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HumanCar aims for a healthy planet with healthy drivers

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March 1, 2010

The HumanCar Impulse PS NEV for a greener planet and a healthier you

The HumanCar Impulse PS NEV for a greener planet and a healthier you

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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.

History

The 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).

HumanCar aims for a healthy planet with healthy drivers

NEV

The 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 Body Steering driver's seat of the HumanCar

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 Building

With 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 Appeal

Key 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 Generation

The 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 Generator

The 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.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
13 Comments

The technology behind this is no rocket science for it to cost $75,000 or $15,500 later on as the company claims. While the technology has great potential for use in places which are basically off the grid such as remote villages, the cost prohibits its use here. Also, I feel at these prices it is never going to be penetrate the imagination of a country such as India where gas guzzling, environmentally unfriendly vehicles are still very high on the aspirational list, while using one’s own power to go from A to B is considered infra dig, so much so that even appearing to expend one’s energy to accomplish this is a big no-no.

Mohammad R Himayathullah
2nd March, 2010 @ 07:17 am PST

The Human Car Impulse reminds me of a Mennonite that I met 15 years ago. He couldn't afford a horse, so he cobbled up a buggy with pedals for the driver and passengers. Here's the great part. Imagine his black canvas buggy going down the road with three people pedaling with hands AND feet, and the the driver with feet only! The buggy did have a yoke for a horse- someday.

foghorn
2nd March, 2010 @ 08:38 am PST

I think it's a great concept car. And I applaud the first step. But the design as it stands has little mass appeal (IMO). If the idea is to address an obese nation then your gonna need a wider vehicle. Also not sure if everyone wants the convertible. I can envision it as a replacement golf/utility car for an active membership club or maybe a cool party/beach rental vehicle. Can't wait to see the next gen of these.

TheSaleem
2nd March, 2010 @ 09:51 am PST

huh? WTH is this? You gotta be really full of yourself to think that this is a good idea!

Ed
2nd March, 2010 @ 12:19 pm PST

As a test bed for technology it has moved the benchmark forward. The body needs more refinement for year round use in the Northeast US and less drag. The width in traffic is an issue if top speed is limited to 25 mph. Consider an alternative vehicle such as an electric mountain bike with a fairing for less than $1,500 USD.

Grant-53
2nd March, 2010 @ 01:56 pm PST

it might prove to be useful or trendy rentals on some stretches of sand and sea ...

but at current or even future prices i think i'll invest in new shoes ...

hourglass
2nd March, 2010 @ 05:58 pm PST

If it was cheap I'd like it, but at those prices I don't. Can a single person drive it on their own? You can't beat a bicycle in the end. Just a regular ordinary bike. The most efficient mode of transport ever invented.

Pieter
2nd March, 2010 @ 07:22 pm PST

This has to be the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard. Converting the pedal energy into foreward motion directly is much more efficient than it is to first convert it into electricity (huge loss) which is then stored into batteries (again loss), which is then again converted into foreward motion via an electric motor (again loss).

So it would be much better to just have the whole thing pedal powered instead. But then of course you could not market it like that, right?

Finally, they think they can ask 15k for that?

This is ridiculous and it is ludicrous and it is not going to sell and they will fail.

Skipjack
3rd March, 2010 @ 01:01 am PST

Happy to respond-

* HC has developed a custom user programmable CPU w/ a multiplexing trans-axle to accommodate a bionic interface -- and significantly -- the highest output in the world at 3.1kW. Try that DARPA. There's a ton of black art underneath the deck.

* As far as India (or any other place) to quote Chopra - "a shift in consciousness is a shift in biology" HC will be the provocative firm to suggest that the vapid notion of "buying things with money one does not have to impress people they don't like" and insisting on driving the SUV is a spiritual end-game. We know this as it's happening in the epicenter - right here.

* The first step is actually a platform for an entire line of vehicles. The HOTTI™ 350kg e-supercar, the FM4 based Dr's w/o Borders model (utilitarian and the pure form of HC) this current platform will take up to a 200hp motor system.

* HC product will be mass produced out of recycled plastics and low-tech versions of our current hardware will be mated to units given out for near free with co-opted branding & distribution partnerships...

* We have placed the entire auto industry on notice with the Imagine and kids know their parents vehicles are boat anchors... it's about the youth.

chuck_g
3rd March, 2010 @ 08:50 am PST

this vehicle is ridiculous,,, ugly to look at, it looks like something clowns would arrive in, also the price is a joke, so for me, no thanks

robinyatesuk2003
4th March, 2010 @ 03:45 am PST

THEY FORGOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: BLACK WINDOWS FOR THAT CASE WHEN A PORCHE HAPPENS TO BE AT THE NEXT LANE ON THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS AND YOU WANT TO HIDE YOUR FACE.

Chris7527
4th March, 2010 @ 09:39 am PST

Great Idea but still in its infancy. I can see many people using something similar but I guess we would like to see a two seater with a narrow frame with some carving mechanism which would make it ride like a motorbike or bicycle. Absurd? Not really, look at the success of the mp3 from Piaggio. Ugly yes but it put few people that were scared of the two wheels on the road. We also need to see a sporting event with some great on/off road vehicle agility. Mad? Maybe... We'll see...

Patrick Luppi
4th March, 2010 @ 03:04 pm PST

I do not believe how STUPID some of these comments are. Obviously seventh graders or something.

Do you kids even have a CLUE what a car costs? Or a backup generator? OR GASOLINE? Yeah, and I'm SURE you've ever done a day's shopping on your little two-wheelers.

My round-trip to work is 30 miles, and it's a rare day that traffic is moving at better than 30 mph. My car, which cost considerably more than $15K, USED, and never mind the repairs and maintenance, is hardly a gas-duzzler at 28 mph highway (more like 18 in traffic).

You're so full of yourselves; YOU do the math.

Put a roof on it, and I am all over it like a dog on a bone.

Find a way to hook it up to my dog's tail, and SHE'L be all over it like a bone. The faster she wags, the faster the car goes!

The Die Hard
1st May, 2011 @ 12:13 am PDT
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