What do an electric unicycle that transforms into a full street bike and a skateboard/tank hybrid have in common? The answer is a guy named Ben Gulak and his team of co-conspirators.
Ben comes from Toronto, Canada. He’s currently a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s a mechanical engineering major. When he’s not attending classes, he manages not one, but two, companies.
The first of these, BPG Motors, is based in Massachusetts and is developing a vehicle called the Uno, which is a kind of motorized electric unicycle. Ben first came up with the idea for the Uno during a trip to China with his father, where he noticed how much pollution there was in the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, much of which appeared to be created by two-stroke scooters and motorcycles.
When he got home, Ben came up with the idea for something that would be ideally-suited for dense urban areas, and that would also create zero emissions. That idea became the Uno. Ben created the first version of the Uno from angle iron, wheelchair motors, batteries and gyroscopes. When he had a working prototype, he entered it into the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and came home with second prize. So he kept working on it.
In 2008, Popular Science named an updated two-wheel version of the Uno as one of the top-ten inventions of the year featuring the Uno on the cover. The exposure helped Ben get more visibility for the Uno, as well investors. Something else that helped was an appearance on Dragon’s Den, a Canadian TV show where entrepreneurs have to pitch ideas to a panel of venture capitalists. Ben walked away with 1.25 million dollars in funding for a 20% stake in BPG Motors, which he has been using to continue development of the Uno concept.
The current version of the Uno actually has three wheels. At low speeds, the Uno acts as a unicycle, and uses a system of gyroscopes to balance on a pair of parallel wheels. At higher speeds, a third wheel extends, turning the Uno into a full street bike. This helps keep the Uno stable. Still, it only weighs 120 pounds, and is light enough and small enough that it can be rolled into an elevator and kept in a city apartment.
Ben’s second company is called BPG-Werks and it’s based in Canada. He started the company in 2009 with his friend Ryan Fairhead, a talented machinist and CNC programmer. Together, Ben and Ryan are working on something they call the DTV Shredder. It’s part tank, part skateboard, and part motorbike. It has a top speed of 30 miles per hour, it fits in a normal car trunk, and weighs only 160 pounds. It uses an 18 horsepower racing engine, and goes on snow, sand, and any other surface you can think of.
Ben and Ryan tell us that they have two target markets in mind for the Shredder. The first is the extreme sports market, and they’re already working on featuring the Shredder at the next X Games. They’ve also received sponsorships from the Orlando Magic and Rockstar Energy drinks. They plan on having a consumer version of the Shredder for sale later this year, with a target price of $2500.
Notice I said “a consumer version.” That’s because the second market is the military. Ben and Ryan are already working with the United States Air Force Academy on a military version that soldiers might use on the battlefield.
When we first met Ben, he had been using Sketchup to design everything but was looking for more precision. Ben and Ryan have been using SolidWorks for the past few years, and they tell us that they now do everything in SolidWorks.
Since they’re making most of the parts for the Uno and Shredder themselves, Ben tells us that the ability to create virtual prototypes has helped them save thousands of dollars in material costs, which is essential for anyone running on venture capital. Ben and Ryan have also told us that the ability to create photorealistic renderings of their designs has dramatically improved their ability to attract new investors. In fact, they have raised an additional $800,000 from angel investors since the beginning of December.
We’re excited to be working with Ben and the team(s), and we’ll post updates as there’s progress on the Uno and Shredder. If there’s anything you’d like to ask these guys, let us know in the comments.