Maybe you've already seen it on YouTube: it looks like the love child of a pedal car and a rowing scull with four grinning people aboard, pumping away at giant levers, sliding back and forth on their seats as they ride through a series of rural and urban settings.
They call it the HumanCar "FM-4," for "Fully Manual-4 people," the culmination of an idea that first came to its creator, Charley Greenwood, in 1968 when he was stuck in traffic commuting to his job in Silicon Valley.
"My car and all the cars around me were idling, and I noticed that all the other drivers were flabby and out of shape," Greenwood said. "They were all candidates for heart disease and diabetes, sitting in idling cars not going anywhere. To me, that seemed like the height of insanity."
There had to be a better way to move people, Greenwood decided, and he was determined to invent it.It Takes A Rocket Scientist
Taking the skills he had accumulated as a backyard hot-rodder and combining them with his professional training as a mechanical engineer (Cal State University, 1968), Greenwood designed and manufactured the FM-4 prototype, which he patented in 2001. Utilizing a unique rowing mechanism for its propulsion system, the FM-4 eschews a traditional steering wheel for a lean-and-steer setup similar to bikes or motorcycles. Greenwood's experience with rocket design (he worked on the Titan I missile) helped in the design of the FM-4's monocoque, stressed-skin construction. Aluminum and other lightweight materials enabled the vehicle's curb weight to stay under 700 pounds and within NHTSA's guidelines for neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV). To address safety concerns, Greenwood opted for a stepover design rather than incorporating doors.
"The stepover design gives us a 360-degree defensive shield around the passengers," Greenwood said. "My experience with stress analysis and as a hot-rodder allowed me to reduce the number of parts and mass. I firmly believe that cars do not have to have all that stuff, cost that much, and weigh that much. You don't need a four-thousand-pound vehicle just to go across town."The Imagine_PS: the World's First Bionic-Human Hybrid
Work on the FM-4 set the stage for the next step in the evolution of Greenwood's concept:the Imagine_PS (Power Station), which he describes as "the world's first bionic-human hybrid" vehicle. Elements of the FM-4 were incorporated into the Imagine_PS which adds two electric motors capable of generating four horsepower. A quartet of off-the-shelf automotive batteries provides power storage. "A single operator can run the Imagine_PS in electric-power-only mode, or any combination of human and electric power," Greenwood explained. "It can also operate as a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, as a mobile power generator, or in vehicle-to-grid (V2G) mode."
Other available features include a human/machine interface display with GPS and biometric data logging, integrated MP3-player sound systems, and Bluetooth-compatible onboard computing/communications devices.
"I view the Imagine_PS more as a computer operating system in that it can be transported across various platforms to serve many different needs," Greenwood said. "It's not merely a mode of transportation."
Although capable of a top speed of 62 mph, the Imagine_PS is limited to 45 mph; it can be limited to 25 mph where state law requires. Depending on the type of battery pack, range varies from 20 miles in "sprinter" configuration and up to 40 miles when in "commuter" mode.
"Range could triple with an advanced battery pack or an evolutionary next-generation propulsion system," Greenwood said.Taking the Concept Global
Greenwood has big plans for the various iterations of his invention. "For places such as Africa, we are developing a two-person mobile power station that will fold into a suitcase and may be used to generate electricity and pump and purify water," he said. "Our colleagues in Seoul tell us that ten years ago there was not a 'car problem' and now it has become unbearable. This situation could be addressed by replacing city commuting in cars with human/electric hybrids. On the other end of the development spectrum, with new cities such as Masdar, Abu Dhabi, advanced vehicles such as the Imagine_PS may prove to be a sustainable method of transportation."
Greenwood is confident that a market exists for his ideas.
"Our Web site is getting fifteen thousand hits per day from all around the globe," he enthused. "We have achieved international grassroots support from our YouTube videos and word of mouth, demonstrating that the populist appeal is worldwide. New concepts like the Imagine_PS and the FM-4 are able to take advantage of this new communications technology, something that has never happened before."Build It And They Will Buy ... And Save The Planet?
Manufacturing facilities are the next hurdle Greenwood must overcome, but he remains optimistic. "Right now we have more than 200 pre-orders on hand for the Imagine_PS. Production on a commercial scale requires a number of manufacturing partnerships but our scalable manufacturing facility is ready to be cloned worldwide, with existing up-market automobile networks serving as our distribution channels."
Greenwood summed up his philosophy of the HumanCar succinctly and ambitiously.
"It's our goal to provide an alternative in every sector of human mobility," he stated. "Almost every home on the planet could use an inexpensive and uninterruptible power system. A power system that also serves as a car is a major advancement. We are grateful to have this rare opportunity in civilization to create profound change, make healthy people and save the environment that we all share and cherish."If you're interested in being a part of the HumanCar revolution, the company will take your deposit for $50 on the Imagine_PS and the full MSRP rings in at $15,500.