One with the Machine


2013 HumanCar Imagine 'Exotic'. Image:

Many people say when they drive a car they feel one with the machine. The HumanCar seems to take that just a little further.

Engineer Charles Greenwood based the HumanCar on adapting a rowing motion and it led to making a dynamometer to measure what humans could put out from an engine standpoint. "It's about short-term burst power, making something more powerful than a bicycle could sustain," Greenwood says. The thought of this was initiated by thinking how much of society sits in gas-guzzlers and, well, sits. "Human beings have so much energy and it can be used," he says. "Why shouldn't people be more involved?"

What emerged was a human-powered car. One that could ultimately could use other sources of power.

"We'd ride it around in traffic and found out we didn't really have the power to safely take up a lane of traffic," he says. "I always wanted to add electric drive to it. A lot of people can only do 300-400 watts so we supplemented with batteries and motors."

Kids riding HumanCar. Image:

Here's the visual of the movement of riders: they grip a disk called a T bar, feet resting against a floorboard, the seat slid all the way forward. The arms move almost through three feet of travel and legs move roughly 12-14 inches of travel. If they work together and leaning is done with timing then there's even greater efficiency. The vehicle is 60 inches in overall width and to the wheel base is 98 inches in length.

"You can get your exercise in a way that is surprising and, as a team, you can instantly feel through the mechanism who is putting out energy and who isn't," he says. "It's socially interactive because no one is looking at their phone. Even if you're breaking a sweat, just take the car to a nightclub!"

Strong riders can go 30 mph, though it's possible to go 40 mph or even faster. But, unlike a bike, this has full racecar suspension.

Greenwood is presently talking with Russian electronics companies about electric batteries to use in a vehicle application that could some day get it to 200 mph. This would, of course, tie more to other energy sources than human power. Still...

"On a Monday night you could do an hour's worth of exercise. Plug it in for several nights in a row and now you're out and can run off your own human power stored in it."

Presently the HumanCar basic unit comes in at around $15,000 and a factory race car version is $75,000.

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

It's about short-term burst power, making something more powerful than a bicycle could sustain.

Charles Greenwood, chief scientist, HumanCar Inc.


December 2012

by Eric Butterman,