It might sound like a character dreamed up by Dr. Seuss, but Google is banking that the Schweeb could help transform the way we get around. Pairing a recumbent bubble bicycle and monorail, the Schweeb is among the five winners—out of 150,000 submissions—of Google’s Project 10^100, a call for ideas that could change the world. The goliath dot-com is awarding the Schweeb’s creators $1 million to test it in an urban setting. (Until then, anyone wanting to give it a go will have to hop over to New Zealand, where the Schweeb is an amusement park ride at the Agroventures Park in Rotorua.)
“The cost of innovation in public transportation is often very high—sometimes in the billions of dollars,” says Google spokesperson Jamie Yood. “We looked for a concrete project where the funding available to us with Project 10^100 has the potential to yield impact. Schweeb’s innovative approach towards low-cost and environmentally friendly urban transport has the potential for significant impact in the future.”
The last time a company proclaimed an invention that would revolutionize urban transportation was 2001 when Dean Kamen announced his Segway Personal Transporter. (That machine made news this week when the British businessman who recently bought the Segway company unfortunately died after riding his scooter off a cliff and into a river near his Yorkshire estate.) Kamen envisioned cities without cars and only Segways. That dream obviously didn’t come to fruition. Will the Schweeb have a better shot?
Ryan Singel over at Wired isn’t convinced. He writes:
“Google must have gotten 149,996 stupid suggestions for this to have gotten funding. Monorails are kind-of cool in that Disney-theme-park way, and recumbents are efficient bicycles--if entirely unsuitable for daily, urban cycling. But combining the two is something not even the worst sci-fi writer would conjure up. Can you imagine how sweaty and stinky these things would become? If I’m going to pedal something to get somewhere, it’s going to be using a bike that can actually turn and take me to my destination. Moreover, these things are bound to be slow, and will probably need a large staff of attendants, like a theme-park ride, to ensure that people get on and off safely.”
When the Segway was introduced, critics pointed to its lack of protection from the elements. The Schweeb’s bubbly design seems to have that particular problem covered, but the sweat factor could be a sticky issue.