Proof that Google has more money than sense?


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Proof that Google has more money than sense?

Posted 27 September 2010 09:43 by martin

A couple of years ago, (the company's philanthropic arm) launched its “10 to the power of 100” (= the number 'googol') campaign.

They invited people to submit ideas that would “change the world by helping as many people as possible”.

People from more than 170 countries submitted more than 150,000 ideas.  Google selected 16, and the public got to vote for their top 5, which have received $10 million between them.

One of the categories was to “drive innovation in public transport”, and the winning entry was Shweeb – a “concept for short to medium distance, urban personal transport, using human-powered vehicles on a monorail”.  Google are providing $1 million to fund research and development to test Shweeb’s technology for an urban setting.

Here's the promotional video:

It looks enormous fun, and would be a great addition to somewhere like Alton Towers.

But as a serious urban public transport choice? Surely it's massively over-engineered nonsense!? One of the few advantages over a bicycle that I can see is that it's covered (and in a hot climate, that actually might be a problem).

Am I missing something (and/or just being a curmudgeon…)?

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  1. James says:

    September 27th, 2010 at 2:17 pm (#)

    I thought I recognised the agroventures name behind this – I went on their swoop ride a few years back at Rotorua. It is, indeed, a giant adventure attraction, albeit one that involves a bit more effort & energy expenditure than normal. Which just may be why it stands a chance of succeeding.

    Yes, it is over-engineered, yes a bike would be easier and more convenient, yes its difficult to imagine be-suited city gents & their briefcases squeezing in to one of these (let alone the broader potential for embarrassment of being a skirt-wearing lady suspended a small distance above the curious gaze of an entire metropolis in a see-through plastic tube) and yes, I don't know what the system will do if someone in the pod in front keels over / decides to stop (although presumably they'll get pushed by the back log of those behind – which may rapidly incentivise lots of 'break-downs'), but I can possibly imagine how a free and well-designed system with an intelligent route could encourage people to use this system over short distances rather than use motorised transport.

    Of course, the likelihood may be that the motorised being substituted is other public transport rather than cars, in which case the net benefits might be more questionable, but then again, healthy competition (such as that also provided by might also spur public transport operators to improved services, better value, etc.

    On balance, I'm inclined to agree with your overall assessment and feel that the $1 million could have been more intelligently spent elsewhere, but there remains a small part of me that feels that we've been trying to crack this “innovative public transport” problem for several decades with more logical thinking, to no obvious avail, so maybe a bonkers solution is what we need next to jolt thinking onto more nonsensical, but just possibly successful, lines.

  2. Fran says:

    September 27th, 2010 at 2:46 pm (#)

    Can't imagine it catching on as a form of mass transportation – can you imagine how sweaty they would smell in the hot weather, and what people might do in them after a drunken night out??? Maybe as a visitor attraction high above oxford street though…

    Your not being curmudgeonly Jamie. There are clearly much better things they could be spending their money on.

  3. Stephen Psallidas says:

    October 8th, 2010 at 12:01 pm (#)

    Well I am a bit more charitable, I think it could work but is not going to revolutionise sustainable transport. Where it could work is if there is a specific journey A > B where there is a severely congested road or physical barriers (rivers etc). It is in effect a trendy/wacky form of cycling, without the need to worry about rain and weather, or the dangers (perceived or real) on the roads, so it might appeal to some 'nervous' potential cyclists, and as I say if it is set up for a specific A > B trip (and return) then this might get around the issue of 'pod congestion'. If you start introducing intermediate stations, or a whole network of monorail routes, then I am struggling to see how it would work. And of course the cost of setting up such a system might be better used to just install high-quality conventional highway-based cycling/walking routes.

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