We've seen our fair share of elevated-track transport systems, but the Shweeb is a little bit different. It's like a bicycle track, except it's built 19 feet (5.8 meters) above ground level where it barely impacts existing road use. And the bicycles are recumbent, built inside clear pods, adding an element of comfort. The founder, Geoff Barnett, got the idea while traveling in Tokyo, where, he says, everyone rides bikes and almost everything is encapsulated.
Shweeb prides itself on its efficiency -- though the pods are pedal-operated by the user, they go a lot faster than walking, using a lot less human effort than walking. (Even though Shweeb touts the aerobic benefits, they point out that the effort needed to pedal is minimal, so users should be able to maintain a comfortable body temperature while traveling better speeds and distances.) Shweeb says that speeds achieved on its curved prototype track indicate that on a long straightaway, the pods are capable of being pedaled faster than an Olympic cyclist. They're extremely aerodynamic and have low rolling resistance, so that a faster rider will be able to push a slower rider from behind with minimal extra effort. Shweeb also claims that most disabled riders will be able to use the pods, and there are no weight limits, so the pods should be comfortable for everyone. There's also the energy factor. The Shweeb rails are powered to enable sensor and safety systems, but the pods themselves move under human power. Shweeb says the system is zero emission -- more energy efficient than other modes of mass transit.
Once the systems are installed and achieve widespread use, Shweeb expects them to handle a high capacity of users. There's no buffer distance required between pods, and users can exit the track at stations without disturbing other pods, so in theory, the line can be completely full without affecting the speed of travel. Shweeb pods require no steering or mechanical input other than pedaling, so busy commuters would be happy. The pods are cushioned from impact, so they're safe (a buffer converts an impact from behind into forward motion). The pod's wheels are enclosed within the track, so Shweeb claims a derailment incident is simply impossible. And a series of computer sensors and human staff will always be watching to ensure there are no emergencies within individual pods. And the pods themselves allow 360-degree views from above -- definitely a different perspective on the morning commute.
For now, Shweeb's prototype system, installed in a New Zealand amusement park, is accessible to the public...but its capabilities are being tested by recreation-seekers who race the pods against each other. In 2010, Google invested a million bucks, hoping to make the system more widespread by 2012 for urban commuting, corporate and college campuses and possibly even tourist attractions in scenic areas. It hasn't happened yet, but the Shweeb Monorail still shows promise for a fun and engaging transportation system.