The Hope for Human-Powered Transportation

“Human-powered transportation” is an odd turn of phrase—but it’s also how people have been getting around for centuries, and is still evolving today. Human-powered transportation, once the height of innovation, is now seen as both a design challenge and a way to support green living.

Take the bicycle. How many people do you know who have given up car commutes in favor of cycling? Major cities even have pedicabs for tourists concerned about emissions. But human-powered transportation extends far beyond a simple bicycle.

As announced today, the Aerospace Engineering department at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering is currently building a human-powered helicopter. ElliptiGO, another SolidWorks customer, provides an outdoor, low-impact bike that uses the motion of an elliptical machine. There are even handcycles for folks who prefer to pedal using their arms.


University of Maryland human-powered helicopter Gamera

Skates, muscle-powered hydrofoils and even Trikkes harness human energy to propel us forward. And the Gerhardt Cycleplane, called the world’s first successful human-powered aircraft and first flown in 1923, is the granddaddy of engineless flight. So with all of these options, what else is left to create?

As our world continues to grow, designers continue to innovate and consumers continue to look for new ways to travel and new envelopes to push, we can expect more groundbreaking innovations in human-powered transportation and more ways to test them.

For today, we wish the UMD team good luck in its pursuit of the coveted Sikorsky prize, which pushes the limit of human endurance as well as cutting-edge design. You can check out a test flight video of the record-breaking Gamera helicopter below.

Matthew West

SolidWorks alumnus. I like plate reverb, Rat pedals, Thai curry, New Weird fiction, my kids, Vespas, Jazzmasters, my wife & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not necessarily in that order.