Students at San Jose State University have created a new type of hybrid—or perhaps tribrid?—that makes use of human pedal-power, solar panels, and a strong battery. They’ve dubbed the car the ZEM, or Zero EMissions Vehicle, and say it could be mass-produced for a mere $4,000.
The vehicle gets moving with pedal power for the first 30 seconds until reaching 5 mph, when the battery kicks in to bring it to its top speed of 35 mph within another 30 seconds. The car, which requires two people to pedal, carries silicon batteries which can be charged by the four solar panels—three on the roof and one on the hood—or by AC outlet.
The car’s four batteries can run up to 40 miles, but don’t start getting in line yet. The target market will be large cities in Mexico, China, and India, where traffic would make pedal-power alone sufficient to get around most days. The team also hopes the United States Postal Service will replace their gas-powered neighborhood vehicles with their ZEM.
San Jose State won a $15,000 grant for the project in 2007 from the National I2P (Idea-to-Product) Competition for EPICS and Social Entrepreneurship at Princeton University in 2007. At that point, the prototype vehicle looked more like a go-cart.