power a PC for well over an hour. So if you don’t need to go anywhere you can jump in the car for some exercise that will generate electricity for your home or to be fed back into the grid.
DUET GEN Home Power GeneratorThe company is also taking this idea further by planning to release a home power generator product called the DUET GEN. This is a two-person unit that is also modular to fit the chassis system used in the HumanCar vehicle and is small enough to fold up and fit in a large suitcase. The device is perfect for anyone wanting a way to get fit and help the environment but aren’t yet willing or able to take the full plunge on the HumanCar vehicle.
Already the company has received more than 200 orders for the current Imagine, which are currently being produced as pure research/exotics with a price of US$75,000. Full commercial production of the Imagine PS will begin once the break even point of around 800 orders are reached, which looks to be sometime this year. The vehicles will be priced at US$15,500 each.
For the moment the HumanCar is limited to non-highway or ‘neighborhood’ roads, but there are higher performance versions under development that are planned for highway travel.
There’s no doubt that in the race for green power the human body has been overlooked in favor of alternative fuel sources such as biofuels, hydrogen etc. But the human body is a veritable powerhouse that so many of us under utilize – as our expanding waistlines will attest to. With the majority of car trips people make falling into the short, local variety the Impulse PS could well be a viable, reasonably priced alternative that not only helps the planet, but helps the health of its occupants too.
For more info, or to place an order head to HumanCar's website.