Peddling a two-wheeled dream

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By A Bengali inventor is trying to hawk his design for a personal mobility vehicle for the common man, report Subrata Mukherjee and Anirban Das Mahapatra
  • Published 24.07.06
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Anadish Pal

Meet Anadish Pal, a self-taught electronics designer who used to do freelance projects for companies such as Maruti Udyog, Honda, the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehradun, and Duracell (now a part of Gillette India) ? and now has turned his attention to inventions. He has several US patents in his name, the most significant of them being his design for a personal mobility vehicle (PMV) for the common man. The two-wheeled vehicle is ready to go to the prototype development stage and Pal has been trying to get companies interested in it, so far with little success.

Make no mistake, Pal is not a qualified designer or engineer ? a dropout from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1982, he took to electronics and prototype building as a hobby when he was in Gorakhpur living with his late mother (she died in 1982). He designed a Dxing radio receiver when he was 14, which never worked ? but he made all the PCBs himself. He did freelance projects for Maruti and Honda Power. A Honda Power executive said that when the product engineering department wing was in Uttaranchal in 2000-01), it had charging genset with a technical flaw. So the Indian army didn’t give the genset clearance. Pal supplied the voltage controller for the gadget, after which it was accepted by the army. Honda Power’s S.K. Choubey recalls “a freelancer gentleman called Anadish Pal working on the genset and a few other things.”

Pal says he got the idea for the PMV one late evening in December 1998 at the Maruti storage area. He was sitting with a young trainee and joking when a tractor came along, pulling a train of trolleys. Pal got his US patents after submitting two provisional applications in 2000 (for more details visit www.freewebs.com/anadish/ or www.freshpatents.com/Anadish-Kumar-Pal-Delhi-invdirp.php) and that his design has attracted worldwide attention. “Dean Kamen of Segway fame noticed it in 2002 with EV World carrying an article on it. I got a lot of positive response from people like Russell Shreve (a successful inventor), David Ward (a Michigan-based innovator), Professor Kazuo Yamafuji (who first made a balancing scooter along with his students in 1983).

City car

Congested roads

According to industry estimates, the world will have well over 1.1 billion motor vehicles by 2020. If they all lined up and drove past you at the rate of one vehicle a second, it would take 35 years to drive by. And if they lined up bumper-to-bumper for the drive-by, the line would extend 130 times around the world.

Enter the PMV. Golf carts were the first PMVs. Then the Dutch launched city cars ? small, four-wheeled single seaters (PMVs are meant to de-pollute cities). Swatch produced its Swatchmobile car, only to discontinue it later. Many US manufacturers make three-wheeled electric scooters with small wheels - they are PMVs and many of them cater to the needs of the physically challenged. The Segway walking machine, which is categorised as a personal mobility device (PMD), is very popular. To operate the Segway, you must lean forward to move forward, lean back to go in reverse and twist your wrists to make a turn. Apparently, a five-minute test trial is enough to get the hang of it. “PMVs do not give you speed. They can never be hot rods. Air drag grows four times when the speed doubles. So if you want to save power, you cannot travel at high speeds,” explains Pal.

In theory, a PMV can be faster but it would need more power, which is provided by a battery. The initial version of Pal’s PMV is to run purely on electricity provided by a 12V 180AH battery. However, the car can be made a hybrid one by using a light gas engine. The batteries need to be recharged after 50 kilometres. Additional standby batteries can be added to reduce the number of recharges.

Golf cart

‘21st Century rickshaw’

Pal’s patents differ from other patents for PMVs in three ways. First, his PMV design incorporates a canopy. All other patents that have been filed in the parallel wheels category are for models that don’t have a canopy or a module to seat passengers. Secondly, many models before Pal’s tried to power the vehicles by using an internal combustion engine. Pal’s will use lead acid batteries. That’s not entirely new ? others too have tried using batteries before. But Pal wants to stick to lead acid because the batteries are heavy, and he will place them at the bottom of the vehicle to stabilise it. That, he says, is new. Thirdly, Pal uses an annular or ring motor, where the power from the battery is distributed equally to around the wheel, where ball bearings are placed to make the external wheel go round. This is different from earlier models that tried to deliver the power to one point on the wheel, from where it was distributed. The one-point drive lead to a problem called ‘gerbilling’, which made vehicles unstable. Pal says he has by-passed that problem.

