That’s it. For the last time you’ve tossed your bicycle over the bridge. The traffic is maddening, the weather is ruining your stylish hair, and you’ve had just about all you can take of your leg being eaten by gear teeth as you round that one curve.
If only there were a human-powered, weatherproof container that rises above all of the madness. It just so happens, there is, and it’s called… the Shweeb. The goal is simple, provide an urban transportation system that elevates the rider above the bustle of the city, providing a clean, fast commute.
There’s an interesting story of how the Shweeb came about and Geoffrey Barnett, Inventor and Director, was kind enough to lay out the design process and trials he went through along the way.
The Shweeb, a derivation from the German word “schweben” [ ʃvɛbən ] meaning to “float” or “suspend”, could be the perfect type of transportation for many people in highly congested areas, but you won’t see them racing above your head yet. Currently, the only place you can experience the Shweeb is in Rotorua, New Zealand where it reside as one of the main attractions of the Agroventures Adventure Park. Below, Geoff provides a great view into the process of going from paper to CAD, back to paper and how he dealt with issues that can be, oh so familiar in a design process.
The Story of the Shweeb
I first had the idea of a pedal powered urban transport system nine years ago. I’ve always loved riding a bike but I don’t like getting rained on, and I don’t like punctures! I realized that if you mixed a recumbent bicycle with a monorail, you’d get an incredibly efficient machine that you could ride through a city at high speed in complete safety.
I worked on it for six years full time to get from the a paper sketch to opening a fully operational and income-generating racetrack. I’m not an engineer, but I love designing and building things.
After years of working alone on the drawing board and building a prototype on a 16m track in the back yard, I engaged some consulting engineers to help design it to a point where it could pass the Safety Standards and be approved for public use. That was my first introduction to CAD. They used AutoDesk® Inventor® and I was blown away by what it could do. They claimed that it wasn’t necessary to build any more prototypes, because the CAD model would show you whether it worked or not.
They knew all the factories to which they could send their electronic files for quotes and fabrication. The only problem was, in order to open the Shweeb as a tourist attraction I ended up choosing to build the track and vehicles in a small town where few people worked with CAD files, and no one had heard of Inventor®. I was in the ridiculous situation of having to convert highly complex 3D CAD parts back into 2D pen and paper drawings so that local workshops could rebuild the 3D part as an set of X,Y,Z co-ordinates for their CNC machines.
There were several other points where CAD and reality had a falling out. Inventor® has a fabulous sheet metal design mode where you can create intricate DXF files that can be sent straight to the laser cutters. On my screen I had folded a seat base into a four-sided box. That may be possible on the screen, but at the sheet metal shop, the brake press can only fold three sided boxes – one side needs to stay open to get the machine in to make the fold. Uh-oh! Secondly, I left the chain out of the CAD model because it was too fiddly. Sure enough, when I tried to put the chain on the sprockets, there was a plate steel bracket right in the middle of my chain path. Bring out the grinder! Thirdly, when I was creating my CAD model I didn’t leave any margin for error. The bent tubes that looked so neat on my computer screen came back from the workshop warped and twisted. It was very hard to fit them in with the other parts.
As I got further into the difficulties of building my fleet of ten vehicles I heard a couple of the local metalworkers murmur that you should always build and test a new design first before going into mass production. But I chose to go ahead and build ten vehicles based on my faith in the CAD model. A few months later and the racetrack opened and everyone loved riding it. The design was sound. If I had tried to build a test track and a test vehicle I would have run out of time and money very quickly. Inventor had allowed me to skip the prototype stage and go straight from a CAD model to a money making business.
I’m now in discussions with dozens of people in countries all around the world to build racetracks, scenic routes and transport links.
Ready to see it in action? Here, Geoff gives Dermott, host of Getaway Australia a sample of what the Shweeb can do.