NZ monorail start-up gets $US1million from Google

ABOVE: A Shweeb "human-powered monorail" at Rotorua's Agroventures fun park. If it makes the jump to serious urban transportation solution, then expect commuters with very toned legs, as illustrated above.Monorails are lauded as the transport of the future by everyone from The Simpsons to T-shirt maker Mr Vintage with its classic Hamiltron design.

ABOVE: A Shweeb "human-powered monorail" at Rotorua's Agroventures fun park. If it makes the jump to serious urban transportation solution, then expect commuters with very toned legs, as illustrated above.

Monorails are lauded as the transport of the future by everyone from The Simpsons to T-shirt maker Mr Vintage with its classic Hamiltron design.

Now, Google has recognised Auckland monorail start-up Shweeb, making it one of five companies worldwide to be awarded $US1 million in its $US10 million 10^100 competition.

In return for its $US1 million injection, Google has taken a 25% stake 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.

Shweeb, founded in 2006, is run by Remuera managing director Peter Cossey and Rotorua inventor Geoff Barnett. 

Its human-powered monorail concept sees a Futurama-style capsule combined with reclining cycle technology.

On the company's website, Mr Barnett outlines his monorail/cycle vision:

“When I lived in Tokyo I cycled through the city to work and on the weekends rode up the mountains around the city. Tokyo, with its frequent and punctual trains, capsule hotels, high population densities, and vending machines, opened my mind to new possibilities.

"I came up with the idea of a bicycle monorail network while teaching a class in which the topic for discussion was transport solutions. The idea of riding above the traffic jams on multi-level rails seemed to me the only possible way that Tokyo’s millions of residents could move around the city quickly and safely. It had the added advantages of being environmentally friendly and offering an aerobic workout.

But while the company waits for urban planners to catch up to the Shweeb vision, the company is marketing its product as an adventure tourism and theme park opportunity.

Already, the start-up has received coverage everywhere from The Huffington Post to, um, The NZ Herald's travel section - for the Shweeb monorail ride at Rotorua's Agroventures fun park. 

The competition
For its Project 10^100 competition, Google asked for ideas to 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 ideas and asked the public to vote for their favourites.

 The search giant then reviewed concrete proposals to tackle the top five ideas, as voted on by the public, and concluded Project 10^100 by funding five organisations with the US$10 million (see also video above):

IDEA: Make educational content available online for free
Project funded: The Khan Academy is a non-profit educational organization that provides high-quality, free education to anyone, anywhere via an online library of more than 1,600 teaching videos. We are providing US$2 million to support the creation of more courses and to enable the Khan Academy to translate their core library into the world’s most widely spoken languages.

IDEA: Enhance science and engineering education
Project funded: FIRST is a non-profit organization that promotes science and math education around the world through team competition. Its mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by giving them real world experience working with professional engineers and scientists. We are providing US$3 million to develop and jump start new student-driven robotics team fundraising programs that will empower more student teams to participate in FIRST.

IDEA: Make government more transparent
Project funded: Public.Resource.Org is a non-profit organization focused on enabling online access to public government documents in the United States. We are providing US$2 million to Public.Resource.Org to support the Law.Gov initiative, which aims to make all primary legal materials in the United States available to all.

Idea: Drive innovation in public transport
Project funded: Shweebis a concept for short to medium distance, urban personal transport, using human-powered vehicles on a monorail. We are providing US$1 million to fund research and development to test Shweeb’s technology for an urban setting.

IDEA: Provide quality education to African students
Project funded: The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is a center for math and science education and research in Cape Town, South Africa. AIMS’ primary focus is a one-year bridge program for recent university graduates that helps build skills and knowledge prior to Masters and PhD study. We are providing US$2 million to fund the opening of additional AIMS centers to promote graduate level math and science study in Africa.

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