“Toyota came out with an experimental PMV which is very sophisticated. Honda doesn’t want you to move ? it wants your robot to run an errand for you. Then there is this Russian inventor who wants to push his walk-powered skate wheels as a PMV. The Canadian company Bombardier has come out with a gyroscopic mono-wheel design”, says Pal, who often jokingly describes his vehicle (called Bracelet) as the “rickshaw of the 21st century.”

The ‘Bracelet’ will be 1.2 metres in diameter, with two sliding windows and three doors, including the luggage hatch in the rear. This is a one-passenger vehicle but it can be altered to accommodate two passengers and some light luggage. Steering is done by using a detachable joystick device which controls the relative rotation of the two parallel wheels. Pal has a patent for his 3D encoder for the joystick. The brakes would be purely electromagnetic and regenerative; there will be an added mechanical parking brake for each wheel. The accelerator is built into the joystick; it will simply be a speed command variation to the two drives to the two permanent magnet AC or brushless DC ring motors forming the two parallel wheels. The counter-rotation of the two wheels makes the turning radius zero, making it easy to park.

Safety is another important consideration for the vehicle. The stators of the two strong ring motors offer a strong front-rear barrier, while the mainly cylindrical body is inherently stronger than a polygonal shell. There is an optional crush zone on the front and the rear. The rubber tyres too act as resilient bumpers as the mudguards get crushed during an accident.

When commercially produced, the PMV is expected to cost, excluding excise duty, Rs 30,000 for the very low cost single seater) model. The standard car (twin seater) may cost Rs 50,000. An air-conditioned version with ‘luxury’ features may cost Rs.90,000. “However, all this might change slightly, based on our findings during the prototype development process,” says Pal. He adds, “It is a simple vehicle to make, like direct drive turntables. It has very few mechanical complexities. And it is one of the more stable balancing vehicles in its class ? bikes, Segway and the like. You cannot fall down, ever. The rural DIY PMV with rexine-and-zipper-style fenders could cost as low as Rs.16,000, which is low enough, I am sure, for many Indian villagers.”

So how does Pal plan on converting his design to a working prototype? He replies, “First we need to get hold of thin cross section bearings of suitable diameter from an international source and then develop the ring motors using dove-tailed stampings for winding the stator. After that we need to test the two ring motors with standard induction motor drives, using a higher battery voltage. Once ready, we need to custom fabricate solid rubber tires and then proceed to fit the two ring motors on a tubular body. Once we have perfected the patented design, we will move on to fabricate the exterior which may be different for different market segments.”

Pal thinks that on a small budget he’ll be able to develop a prototype in around a year. Says Pal, “With a bigger budget, the possibility of engaging other professional developers opens up; this would reduce the prototype stage to around six months. For making a small budget design effort, it would cost nearly Rs 5 lakhs for a basic PMV, Rs 10 lakhs for a finished car and Rs 30 lakhs to be able to engage professional developers for a faster and more finished effort. For it to make a global impact, I am looking for a professional partner with experience in developing and promoting similar ventures. I am also looking to obtain support from government agencies and private organisations committed to promoting simple innovative technology.”

Mechanical vehicle for the disabled

Unsure markets

So far, he’s had a poor response from companies. Sunrise Medical, a leader in PMDs in the US, declined to buy the technology though it sent him an encouraging letter. At home, Bajaj Auto MD Rajiv Bajaj did not show interest in his PMV in 2002.

That’s perhaps because the market for PMVs in India is not quite predictable and manufacturers themselves are not sure how such vehicles will fare in India, as Sanjay Tripathi, general manager (marketing and product planning), Yamaha Motor India, explains. “The Indian market is extremely familiar with conventional two wheelers, or even four wheelers, for that matter,” he says. “But the PMV is somewhere between the two and it is not certain how the consumers would react to such an introduction.”

What is more, “the PMV is still at a conceptual stage. Several other things such as fuel efficiency, on-road durability and price need to determined before one can even start thinking about mass production,” he says. The price is most important, notes Tripathi. “If it’s priced more than a two-wheeler but somewhere near the Rs 60-70,000 range, people might be tempted to go in for the Rs 1 lakh car, which is slated to be introduced in the near future,” he adds.