AOL Autos on HumanCar Inc.
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.”