One of the first recommendations made to improve your health and well-being is to get out of your car and walk more … walk down to the corner store for milk, park farther away from the front door to your office building or the mall, etc. But what if you got a better workout driving than walking?
That’s the thinking behind the FitCar PPV prototype, the brainchild of Saudi-based inventor Nasser Al Shawaf and Dutch engineering firm BPO. The PPV stands for Pedal-Powered Vehicle. Yes, it’s a pedal car. But, it’s also an Audi A4 Avant, with all its performance specs, and that’s not bad.
Pedalling is not the power source, per se. The pedal mechanism replaces the accelerator pedal. It’s linked to a flywheel that generates an electric pulse to work the throttle. So, the driver pedals to supply more gasoline to the engine. And because space is needed for the pedalling motion, the brake pedal has also been removed, replaced by a hand-brake used on mobility conversions for disabled drivers.
The mechanism is compatible with most vehicles (including electric vehicles), so with few exceptions, you can drive your vehicle of choice and still burn calories through exercise, turning unhealthy commutes into active time.
It works in three modes — Drive Slow for slow moving traffic, Drive Fast for highway driving, and No Drive for those times when the car is stopped but the driver still wants to pedal. And, it can be overridden at any time, so you don’t have to pedal all the way from Toronto to Detroit (which would probably give your FitBit fits!). A rotary dial on the crank-housing adjusts the resistance.
“I work in many cities around the world where a 60-minute-plus car commute, each-way, each day is not uncommon,” said Al Shawaf. “This is an unhealthy way to waste more than two hours every day. So, I came up with the idea of the FitCar – which does exactly the same as any conventional car - getting us safely and comfortably from A to B, however in the FitCar you can exercise while you drive.”
Al Shawaf says internal studies indicate a burn-rate of more than 300 calories per 30 minutes of driving, which aids those with long commutes find more time to exercise (Health Canada recommends adults exercise moderately 2.5 hours per week, so even a half-hour commute every day would fit that bill).
The mechanism took two years to develop, first on a test sled to demonstrate how it could work, then on a Smart for actual test runs, and now on the A4 Avant, which was chosen for its cockpit ergonomics, according to BPO.
“Once you get in the car and drive it, it is intuitive, easy to control and safe,” said Oscar Brocades Zaalberg, founder and managing director of BPO. “Our ambition is for the technology to be either adopted by a car manufacturer for a new generation of ‘healthier’ city cars, or for us simply to offer it as a conversion kit in to the after-market – for those wishing to add PPV as an optional active extra to their car.”
Patented internationally, the FitCar PPV is awaiting RDW approval (the Dutch auto regulator) in the Netherlands, which would allow it to be used on roads in the European Union.
Further development would explore replacing the hand-brake with regenerative braking, folding the pedals away to return the car to regular drive mode, and creating a mobile exercise app to maximize calorie burn, efficiency and to offer alternative routes and challenges.