There aren’t many ways to make traffic jams productive. You can make phone calls, listen to audio books, or practice your calming breathing exercises. But none of them help you escape the reality of being trapped in a metal box, surrounded by thousands of other metal boxes, all performing a dance forwards, slowly, foot by foot, across the asphalt.
A Saudi Arabian inventor, Nasser Al Shawaf, decided he wanted the ability to do something useful with his hours in the car every day: exercise. He commissioned the services of a Dutch automotive engineering group, BPO, which set to work figuring out how the heck to do that.
“I didn’t say you’re crazy, because that’s not the best thing to say to a new client, but I said it’s quite challenging,” says Oscar Brocades Zaalberg, BPO founder.
But the firm agreed to figure it out, and the result, via some even more bizarre sounding prototypes, is a car with bike pedals where the normal pedals should be. To move forwards, you better pump your legs. Your pedaling is converted into an electrical current, which is used to trigger the accelerator. Pedal faster, and the car moves faster. It’s like a real-life version of a high-tech Peloton virtual spin class, crossed with the somewhat lower tech of Fred Flintstone’s open-floored car.
BPO started its experiments simply. “We developed a mockup from wood, to see if it’s possible to row, or bike in a car,” says Brocades Zaalberg. Guess what? “Rowing is very dangerous, there’s not enough room,” he says. But pedaling turned out to be surprisingly easy to both do in a confined space, and to use to operate a car.
The next step was to install a prototype into a Smart car, which, for a tiny vehicle, has a good amount of space inside. The rig looks like the bottom half of a small exercise bike. His engineers went into the car’s throttle controls and replaced the signal from the one accelerator pedal, with the signal from the two spinning pedals, and installed a hand-operated brake. And then they were somewhat surprised when it all worked very well on a track. “When you give it a try, it’s so logical, just to step in the car and to drive away by pedaling,” says Brocades Zaalberg. Mind you, he cycles to work in the Netherlands, so may have been more comfortable with the motion than most American drivers.
Next up was an Audi A4 Avant wagon, with a 2-liter gasoline engine and an automatic gearbox. As before, the bike pedals don’t provide any extra power or motion, they just trigger the movement of the car which is powered by its normal engine. There are three settings, slow, fast, and no drive, to allow different pedaling speeds in different types of traffic, or just to sit there stationary, working up a sweat. Hardcore spinners can even dial up the resistance to make pedaling harder, but may want to think carefully about the length of their commute.
This car is a proof of concept, and probably appeals to a very limited market of people who spend too much time on the road to make it to the gym. They’re the same people who’ve moved beyond standing desks in the office and now have those slow moving treadmill desks. And it’s not a crazy use of time. There is evidence to show that sitting too much isn’t healthy, with some health experts branding it the new smoking. The car pedals could help a driver burn 300-odd calories in 30 minutes.
So being active in your car might come with health benefits. But what about safety? The Dutch road safety authority has checked out the Audi, and says as far as they’re concerned it’s legal for regular streets. The hand-operated brake is a standard retrofit for cars for disabled drivers, and there are no guidelines on what form an accelerator pedal must take. So Brocades Zaalberg is getting ready for a new round of tests.
Brocades Zaalberg swears it’s super easy to modulate your speed with the pedals, and that it becomes intuitive, very quickly. He doesn’t see any problems with people zipping out into small gaps in traffic just by spinning their feet, though crash safety is another issue. Modern cars are carefully designed to protect the lower legs of front seat occupants, with knee airbags and deformable pedals. BPO will look at that in a future iteration of the invention. It also wants to come up with a system that folds away under the driver’s seat when it’s not in use, so the car can be driven normally sometimes (or all the time, when the novelty wears off).
Long term, the inventors hope to get an automaker or aftermarket kit-maker to build and sell the equipment for “healthier” cars. But for now, only the one Audi has the extra pedals, so if you want to the experience of spinning your feet in traffic, get on yer bike.
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This story has not been edited by Topic Hunt (with the possible exception of the headline) and has been generated from a syndicated feed. (Wired)