A NEW Zealand company has won a seven-figure sum from internet giant Google to turn its pioneering pedal-powered monorail into the future of city transport.
Shweeb Holdings beat more than 150,000 other ideas and inventions to a US$1 million (just over AUD$1 million) award from Google, after a two-year global search.
The cash will help the company to develop its monorail, which has operated at a Rotorua adventure park since 2007, into a "mass transit" system for use in traffic-clogged, skyscraper-strewn cities.
More than 30,000 riders have already whizzed in the transparent pods around a 200m track outside Rotorua.
The idea came to Australian Geoff Barnett, a keen cyclist interested in sustainable transport, when he lived in Tokyo a decade ago.
He figured that travelling on overhead cycle monorails had to be better than being stuck in traffic jams or building more roads.
After six years of developing the concept in Melbourne, he chose the established adventure playground of Rotorua as a natural venue for tourists and others to test-ride it.
Mr Barnett said potential sites were being investigated in Europe, the United States and Japan.
Even so, he believed that the system would always carry a strong New Zealand stamp, fitting this country's "pure and green" image and having been tested here.
Although users have to pedal their pods like bicycles, they do so while lying backwards, and greater aerodynamic efficiency means that they expend only half the energy needed on the road.
Shweeb managing director Peter Cossey said speeds of up to 47km/h had been reached in three-lap races on the Rotorua course.
He expected commuters would travel at a more leisurely 20km/h or so, about 6m above the ground to keep clear of traffic and pedestrians, and in "trains" of pods for even greater efficiency.
The pods were safer than terrestrial vehicles as "you don't crash into anything and you can't come off the rail".
Shweeb's commitment to Google was to develop a scheme that would help to move "more people with less energy, greater efficiency and fewer casualties".
In return for its grant, Google will gain a 25 per cent shareholding in Shweeb, with the proviso that any profits made by the internet company will go to a charitable trust for the betterment of public transport.
•The other four Google prize-winners are non-profit educational organisations such as a United States group wanting to provide internet access to government legal documents.
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