Solar powered scooter engineer needs a hundred monkeys
Did you ever meet a person so infected with a dream that it can only be contagious?
I learned of Hans Boës quite by accident, after stumbling across a pair of solar bikes chained together in a small plaza in Berlin's creative and crazy Kreuzberg district.
Fortunately, the inventor left a calling card:
The soft-spoken man behind the dream of post-fossil fuel mobility, Hans Boës, builds his prototypes out of recycled bits and pieces, which gives them a quirky appearance in the prototype phase. To be fair, the solar powered scooters are a side-line: his iTroll pedelec-style scooter looks very professional and his iTroll Mushing machine will make you want to own a big dog.
Hans is also in negotiations with a company for serial production of his patented foldable scooter that can serve as a shopping trolley when folded but is also robust enough for touring for two:
But his tone changes when he talks about his solar scooter. Hans conveys the joy of the ride as he reels off the many benefits such as standing while negotiating dangerous city traffic and the protective comfort of the front panels -- neither wind nor rain nor pushy drivers can keep Hans from his appointed tasks. He compares the ride on the large, low-set platform -- a pedelec motor activated by the push of a foot propelling him forward -- to dancing. The logo under the Solarscooter evolution logo reads "nur fliegen ist schöner," translated: "only flying is more beautiful."
He plugs his bikes into an outlet fed from his permanent solar installation during the dark Berlin winters, when the few rays of sun serve mostly only to protect the battery life. But on a summer day, the solar panels can suffice to cover a reasonable daily distance. In less northern latitudes, more could be expected (remember Madrid, Spain, is on the same latitude as New York, so Berlin is near the land of the midnight sun, which has its counterpart in the winter of eternal darkness!)
The hundred monkeysThis is where the hundred monkeys come in. I ask how the business in solar scooters goes...can someone buy one or is it just a dream?
Hans tried a crowdfunding campaign some years back, but didn't get the traction needed to start production of the solar scooter Xtrike (pictured at the back on the Berlin street photo above). The lilt in his voice dips a bit as he reflects on the fact that the market for solar assisted human powered vehicles remains restricted pretty much to vehicles designed for specialized races through the desert or across tough terrain.
Hans' heart is in the production of an everyday vehicle, a solution for the last mile problem, a replacement for the automobile that provides 80% of the mobility at 1% of the energy and material use. Hesitating a bit on how to explain what keeps him optimistic, Hans asks
Have I heard of the "hundredth monkey effect?"
The hundredth monkey effect originated with some scientists in the mid-1970's who claimed that when a hundredth monkey adopted a new behavior, the behavior spread suddenly to all members of the group and even beyond -- to monkeys on other islands that somehow spontaneously embraced what had now become a "normal" behavior. Although the implied claim that consciousness of new ideas can be conveyed mysteriously without the help of localized learning or communication has been discredited scientifically, the myth remains a powerful meme in the field of behavior change. If enough people start behaving in a new way, the adoption of the new idea can spread. Eventually, a tipping point is reached at which the behavior rapidly becomes the norm.
Right now, Hans' hope is that people will come to him one by one, willing to help finance another advance in the prototyping of solar-assisted human powered vehicles by commissioning him to build one for them. Hans' English is good (he spent five years in California), so anyone wanting to collaborate with a German engineer to push the frontier of human mobility should check out his website postfossile Mobile (German) or just send an email or give Hans a call (you need to dial Germany's country code 49 and drop the zero in front of the numbers on his contact page).
IF you are in the market for a new way to get around, wouldn't it be wonderful to be one in the chain of early adopters leading to the "hundredth human" that could be the tipping point to a whole new culture of transportation?