Image: Human-electric car
HumanCar
The human powered HumanCar Imagine PS, which can seat four.
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updated 8/16/2010 3:44:50 PM ET 2010-08-16T19:44:50

Fred Flintstone could only dream of such a car. The HumanCar Imagine PS, a four-seater vehicle that uses hand cranks, can take on hills at 30 miles per hour, exceed 60 mph on flat terrain and is expected to hit the market next year.

HumanCar is the self-funded brainchild of Charles Samuel Greenwood, an engineer who has been working on developing the perfect human-powered vehicle since the late 1960s. Now, it looks like his car is actually getting somewhere. According to Autoblog Green, the lightweight Imagine PS is street legal and, if four people are cranking inside, can run on human power alone. "PS" stands for "power station," naturally. Based in Eugene, Ore., HumanCar Inc. is preparing to start producing the car.

The vehicle has electric plug-in capabilities, so it can still run if only one person is operating the hand-crank in a rowing-like motion (see the video showing the action here). When four people are all rowing, it can run on human power alone. This thing is truly a "human-electric" hybrid. The chassis is adaptable, and can work with different kinds of batteries and technology in the future without requiring an entirely new vehicle.

Getting it going looks a little bit like those wind-up toys: a few front-to-back pulls on the two-hand crank and it's ready to take off. Despite the physical requirement, the company says online that a senior citizen in decent shape could handle it and paraplegics have made suggestions on adaptability. The sleek vehicle could use a larger windshield, although there is apparently an all-weather shell available. Airbags are on the list to be included in future models. In the meantime, I'd probably wear a helmet while driving it.

Others have been hard at work on human powered cars, too. The American Society ASME runs an annual international Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, where students build aerodynamic vehicles. Next month teams will compete in Venezuela. Based on speed-endurance events that took place this year, the vehicles' top speeds are closing in on 20 miles per hour.

Higher speeds make the Imagine PS impressive. I can hardly get any miles per hour going uphill on a bike. Zooming uphill using my own energy looks so much more enjoyable. The car will cost $15,500 when it goes on sale next year, according to the HumanCar site. Potential owners can put down a refundable $50 placeholder for when the vehicles become available. So far, the company says it has 100 pre-orders and that production will begin when they reach 800.

I like that getting somewhere in a car could require more physical activity, as well as encourage teamwork and carpooling. Maybe these kinds of vehicles are the answer to both our energy and our health problems. At the very least, the car seems like more fun than those circular contraptions that tourists pedal through Times Square.

In addition, seeing that range anxiety remains an issue with pure-electric vehicles, I think major automakers should consider adding a backup human power mechanism. Then if the juice runs out far from a plug, the vehicle could be cranked back into action. Kind of like the early days of the automobile.

This YouTube video, which probably wasn't intended to be as funny as I found it, shows Greenwood operating a test version of his vehicle on the road. Now that's what I call a muscle car.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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