19-year-old MIT freshman invents one-wheeled zero-emissions electric motorcycle to fight pollution & congestion
Ben Gulak invented an electric motorcycle that landed the 19-year-old freshman on the cover of Popular Science magazine for developing number one of their top 10 inventions of the year.
He calls the bright orange vehicle The Uno and developed it after a family trip to China. “Beijing was covered in a blanket of smog. You hear about pollution, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so bad,” Gulak says, adding he noticed thousands of motorcycles and scooters in that city and thought there must be a more environmentally friendly way to travel. Battery power would avoid pollution, and the small size would allow the cycle to negotiate crowded streets - and even to be carted up to an apartment.
Back in Toronto, he began sketching a unicycle-looking street bike that resembles a motorcycle but is more compact and maneuverable, and is also electric. He retreated to the machine shop in his house and began assembling a prototype from conventional motorcycle parts. The project, he says, allowed him to “mesh two passions” - engineering and motorcycles. As he describes it, the early effort - replete with burning motors - resembled the scenes in the movie “Iron Man” when a rocket-propelled suit goes out of control. Mr. Gulak got help from a robotics engineer, Trevor Blackwell, and added systems that stabilize the vehicle.
He first developed it for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in New Mexico that year and won second place. Now that he has ironed out the kinks, Gulak has launched a company to develop the bike and has filed for patents in dozens of countries. He estimates the vehicle will sell for about $6,000.
Gulak first learned of engineering from his grandfather, a design engineer who developed the first twist lipstick. When he died, Gulak inherited his machine shop. “I’ve always loved tinkering, and if I can keep designing things that can make a difference in the world, that will be amazing,” he says. “Everyone should try to leave the planet a little better than they found it.”
Photos courtesy of Len Rubenstein, greenupgrader.com, and John B. Carnett
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