Saturday 25 September 2010
Google comes calling to invest in a unique NZ business
The inventor of Rotorua’s adventure ride, the Shweeb, has always dreamt big. But Geoff Barnett never dreamt he would get monetary backing from global internet phenomenon Google to help turn his concept of a human-powered transport system into a global reality.
In 2008 Google launched a project called 10^100 that called for ideas that would change the world by helping as many people as possible. Google evaluated 154,000 ideas submitted by the public and came up with 16 groupings of ideas for the public to vote on.
When ‘Drive innovation in public transportation’ turned out to be one of the five winning ideas, Google set about finding an organisation, company or individual to help bring that idea to life. Naturally enough it was a Google search that brought Shweeb to their attention, and ultimately led to Shweeb becoming one of a very select group to capture the imagination of the 10^100 advisory board and share in the $US10 million worth of investment funding that Google committed to the project.
Peter Cossey, Managing Director of Shweeb and also Managing Director of Agroventures in Rotorua, where the Shweeb is based, says Shweeb has secured $1.36 million ($US1m) in funding from Google in return for a minority shareholding in the company. Any profits Google make from their investment will go to a charitable trust for the betterment of public transportation.
For the uninitiated Shweeb is best described as a pedal-powered pod attached to an overhead monorail. It is an exciting, dynamic ride where riders experience up to 60 degree swings on the curves and soar high and low over the undulating terrain. Riders lie back in a recumbent position for maximum comfort and minimum aerodynamic drag. The hard wheels on the track reduce rolling resistance, and as riders click through the seven gears they get up to high speed (over 40 kph) with little effort. Racing can be either against the clock or another rider. Two Shweeb pods can also be joined together for tandem racing.
Opened in Rotorua in October 2007, the Shweeb is a one-of-kind adventure ride that was initially dreamt up by Geoff Barnett, a keen cyclist with an interest in sustainable transport, whilst living in Tokyo a decade ago. Mr. Barnett reasoned that overhead cycle monorails connecting the city’s skyscrapers above the streets of Tokyo had to be a better solution than negotiating traffic jams or building even more roads and expressways. Returning to his home in Melbourne, he worked on the concept and developed it into a design. Following six years in the refining and testing stages, Mr. Barnett felt that Rotorua, New Zealand, an adventure playground already well known for innovative tourism products, was the perfect place to let the public test ride the concept. So far more than 30,000 riders have given Shweeb a resounding thumbs up. The current world record is 55 seconds for the 600m race.
Agroventures General Manager Melissa Mills says she is blown away by the offer from Google.
“From a branding prospective, it’s a great way for us to gain exposure for Shweeb on the national and international stage. Even people who had never heard of this adventure ride, or Agroventures, prior to the involvement with Google are likely to want to check out Shweeb to see what all the fuss is about and, hopefully come and have a ride next time they are in Rotorua. That way they’ll also discover it is one of our unique line-up of adventures including the Swoop, Agrojet, Freefall Xtreme and Rotorua Bungy.”
As part of its due diligence, Google had the opportunity to visit Shweeb and check out demonstrations of the technology. Mr. Cossey says in order to meet Google’s criteria ‘To drive innovation in public transport and develop new transportation technologies that will help move more people with less energy, greater efficiency and fewer causalities’, they propose to use the funding on research and development in order to build a showcase transit system in the Northern Hemisphere based on the prototype that Shweeb is already operating in Rotorua. An announcement on that can be expected shortly.
“The reason we have chosen to go offshore is really one of necessity,” says Mr. Cossey. “While the prototype has been thoroughly tested in New Zealand; in order to gain creditability in the global marketplace we need to test a transit system in a high density population destination. The Northern Hemisphere became the natural choice for us due to the sheer number of people that require transport and also the opportunity to achieve a higher global profile for the future growth of the company. It will also give us the ability to lock ourselves away for 12 months and concentrate on the massive opportunity that Google has laid at our door.”
What is Project 10^100?
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