Tech Universe 2013 favourites: Terrific transport

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

GLIDING ON: The Solowheel is a gyro-stabilised electric unicycle.
Apart from a couple of footpegs, it has a battery, the wheel, a stabiliser and a carry handle, but no seat. The wheel can carry to up to 16 Km at up to 16 Kph and weighs 11 Kg. The Lithium-Ion battery takes an hour to recharge. Two wheels good; one wheel better.

ANY BIKE YOU LIKE: If you need to get around in New York you might consider joining up with Citi Bike. Thousands of bikes are available for hire at hundreds of stations around New York. Each station has a touchscreen kiosk, a map of the area, and a docking system that releases bikes for rental with a card or key. Buy a 24-hour or 7-day pass, or sign up for an annual membership. Then use your code to release any bike, adjust the seat and ride to your destination. At the other end dock the bike again at any station.

What a great way to see a new city.

A NEW WHEEL: Bike wheels have spokes, as we all know. Except for Loopwheels — bicycle wheels with integral suspension. They're designed for smaller folding bikes that don't usually have any room for suspension. The wheels reduce vibration and give a smoother ride.

Rather than spokes radiating to the rim from a central hub, Loopwheels have 3 oval loops of carbon composite material between the hub and the rim. Aluminium extrusion connectors attach the springs to the hub and rim. That's a clever idea.

INSPIRING BIKES: In London they're making some big changes to the roads, adding two-way segregated cycle tracks along around 25 Km of bike routes. A network of Quietways will take cyclists along peaceful side streets so they can avoid dealing with heavy traffic. The goals including encouraging cycling and making it safer and more friendly, while reducing motor vehicles and air pollution. The scheme will also include analysing data on accidents, trials of electric bike hire schemes, integration with rail networks and even training. What an inspiration.

RIDE DRIVE: Imagine being able to mount an electric drive on your bicycle in less than a minute. That's what the Rubbee friction drive claims. It's a handheld unit that clips on to the seat post where a carrier might normally attach. Turn it on and a small polyurethane compound roller rubs against the tire like a dynamo, except instead of deriving power it provides it to push the wheel. A throttle on the handlebars allows the rider to control the power output. The drive claims 25 Kph for its top speed and a 25 Km range. It adds 6.5 Kg to the weight and can be recharged in 2 hours. Ingenious.

NODDING ALONG: You may use a wheelchair, but if you're paralysed from the neck down controlling it is a challenge. Unless you go for the new GyroSet system. It does away with things like chin-controlled joysticks or puffer tubes that make talking almost impossible. Instead the wheelchair user wears a headset. The headset constantly detects the position of the head, sending data wirelessly to an Android tablet that interprets the movements and signals the electric wheelchair to move. It's just a tilt to the left and a lean to the right.

AS THE WHEEL FOLDS: Even though wheelchairs may fold up for easy transport in a car or plane, their wheels don't get smaller. That's where the Morph Folding Wheelchair Wheel comes in. The wheel itself collapses from a circle to an elongated oval shape that can more easily fit into spaces designed for luggage. The wheel uses a solid tire and includes a hand rim that also collapses. In case you're wondering, the design of the wheel makes it impossible for it to collapse as long as the quick release axle is inserted through the hub. I wonder if the tire deteriorates quickly along the fold points?

GOING SWIMMINGLY: Wheelchairs and sand don't mix well, making it hard for wheelchair users to swim in the sea. In Greece though, where there's plenty of warm sea and sunshine, some locales have installed special wheelchair launching ramps. The person moves from their own chair at the top of the ramp into a special chair that then takes them down to and into the water on a fixed track. From there they can go for a swim. The system uses solar power and the chair user has a remote to operate the equipment. The Seatrac device can be taken down at the end of each season. Ramps for buildings are pretty much a given; it makes sense to have ramps for beaches as well.

CHAIR ON THE SIDE: There's a fundamental problem when one person is pushing another in a wheelchair: they can't easily chat because one is behind the other. It would be much easier and more sociable if they could be side by side. The Side by Side handlebar takes care of that.

It easily attaches near the front of the chair and is angled so pushing still makes the chair go straight ahead. The handlebar also includes a horn and light the rider can operate for themselves. Rubber grips, hollow metal tubing and a folding mechanism make the handlebar light and affordable. What a difference a little design makes.

TRUCK IN A BOX: The Ox is a truck designed for Africa. 6 of the trucks fit into a single shipping container when packed flat. Then each truck takes 3 people less than 12 hours using standard tools to assemble — no high-tech engineering degree required. The low-cost front-wheel drive vehicle is powered by a 2.2 litre diesel engine, weighs 1.7 tons, and can carry a maximum payload of 2.2 tons. It also has a wide track, high ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs, and can apparently drive through water nearly a meter deep.
It sounds as though it would also be easy to fix and maintain.

BUS ZAPS: Battery powered vehicles are quiet and don't in themselves discharge polluting gases into the air, but recharging them is always a problem. For public transport, such as buses, another approach is to string up trolley bus wires overhead, creating visual pollution. In Geneva, Switzerland, a pilot project will instead put fast-charge stations at certain bus stops. When the 135-seater bus stops to let off or pick up passengers it receives a 15-second energy boost via an automatic flash-charging mechanism. The system uses a laser-controlled moving arm, which connects to an overhead receptacle for charging at bus shelters, instead of the usual trolley poles to overhead lines. At the end of the bus line a 3 to 4 minute boost allows for a full recharge of the batteries. And they could always incorporate the charger into a bus stop as part of the shelter too.

KIWI GREEN: The Tindo solar electric bus runs in Adelaide, Australia, saving more than 14,000 litres of diesel and more than 70,000 Kg of CO2-e in its first year. It doesn't have solar panels on its roof though. Instead the solar panels are on the bus station, and regenerative braking adds to the energy savings. The air-conditioned bus has room for 40 passengers and can travel about 200 kilometres between recharges under typical urban conditions. Oh, and the bus was made by a New Zealand company. We should be seeing these all over our cities too.

ON THE ROAD: The Online Electric Vehicle is an electric bus that can be charged while stationary or while moving and is now in use in Gumi, South Korea. The bus charges its battery wirelessly from the road itself through a receiver installed on the underbody. Power comes from electrical cables buried under portions of the surface of the road, creating magnetic fields. A battery, smaller than that in a regular electric car, stores the charge and drives the bus. I wonder how the system copes with a fleet of buses, given that some wouldn't be able to stop above a charging point?

POD ALERT: Imagine a little driverless electric pod whisking you from the central train station to the city centre. Milton Keynes in the UK is about to give it a go with 100 pods running on specifically marked out lanes. The pods will travel along the wide pavements in the city at up to 20 Kph. Big enough to carry 2 passengers and luggage, they'll use sensors to avoid colliding with pedestrians and parked cars. 20 Kph is a pretty good speed along the pavement, special lanes or not.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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